established manufacturing and engineering firms who are struggling to replace their ageing workforce or enhance their existing operations with fresh talent. Developing staff and promoting from

within should be the industry standard, but as manufacturing businesses have expanded, it has become more difficult to fill roles. What’s more, with much of the workforce in long-standing businesses approaching retirement age, many innovative firms have been in danger of losing entire skill sets. But there is a solution. Rather than viewing them as a

What does the future of engineering look like? Mark Butters, General Manager UK & Ireland, Omron Europe, says automation and robots will create more productive roles which can be filled by talented apprentices that add value to manufacturing businesses


t is a common misconception that with the evolvement into Industry 4.0 that

automated machines and robots will take over – this need not be a fear, as it is simply not the case. There is a shortage in the UK when it comes to engineering skills, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of decline. In actuality, the ability to recruit and retain talent is the main challenge. The key today is for smart manufacturers to attract the next generation of aspiring engineers with the desire to nurture a successful, long-term, future career.

BUSTING THE AUTOMATION MYTH Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence technologies are changing the face of British manufacturing – the sector could unlock £455bn over the next few years if it cracks the 4th Industrial Revolution1

. The public still

perceive automation as ‘job-stealing’, as 34% of British workers see automation as a threat to their job security2

. In fact,

the opposite is true. By replacing monotonous and repetitive tasks, automation will free up the workforce to take on more challenging, productive roles – and the uptake of Industrial Digitalisation Technologies (IDT) could result in a 25% productivity boost in the UK, creating 175,000 new jobs over the next 10 years3


The need to retain and upskill existing employees and recruit new, high quality




staff is certainly reassuring for British workers fearful of the digital revolution. But the scale of the challenge for firms cannot be underestimated. Engineering is facing a skills crisis of unprecedented proportions. Annually, 203,000 people with level 3+ engineering skills are needed through to 2024, and the annual shortfall is projected to be at least 59,0004

. This creates a real dilemma for

It is critical that companies begin to invest in the future of the next generation of engineers to help close the widening skills gap

1Industrial Digitalisation Review 2


3Industrial Digitalisation Review 4


temporary quick fix, apprentices should be seen as exactly what they are – a new pipeline of valued talent. Giving apprentices a broad exposure to a business and the support and supplementary education they need means there is no question of them leaving the business or failing to gain employment. When done correctly it can be a seamless transition into a lifelong career – at Omron, we have a 100% apprentice retention rate.

A LONG-TERM APPROACH However, apprenticeships are just the starting point – continued investment in developing staff and intending on keeping people for a long time is key. By placing apprentices in roles deemed ‘at risk’, firms can plan for the future, finding suitable candidates for roles that can be challenging to fill. Apprentices may not have all the skills from the offset, but they can benefit from learning in-depth the theory behind a role, while being able to apply this to practical situations that bring business value. What does the future hold for young

engineers? With current and former apprentices

making tangible differences to businesses across the sector, engineering and manufacturing apprenticeship schemes continue to grow. At Omron we’re looking to develop a graduate scheme and are undergoing a detailed skills analysis to highlight future staff and knowledge shortages and take steps to address them now – before they affect the business. The main factor that needs to be

brought to attention is the importance of apprentices. It is critical that companies begin to invest in the future of the next generation of engineers to help close the ever-widening skills gap. Yes, automation may be the future, but we can only get there with an inspired, and dedicated, workforce.

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