British businesses could combat fears over a post-Brexit meltdown by cracking the fourth industrial revolution, which has the potential to unlock an extra £455bn over the next decade and create tens of thousands of jobs.
So says a government commissioned review on industrial digitalisation, led by Jürgen Maier, the UK and Ireland boss of German engineering giant Siemens.
The report claims that a deal between government and industry could put the UK at the forefront of new technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, giving a much needed productivity boost and a net gain of 175,000 highly skilled, better paid jobs.
Maier, who was tasked by Theresa May to provide a long-term vision for industry, insisted the proposals could serve as an “antidote” to some of the tough challenges and higher costs facing the manufacturing sector as a result of Brexit.
“The business and academic community has set out a vision for much greater ambition needed for Britain to be a world leader in the fourth industrial revolution,” Maier said. “The good news here is Britain is not starting from nothing. The UK has brilliant knowledge, assets and skills in this space but it is sometimes not as organised as it could be.
“This combined package of measures will boost UK growth and productivity in manufacturing and provide more exports and increased earning potential, which our economy desperately needs.”
The 246-page review brings together in a series of recommendations the views and input from over 200 firms and organisations, including Rolls-Royce, Accenture and Cambridge and Newcastle universities.
The so-called “made smarter” proposals include building a national digital ecosystem, which would give SME engineering companies the chance to go to a physical space to experiment with new technologies and see how they might be applied to a process in their own factories. Government support through tax incentives and funding would also facilitate the process of adopting new technologies, the review concluded.
The review also recommends the creation of 12 digital innovation hubs as part of a new national innovation programme to create new technologies and companies, where start-ups would work with universities and established firms.
Thirdly, it calls for a new national body, titled Made Smarter UK Commission, including representatives from industry, government and academia to safeguard a long-term commitment to the work, which Maier hopes will lead to the “upskilling” of a million industrial workers in Britain.
In response, CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “The UK must compete with China, the US and much of Europe where there are already advanced plans to embrace the fourth industrial revolution. I urge the Government to consider these plans carefully, as they are focused on increasing productivity and wages, especially in smaller businesses.”
Dean Withey, CEO of AI-driven chatbot building company Ubisend, added: “These findings will be wholeheartedly accepted by those in the technology industry. We have already seen vast developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality and those embracing technology, especially in the workplace, will already have seen a boost in productivity amongst their employees. The net gain of 175,000 better paid, highly skilled manufacturing jobs this new report predicts is just the beginning. In the near future we will see an overhaul in the way people’s skills are used and enhanced through automation.”
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