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News

Made Smarter Centre for People-Led Digitalisation launches call for papers

To improve productivity and efficiency the manufacturing sector has regularly looked to evolve its systems and embrace new technologies. More recently the pace of change has intensified as we see the emergence of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, digital twins, advanced analytics, cobotics, and smart manufacturing. Learning from past challenges, particularly in the 1980s when the adoption of robotics faced obstacles due to insufficient consideration of human factors, centres like the Made Smarter Innovation: Centre for People-Led Digitalisation have recognised the important role that people play in the adoption and acceptance of new technologies.

Although digital technologies have the promise of creating significant economic, environmental and societal benefits, they also have the potential to substantially alter the future of work – the jobs people do and how people work. The world is currently at a crucial decision point – what do we want the future of work to look like?

Taking a people-led approach to digitalisation aims at improving the outcome of the adoption of digital technologies. This is achieved through prior explicit consideration and planned appropriate action that prioritises human needs and working patterns in the design and implementation of digitalised work systems.

The team at People-Led Digitalisation are seeking to publish innovative research which explores the human element of digitalisation, be that in the design of digital technologies or the implementation of digital technologies within a manufacturing environment.

They are welcoming original research, reviews, impact and industrial case studies, from the perspective of improving manufacturing performance such as (but not limited to); increased productivity, reduction in environmental impacts, re-imagining manufacturing jobs, people-led digital change. The following top-level themes should be used as a basis:

• The future of work in manufacturing to 2030 and beyond,
• Stakeholder engagement in digital change,
• Digital skills,
• Industrial Digital Tools for good work,
• Metrics of success in digitalisation projects,
• Enablers and barriers to the adoption of digital technologies,
• Readiness for digital change,
• People-led approach to design of digital technologies.

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News

InterAct ‘Future of Work’ team publishes new report on perceptions of manufacturing

The InterAct ‘Future of Work’ team consisting of Dr. Robert Stewart, Professor Jill MacBryde, Professor Colin Lindsay and Carolina Marin Cadavid (University of Strathclyde) have published a new report drawing from their 2023 survey of UK public perceptions of manufacturing. ‘Making Things Work’ – Perceptions of Manufacturing is an insightful examination of the survey findings that looks at issues such as:

  • Whether people still value (and how positive they feel about) manufacturing in the post-industrial economy, and their awareness of manufacturing in the media
  • What people associate with manufacturing work and jobs, and what qualities they are looking for in jobs that need to be reflected in job offers to attract talent
  • The perceived quality of manufacturing jobs for those currently working in (or familiar with) the sector and whether people would encourage others to enter the sector
  • How new manufacturing technologies are likely to change future jobs and careers in manufacturing
  • How can the sector best attract emerging young and ‘untapped’ talent

Discussing the report findings, Dr. Robert Stewart said: “In the ‘war for talent’ perceptions matter because they provide a snapshot of public opinion about the attraction of the sector and working in manufacturing. They may not measure up against ‘reality’, they may be ‘misinformed’ but ultimately this matters more to many of the people we interviewed than employers and industry stakeholders.

However, if you are wondering how people in the UK look at the sector, or how employers should be best positioned to attract people into manufacturing, ignore them at your peril.

Our results throw up some surprising and interesting findings that we hope will offer insight to, and spark further investigation from, academics, employers, industry stakeholders and UK policy makers.”

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InterAct Blog

‘Making Things Work’ – Perceptions of Manufacturing

The InterAct Network ‘Future of Work’ team has recently completed analysis of a survey of over 2000 people drawn from across the UK to provide insights into their perceptions of the manufacturing sector and jobs.

We hear much about the ongoing ‘war for talent’ in manufacturing and concerns that the older industrial legacy of manufacturing makes it less attractive to jobseekers. In this sense, the emergence of new technologies present both a challenge and an opportunity for employers to positively reshape jobs, careers, and address negative sector imagery through better job quality. Improving job quality in the post-Covid labour market should help manufacturers better compete for emerging Gen Z talent and extend their reach into under-represented groups such as women and minorities.

In the ‘war for talent’ perceptions matter because they provide a snapshot of public opinion about the attraction of working in manufacturing for different groups. They may not measure up against ‘reality’, they may be ‘misinformed’ but ultimately this may not matter to many in our sample. However, if you are looking to attract people into your sector, ignore them at your peril.

Our results confirmed some of the usual suspects but also threw up some surprising and interesting findings that we hope will be useful to employers and industry stakeholders.

People still value manufacturing but visibility is lacking

People still attach a high value to the manufacturing sector, describing it as ‘essential’ for the supply of goods, innovation, prosperity, industrial reputation, living standards, national security, and as a source of local jobs. While most feel positive about manufacturing as an important part of the UK economy, our study identified a weakness in terms of the sectors wider media reach and visibility: less than a third said they saw anything about manufacturing over the past year.

Images of manufacturing work are putting people off

Manufacturing is seen as creative blue-collar work with (on the balance of opinion) poor pay for inflexibile, low status jobs in an old-fashioned sector. On a positive note, of course, manufacturing does mean different things to different people. Gen Z plug into the creative and innovative side of the sector, think pay and security are more likely to be good. The problem for them (and women) is they mainly associate work in the sector with ‘boring old industry’ and think that young people are less aware of digital careers in manufacturing. This latter finding is similar to those more familiar with manufacturing work (workers) but they think of the sector as modern with very reasonable amounts of quality in jobs. One of the questions, this raises for us is how does the sector translate some of these positive insider images (creative purposeful work with career opportunities) to a wider ‘uninformed’ audience? Rightly or wrongly, nearly a fifth of our sample associate manufacturing with poorly paid work.

Does job quality matter in manufacturing?

The short answer is that job quality (whether we express that in terms of ‘good jobs’ or ‘fair work’) tells us what people are looking for in work, including manufacturing. Good job quality is essential for attracting new talent and retaining skilled workers. In our sample, quality is largely driven by pay, wellbeing and flexibility, a desire for clean and safe working environments, contractual security and stability, and employee voice. Gen Z have a strong desire for ‘employee voice’ (where their opinions are heard and valued), whilst women have a strong preference for employers offering wellbeing and flexibility practices.

The good news? Job quality for those people in the sample who currently work in manufacturing looks reasonably satisfactory. Over three-fifths of workers identify manufacturing work as purposeful, delivering reasonable levels of contractual stability, career development, EDI, and safe work. Interestingly, this still means that a significant number of workers don’t rate manufacturing jobs as purposeful and, also jobs appear to be slightly ‘weaker’ on pay, wellbeing (and flexibility), and employee voice. There are some good messages on job quality to sell the sector to ‘outsiders’ but more work to be done in reaching, telling, and convincing people, about the benefits and upsides of working in UK manufacturing.

The digital future looks bright but hold back on the shades

Most people think that tomorrow’s manufacturing jobs will be more advanced and hi-tech wit less environmental waste. Although people think that increased leadership diversity will fuel more innovation, over a third are sceptical about whether there really will be more representation from women and minorities in the future.

People have concerns about the destruction of jobs in manufacturing

We hear plenty about people using new technology (especially AI and robotics) to autopilot or co-pilot work and how new manufacturing technologies will continue to replace the ‘dull, dirty and repetitive’ manual tasks. In practice, the technological future will likely be the same old melting pot mix of greater creativity, augmentation, and job destruction. On a positive note, most people think that new technologies will augment (and co-pilot) tasks and people’s skills – upskilling not downskilling – and make jobs more interesting and rewarding for workers. Less reassuring is that just over a quarter think that they will have a destructive impact on the numbers of jobs in the sector. The link between new technologies and their impacts on jobs is a divisive and uncertain issue, with potentially negative implications for attracting talent, workers job stability and security that must be addressed by businesses. It is not surprising that those in the lowest socio-economic groups (those most at risk from job elimination) think more negatively about the impact of new technologies in future manufacturing.

Attracting future talent means more good people practice

Gen Z are the most optimistic about manufacturing jobs of the future. To harness that optimism how should employers’ best harness that potential and attract more digital talent into the sector, particularly from digitally ‘native’ younger generations and from groups such as women and minorities? The largest positive factor for attracting young digital talent and women concerns the promotion of wellbeing and flexibility practices. Young people are perceived as less ‘threatened’ by digital technologies, linked with greater innovation potential but thought to be less aware of digital careers in manufacturing workspaces. There is also a recognition that manufacturing employers may need to refresh their practices to attract more women and minorities into jobs. Working practices and environments need to adapt to become more inclusive.

What does it all mean?

There are some key messages for employers and industry stakeholders from our survey:

  • Keep talking up the value of your sector, people know you are essential and valuable, but the media reach and messaging of the sector isn’t reflecting that effectively.
  • Legacy images of old-fashioned manufacturing work impact negatively on how people look at jobs and careers in the sector. Although job quality is reasonable for many manufacturing workers, more needs to be done selling this message outside the sector to hard-to-reach groups such as women and minorities.
  • People anticipate that new technologies will improve the quality of future manufacturing jobs but have concerns about job destruction and its likely impact on opportunities and job security.
  • Going forward, attracting new talent will mean employers making greater investments in positive people practices in areas such as well-being, flexible working and inclusive workspaces.
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InterAct Blog

Rethinking manufacturing: It is everything, everywhere, all at once

In a world where perceptions shape industries and policies, understanding the narrative surrounding manufacturing is crucial. InterAct has recently published a report which analyses the perceptions of manufacturing in the United Kingdom and compares it with six other countries.

The report “How to make manufacturing charming again? It is everything, everywhere, all at once”, authored by researchers from Aston University and the University of Cambridge, examines the factors that influence these perceptions and tracks how the UK public’s perception has evolved over time.

The aim of the report is to support InterAct research on the future of manufacturing by providing insights into attitudes to manufacturing and industrial strategies, and how manufacturing is discussed in other countries, particularly where digital technologies have been adopted.

Public perceptions of manufacturing across countries and over time

Although governments remain hesitant to explicitly champion “industrial policy”, the renewed commitment to manufacturing, as evidenced in the UK’s Advanced Manufacturing Plan, underscores its pivotal role in national economies which is increasingly acknowledged by policymakers.

The multi-country review, encompassing the UK, Canada, Germany, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and the US, revealed more positive perceptions of manufacturing in Germany and the US compared to the UK. However, perceptions within the UK have shown improvement. In 2001, the British public believed that the country could thrive without manufacturing. In contrast, by 2023, 93% of the public believe that the manufacturing industry is essential to economic growth and resilience.

Across countries, including the UK, a consistent trend persists; younger people exhibit the least interest in pursuing careers in manufacturing. The prevailing perception, widely held among teenagers and young adults, is that the industry is predominantly male and lacking diversity compared to other sectors. Additionally, manufacturing is perceived as being poorly paid, repetitive, and not requiring high-skilled labour. These misconceptions pose significant challenges in attracting new talent to consider the manufacturing sector as a viable and rewarding career path.

Understanding the policy and perception nexus

Industrial and innovation policies play a significant role in shaping public perceptions, which can sometimes differ from reality. Terms like “advanced manufacturing” increasingly highlight the high-tech nature of the industry. National strategies also underscore manufacturing’s role in economic growth, innovation, and regional development.

Women tend to be underrepresented in manufacturing, especially in high-tech industries. For instance, in the UK, women account for 26% of the manufacturing workforce, and their representation is even lower in high-tech sectors such as automotive and aerospace. However, gender disparities within the sector remain largely unaddressed across policies, reflecting a notable blind spot.

Megatrends reshaping manufacturing

Megatrends reshaping manufacturing, such as environmental sustainability and digitalisation, persist as top priorities in industrial and innovation strategies. The interrelation of such megatrends is also becoming an area of interest in policy making. In addition, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions have led to an increased emphasis on resilience, national security, value chain reconfiguration, and technological sovereignty.

These shifts in priorities and the continued focus on digitalisation and environmental sustainability have broadened the scope of activities and value chain segments within manufacturing. Notably, there is a growing emphasis on areas such as design and recycling, and the blurring boundaries between manufacturing and services.

Addressing challenges and charting a new path

This latest InterAct report highlights the evolving perception of manufacturing, emphasising the intrinsic link between policy and public perspectives. It highlights manufacturing’s multifaceted role in economic growth, innovation, and social inclusion, while also indicating pathways for improvement.

The report provides four recommendations in moving forward:

  1. Systematic collection of data (yearly or every 2 years) about how the public perceives manufacturing and the role of the digital and green transformations in shaping perceptions.
  2. Leveraging the manufacturing observatory, outlined in the UK Advanced Manufacturing Plan, to constantly monitor policy developments across different contexts. This includes how manufacturing and related terminologies are defined and portrayed.
  3. Setting measurable targets and initiatives aimed at enhancing diversity in manufacturing.
  4. Providing education and career information about manufacturing from the early stages.
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People Resources

Perceptions of Manufacturing: How to make manufacturing charming again?

Overview

Watch a short explainer video about the importance of sector perception to the future of manufacturing

This report presents insights into how manufacturing is perceived, the factors shaping this perception, and how this perception has evolved in the last decade. The findings draw upon a systematic review of academic, grey and policy literature across seven countries: the United Kingdom (the UK), Canada, Germany, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States (the US).

The report is the main output of the InterAct-funded project “How to make manufacturing charming again? It is everything, everywhere, all at once”. The aim of the report is to support InterAct research on the future of manufacturing on an international scale by providing insights into attitudes to manufacturing and industrial strategies, and how manufacturing is discussed in other countries, particularly where digital technologies have been adopted.

This research was conducted by Dr. Guendalina Anzolin (IfM, University of Cambridge), Dr. Jennifer Castañeda–Navarrete (IfM, University of Cambridge) and Dr. Dalila Ribaudo (Aston University). This work was supported by the UKRI Made Smarter Innovation Challenge and the Economic and Social Research Council via InterAct [Grant Reference ES/W007231/1].

For further discussions or potential collaborations, please contact Jennifer Castañeda–Navarrete or Dalila Ribaudo.

Watch project researchers Guendalina Anzolin and Jennifer Castañeda–Navarrete discuss their findings in this webinar hosted by IfM Cambridge
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InterAct Blog

Manufacturing a better future – exploring disability inclusive digital manufacturing

In 2021 Make UK1 outlined the need for manufacturing to attract skilled workers from all sections of society acknowledging the continuing challenges of the lack of diversity in the workforce. However, the current focus in manufacturing policy and practice on equality and diversity has been limited to gender and ethnic diversity. Although almost a quarter (23%) of the UK working age population are disabled2, the industry has lacked a real interest in the inclusion of disabled people.

The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people has also remained consistently high at around 30% for the past 10 years, with a pay gap of almost 20% lower for disabled workers compared with non-disabled workers3. Moreover, in the UK, 32% of disabled people do not have basic digital skills4 and those with multiple disabilities are the most digitally disadvantaged. They often face barriers in basic access to the technology such as connection to Wi-Fi-network or finding and opening applications on their devices.

This inaccessibility of technology, together with rapidly growing digital capabilities, is exacerbating the digital divide between disabled and non-disabled people. There is also a strong business case to include more disabled people into work for innovation through diverse workforce. We know that diversity and inclusion have positive effect on firms’ productivity, innovativeness or quality5, so why has this been largely ignored by manufacturers?

Recent research6,7 found that efforts to improve the suitability of industrial manufacturing workstations or the use of Industry 4.0 technologies for disabled people have still been superficial, favouring the inclusion of workers with milder disabilities and missing the complex interaction between the socio-technical aspects of inclusion. Our research explores how digital technologies, alongside an inclusive managerial mindset and accessible business practices, can create inclusive digitalisation in manufacturing.

Our project, ‘Manufacturing a Better Future – exploring disability inclusive digital manufacturing’, embodies the principles of socio-technical systems view where the benefits of the new technology are optimised alongside the humanisation of work, by looking into how the technological and social aspects interact and emerge together. This approach is closely in line with the social model of disability8. Based on this view, it is often the social barriers such as inaccessible physical environments, the attitudes (prejudice and discrimination) and the inflexibility of organisational procedures and practices that exclude disabled people from work, rather than medical conditions.

At the end of this project, we propose that we will have a greater understanding of how the digital inclusion divide, as well as the disability employment gap, can be narrowed through the inclusion of disabled people into the manufacturing ecosystem.


References
  1. Make UK (2021) UK manufacturing diversity & inclusion guide https://ktn-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/KTN_Made-Smarter_UK-Manufacturing-Diversity-and-Inclusion-Guide.pdf?=MadeSmarterUK
  2. Scope (2022) https://www.scope.org.uk/media/disability-facts-figures/
  3. Together Trust (2023) https://www.togethertrust.org.uk/news/explaining-disability-employment-gap
  4. Lloyds (2021) Essential Digital Skills Report 2021, https://www.lloydsbank.com/assets/media/pdfs/banking_with_us/whats-happening/210923-lb-essential-digital-skills-2021-report.pdf
  5. Chaudhry, I. S., Paquibut, R. Y., & Tunio, M. N. (2021). Do workforce diversity, inclusion practices, & organizational characteristics contribute to organizational innovation? Evidence from the UAE. Cogent Business & Management, 8(1), 1947549.
  6. Teixeira, E. S., & Okimoto, M. L. L. (2018). Industrial Manufacturing Workstations Suitability for People with Disabilities: The Perception of Workers. In Advances in Ergonomics in Design: Proceedings of the AHFE 2017 International Conference on Ergonomics in Design, July 17− 21, 2017, The Westin Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles, California, USA 8 (pp. 488-497). Springer International Publishing.
  7. Mark, B. G., Hofmayer, S., Rauch, E., & Matt, D. T. (2019). Inclusion of workers with disabilities in production 4.0: Legal foundations in Europe and potentials through worker assistance systems. Sustainability, 11(21), 5978.
  8. Oliver, M. (2013). The social model of disability: Thirty years on. Disability & society, 28(7), 1024-1026.
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Resources

The potential of coworking spaces to contribute to geographically distributed manufacturing activity and regional levelling up in the UK

Overview

Working from home, or telework, has been rising in the past 20 years, but large-scale adoption of this practice was never really embraced by the majority of UK employers. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic ‘flicked a switch’ overnight, and all workers who were able to work remotely were compelled and facilitated to do so, through digital technologies.

Whilst many people who worked from home during the pandemic, many others found themselves with a lack of appropriate workspace, or experienced a sense of social isolation. As the pandemic subdued, patterns of work have evolved into more complex patterns of hybrid working.

The benefits and disadvantages of working remotely remain in this dichotomy of place – home or the office – yet new workspaces, such as coworking spaces (CWSs) offer a third option. Indeed, the growth of coworking spaces has grown significantly across the world since the pandemic, not only in cities, but also in the suburbs, towns and rural villages.

Other countries (across Europe and the USA) have recognised the potential of CWSs, to help deliver economic growth and develop places beyond their core cities. They have begun to develop explicit policies to support remote working from these places. However, there is a noticeable absence of this type of discussion in UK policy and the question is, why? Are they not popular in such areas of the UK, are they different to city-based CWSs, in what ways? What are the implications for the areas they are located in?

Our pilot study of CWSs in a number of provincial areas in England examined what CWSs in these areas look like, what they do, what are their governance structures and the potential they hold for raising entrepreneurship and business growth beyond core-cities. We interviewed owners, managers and users of CWSs; Chambers of Commerce, local councils, local enterprise partnerships. We made observations of a variety of CWSs types, business models and identified the range of their activities they undertook to support their local areas. We listened to how they were faring, their relationships with each other and other local bodies. Our findings are summarised in two reports. Whilst designed to sit as separate briefs, there is complementary in what they cover, and benefit from being read together.

The first report “The rapid rise of rural co-working in England: sharing experiences for mutual learning” is a briefing for industry. It identifies the activities undertaken across a range of CWSs and collates them to provide insights and suggestions to other CWS owners and managers about the best practices we observed, so that these might be considered by those who do not currently adopt them and strengthen the role of their CWS to its local economy further.

The second report “The potential of coworking spaces to stimulate local growth outside of major cities” is a briefing to local and national policymakers. It identifies more specifically, the contribution CWSs can make to various levels of community: the community within the CWS, the local business community around it, and the wider social community in which they reside. It also identifies areas in which the government could offer more support. The potential value CWSs bring to each level of community means they deserve to have greater attention from local and national policymakers as they grapple with how to stimulate local growth and prosperity across the UK.

This research was conducted by Dr. Felicia M Fai, Dr. Mariachiara Barzotto and Professor Phil Tomlinson (University of Bath). This work was supported by the UKRI Made Smarter Innovation Challenge and the Economic and Social Research Council via InterAct [Grant Reference ES/W007231/1].

For further discussions or potential applications/collaborations, please contact Felicia Fai.

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InterAct Blog

How can we attract the next generation of young talent into UK digital manufacturing careers by 2040?

Our exciting new project aims to develop a strategy to inform the rebranding of UK digital manufacturing to attract the next generation of talent into UK digital manufacturing careers by 2040.

In May 2023, the team members met at an InterAct research sandpit hosted by Loughborough University, which was held with the aim of developing research projects to accelerate the innovation and diffusion of Industrial Digital Technologies in UK manufacturing.

During the sandpit, it became clear that our interdisciplinary team shared a passion to make UK manufacturing a place that attracts, includes, and supports young talent from diverse backgrounds and mindsets. However, recent research conducted by MAKE UK reports only 2% of the average UK manufacturing workforce is currently below 30 years old [1].

Additionally, a recent InterAct 2023 survey on UK perceptions of manufacturing has found that younger generations identify UK manufacturing as an unattractive brand with uncertain employment prospects which is problematic for attracting ambitious and creative digital talent [2]. These negative perceptions in part could be attributed to older generational memories and experiences of physically demanding manufacturing jobs that fuelled the post-World War II economic recovery. Accounting for the rise of today’s digital labour market [3], these negative perceptions and experiences of UK manufacturing are likely to shape children and grandchildren’s career choices. This all adds up to a generational problem in UK manufacturing which is deep-rooted in the cross-generational experiences of what UK manufacturing once represented and the extensive and diverse career opportunities that are available today and will be realisable the future.

These preliminary findings paint an unsettling picture for UK manufacturing, especially when digital transformation has become a strategic priority for companies [4], industries [5] and countries [6]. At the country-level for example, if the UK is to pursue its levelling-up agenda and overcome its regional [7] and international [8] productivity gaps, then attracting young, digitally literate, and productive workers into well-paid, high-skilled manufacturing careers would seem an intuitive and rational approach. However, academic research continues to report that a major barrier for the digital transformation of older firms in various manufacturing sectors is the legacy of underperforming business models, inefficient workplace practices and traditional organisational structures [9], [10], [11].

These organisational legacies also raise the challenge that new digital competitors – such as the big technology firms and technology start-ups – are perceived to attract younger talent and the career aspirations of Generation Z [12] through creative workplace practices, new organisation designs and innovation cultures. 

Therefore, to address this problem, our project intends to co-create the most plausible future scenarios for rebranding UK digital manufacturing to help stakeholders attract the next generation of young talent into manufacturing careers by 2040. As our project is exploratory in design, we will interact with a range of policy makers, educators, employers, and university students to gather insights on how to attract young people into UK digital manufacturing careers by 2040. This will be conducted through six work packages that range from data mining four generations of manufacturing data held by the UK Office for National Statistics to interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders including business owners, industry bodies, technologists, policy makers, educators and students that are passionate about supporting the co-development of UK digital manufacturing.

We will also work with Strategic Innovation Ltd – a technology and innovation consultancy with a passion for sustainability – on a key output which will be the co-creation of a cross-generational map of peoples’ lived experiences of UK manufacturing. This will include both past and present experiences and will visualise potential rebranding opportunities for attracting the next generation of young talent into digital manufacturing careers by 2040.

By providing stakeholders with a visualisation of the future, our project will initiate  the development of a strategy for digital manufacturing careers that can play a central role in the UK’s economic and social development at home and overseas by attracting top talent into these roles.

If you or any colleagues would like to participate in our project, please contact Karl Warner, our Principal Investigator at karl.warner@glasgow.ac.uk for further information.  


References

[1] MAKE UK (2021) Manufacturing Our Recovery Through Inclusion (https://www.makeuk.org/insights/reports/manufacturing-our-recovery-through-inclusion)

[2] InterAct blog (2023) Future workforces: job quality & perceptions of UK manufacturing

(https://interact-hub.org/2023/05/23/future-workforces-job-quality-perceptions-of-uk-manufacturing/)

[3] Digital Skills & Jobs Europa (2023) The Rise of the Digital Labour Market (2022)

(https://digital-skills-jobs.europa.eu/en/inspiration/research/rise-digital-labour-market-2022)

[4] Sousa-Zomer, T. T., Neely, A., & Martinez, V. (2020). Digital transforming capability and performance: a microfoundational perspective. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 40(7/8), 1095-1128.

[5] Ciarli, T., Kenney, M., Massini, S., & Piscitello, L. (2021). Digital technologies, innovation, and skills: Emerging trajectories and challenges. Research Policy, 50(7), 104289.

[6] Senna, P. P., Roca, J. B., & Barros, A. C. (2023). Overcoming barriers to manufacturing digitalization: Policies across EU countries. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 196, 122822.

[7] Office for National Statistics (2023) Regional labour productivity, UK: 2021

(https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/economicoutputandproductivity/productivitymeasures/bulletins/regionallabourproductivityincludingindustrybyregionuk/2021)

[8] Office for National Statistics (2023) International comparisons of UK productivity (ICP), final estimates: 2021

(https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/economicoutputandproductivity/productivitymeasures/bulletins/internationalcomparisonsofproductivityfinalestimates/2021)

[9] Warner, K. S., & Wäger, M. (2019). Building dynamic capabilities for digital transformation: An ongoing process of strategic renewal. Long range planning, 52(3), 326-349.

[10] Jones, M. D., Hutcheson, S., & Camba, J. D. (2021). Past, present, and future barriers to digital transformation in manufacturing: A review. Journal of Manufacturing Systems, 60, 936-948.

[11] Ates, A., & Acur, N. (2022). Making obsolescence obsolete: Execution of digital transformation in a high-tech manufacturing SME. Journal of Business Research, 152, 336-348.

[12] Barhate, B., & Dirani, K. M. (2022). Career aspirations of generation Z: a systematic literature review. European Journal of Training and Development, 46(1/2), 139-157.

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InterAct Blog

Toyota, you and a “human centric” digital manufacturing future

The Interact tagline was carefully crafted when Made Smarter and ESRC stumped up the money to make this network a reality. That tagline being: “pioneering human insight for industry” with the spoken aim to create a “network that aims to bring together economic and social scientists, UK manufacturers, and digital technology providers to address the human issues resulting from the diffusion of new technologies in industry”.

Yes, yes and yes again – this is what drew me to interact in the first place. It makes perfect sense when you think about it; in our factories, to make things, you need to bring machines, materials, and a method of doing it together with people. People are the glue that make the 4Ms work in harmony. And yet, walking the halls of Smart Factory conferences – the exhibitor wares on show are 95% things or data.

IoT, Sensors, robots, cobots, AI and data analytics are all critical, in tandem with people. We need to concurrently invest in skills to get the best out of these innovations, especially if we want a long term functioning society to manage this nascent 4th industrial revolution, without unrest and social upheaval.

Ponder for a second on any investment you make in a manufacturing business. The following are likely to be true:

Somebody has to research the market

Somebody has to talk to vendors

Somebody has to negotiate and buy it

Somebody has to commission it

Somebody has to programme it

Somebody has to maintain it

Somebody has to load and unload it during the shift

Somebody has to change the kit over or update the programme/parameters

Somebody has to respond to it when the Andon goes off

Somebody has to act on that

Somebody has to interpret the data that comes out of sensors

Somebody has to troubleshoot

Somebody has to problem solve and…

…a number of people have to find kaizen to keep you competitive.

‘Somebody’ might be multiple people for each of these activities. What is clear is that ‘Somebody’ needs to considered alongside the physical and data innovation that Industry 4.0 has to offer. InterAct are, comfortingly, working in that space.

This raises an important question about where manufacturers should invest in digital manufacturing. Investment always warrants head scratching as capital dollars/pounds/euros and yen are scarce, but thinking is free. The mantra I’d advise you to adopt underpins the model below. Invest where you SHOULD, not just where you CAN.

This requires pausing, thinking and coming to the CapEx table with a business problem to solve – low productivity or persistent specific quality issues for example. Having said that, the lean start-up principle of creating proof-of-concepts means we can place multiple bets (run trials) on various technologies, as long as we treat them like little experiments to learn whether they’re worth investing in further.

A smart way of thinking about all of this is the Toyota style thinking that I experienced on my last two trips to Japan. They think of it as a numerator and a denominator. The numerator represents the equipment you use to create value that your customers will buy. The aim is to improve the equipment work. The denominator represents the people working in the manufacturing business and asks whether we can improve people’s work.

Within this model, the categories to invest time and resources in are those that:

For the Equipment – “predict problems” or detect “early symptoms” of problems (both of these are likely Safety, Quality or Delivery related)

For the People – “eliminate low value added work” (like walking around checking things at the start of the shift or the admin burden of logging results/performance) or “reduce variation in standard work” (as an example, think 2 setters on opposite shifts changing the same machine from part A to part B, but the first setter takes twice as long)

The real gold to be mined is in the 2 bubbles that serve both. Digital manufacturing done well can “visualise issues” that are hidden to the human eye or our current data harvesting and sensor inputs. Rather nicely, if you listen hard enough to the data, it can identify the next, best kaizen to take you forward.

The idea is this; if you focus on both Equipment and People you’re going to open up a bigger benefit by improving both the numerator and denominator. That sounds very much like competitive advantage to me. As Eddie Jones (yes, the former England Rugby coach) said in his recent book on Leadership “The only reliable advantage we’ve got is to learn faster than the opposition”

InterAct is the best game in town, looking into the future to secure the role of human skill in our bright digital future. Get involved, you can either snooze your way to 2040 and then stand, blinking into the sunlight, complaining about the outcome. Or you can help shape and secure the UK’s place in manufacturing’s coming world order. Interact is moving into an exciting phase in 2023/24 where the research bears practical fruit. There are various ways to get involved, and you can keep up to date with all the latest news and opportunities here.

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‘Making Things Work’ – Perceptions of Manufacturing

The Future of Work team has recently completed a survey of 2107 representative people drawn from across the UK to provide insights into their perceptions of the manufacturing sector and jobs. The primary aim of this survey is to better understand UK public perceptions of the manufacturing industry and jobs, and what factors shape these views and opinions. We were interested in examining a range of issues:

  • Whether people still value (and how positive they feel about) manufacturing in the post-industrial economy, and their awareness of manufacturing in the media
  • What people associate with manufacturing work and jobs, and what qualities they are looking for in jobs that need to be reflected in job offers to attract talent
  • The perceived quality of manufacturing jobs for those currently working in (or familiar with) the sector and whether people would encourage others to enter the sector
  • How new manufacturing technologies are likely to change future jobs and careers in manufacturing
  • How can the sector best attract emerging young and ‘untapped’ talent?

In the ‘war for talent’, perceptions matter because they provide a snapshot of public opinion about the attraction of the sector and working in manufacturing. They may not measure up against ‘reality’, they may be ‘misinformed’ but ultimately this matters more to many of the people we interviewed than employers and industry stakeholders. However, if you are wondering how people in the UK look at the sector, or how employers should be best positioned to attract people into manufacturing, ignore them at your peril.

Our results throw up some surprising and interesting findings that we hope will be useful to a range of key audiences: academics, employers, industry stakeholders and UK policy makers.

Our findings indicate:

  • People still value manufacturing but visibility is lacking
  • Images of manufacturing work are putting people off
  • Job quality matters in manufacturing
  • The digital future looks bright but there are concerns about downskilling and job destruction
  • Attracting future talent means more good people practice

Our key messages for employers and industry stakeholders:

  • Keep talking up the value of your sector, people know you are essential and valuable, but the media reach and messaging of the sector isn’t reflecting that effectively.
  • Legacy images of old-fashioned manufacturing work impact negatively on how people look at jobs and careers in the sector. Although job quality is reasonable for many manufacturing workers, more needs to be done selling this message outside the sector to hard-to-reach groups such as women and minorities.
  • People anticipate that new technologies will improve the quality of future manufacturing jobs but have concerns about job destruction and its likely impact on opportunities and job security.
  • Going forward, attracting new talent will mean employers making greater investments in positive people practices in areas such as well-being, flexible working, and inclusive workspaces.

This work was conducted by Dr. Robert Stewart, Professor Jillian MacBryde, Professor Colin Lindsay and Dr. Carolina Marin-Cadavid (University of Strathclyde). This work was supported by the UKRI Made Smarter Innovation Challenge and the Economic and Social Research Council via InterAct [Grant Reference ES/W007231/1].

For further discussions and information about this research, please contact Robert Stewart.