How to bridge the skills gap with automated engineering

12.07.2018

As the UK’s engineering industry continues to thrive economically, a persistent skills shortage sweeping the sector is starting to raise concerns about long-term sustainability. According to the State of Engineering Survey by Engineering UK, the industry requires 265,000 new skilled entrants annually in order to meet demand by 2024.

In theory, this requirement shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge: after all, salaries for graduates sit well above the national average with post-graduate qualifications promising a further premium. Moreover, thanks to a number of schemes and initiatives that were put in place to encourage more women to the profession, there is virtually no gender pay gap across most engineering disciplines.  Nevertheless, there still remains a shortfall of 20,000 engineering graduates each year.

There are many factors we could attribute the skills shortage to - a retiring workforce, misrepresentations of the industry and outdated curriculums to name a few. However, if manufacturers are to expand operations, drive innovation and improve productivity to meet the growing demand, they must prepare for their final phase of digital transformation: automated engineering.

Automate to facilitate

Naturally, the idea of industrial automation replacing the human workforce is one that sends chills down the spines of workers throughout the sector. However, when a stark lack of digital skills prevents innovation and a shallow talent pool becomes a mere puddle, automation becomes the only logical solution in bridging the skills gap once and for all - but it’s not all doom and gloom.

In fact, robotics in manufacturing facilities has already proved beneficial in reducing the need for human operators manually completing pick-and-place, assembly and inspection tasks. In a recent example, a SCARA robot installed within an electronics components factory showed its ability to complete the assembly process faster and more accurately than a human worker. Rather than replacing staff, advancements in the field of robotics has allowed employees to take on more varied and mentally engaging tasks while boosting productivity through the roof.

Automate to innovate

A look into the realm of industrial software reveals further examples of how automated engineering is plugging the skills gap and transforming the profession. COPA-DATA’s ‘zenon’ uses automated engineering to improve employee workflow by supporting the project engineer on menial or routine activities. For machine builders, this has proved particularly advantageous in fulfilling the demand for customised products.

Today, both Original Equipment Manufacturers and machine builders face mounting pressure to design and build products in small amounts. Rather than mass-produced items, customers want bespoke equipment for their facilities that are designed to meet unique specifications: if completed manually, this presents a mammoth task for the OEM. However, by harnessing the power of automated engineering, OEMs and machine builders alike can use pre-configured modules that climate the need to repetitively program machines. As a result, the likelihood for errors is drastically reduced and products can be rolled out much faster.

Of course, there are those who believe this is just the beginning; that increasing automation will remove the need for human workers entirely. However, if findings from the recent Engineering UK survey are anything to go by, it’s clear that this is not the case. Instead, employers in the engineering sphere anticipate a growing need for individuals with higher level skills; they will soon need those with abilities that cannot be replaced by automation.