The UK currently ranks 11th in the world in terms of digital readiness, according to latest government figures, which is spurred on by fear, apathy and a dislike of the hype surrounding technical progression.

For many businesses in the UK, consternation is being caused by a reduced amount of access to education and relevant skills. Therefore, companies will need to focus on upskilling their employees in-house rather than relying on them arriving at their office doors fully qualified and clued up.

It is estimated that around one million workers will require upskilling, or a complete reskilling, within the next five years. This will ensure that manufacturing can keep up with changes within the technological sphere, including; AI, 3D printing, VR and AR and the internet of things.

Industrial innovation looks to be one of the biggest challenges for companies operating in the industry, with technical skills lacking alongside too few managers with effective leadership including the likes of change management.

Manufacturing project leader skills

For managers operating in the industrial sector, it is critical for them to possess a distinct set of leadership skills to ensure that they are able to continuously deliver to the expectancy of their clients. Layers of the hierarchy have prevented the execution of developing these skills and have therefore slowed the progression of the industry.

A recent study by Stanton Chase revealed that change management skill is considered the most important skills to possess when it comes to manufacturing project leaders. Further to this, around 38% of those surveyed noted cross-functional management skills as crucial to maintaining the productivity of a manufacturing company.

Further skills include the capability to display advanced technical know-how, motivational skills and high ethical values, in order to effectively lead their team and drive positive change within for their leadership position. Without these skills, the team will fail to be able to look up to their management and productivity may see a downturn or stagnate.

Industry 4.0

The upcoming 'industry 4.0' is focused on data-driven processes, reliance on smart machinery and the overarching internet of things. This will see the biggest shift in global manufacturing since the implementation of automation. Due to advancements across technology including robotics, improved connectivity and the huge amounts of data now available, manufacturing businesses need to position themselves to ensure that they can achieve industrial competitiveness in the near future.

The shift in the workplace represents a holistic change from centralised to decentralised manufacturing. This refers to the adaptation of existing processes, reskilling of talent, changes in the structure of the business and technology adoption. All of the new technologies and the opportunities they bring are hailed as ushering in a new industrial revolution which will see the development of manufacturing companies becoming high-tech eco-systems which will optimise the workplace and drive efficiency.

The future of manufacturing leadership

In the wake of these shifting industry changes, leadership skillsets also need to change. Leaders will not only need to be upskilled in line with the new skills of the workforce but will also need to learn how to manage their teams in a working environment that will incorporate AI, machine learning and mixed reality.

It will also be down to leadership to drive enthusiasm for technology orientated manufacturing workplaces, within their workforces. For many, it may be a key concern that their job will eventually be replaced by a robot or a piece of software. However, leaders will need to work closely with their employees to ensure they debunk any negative attitudes such as these and ensure that employees understand how technology will affect their current and future roles.

The advantages of industry 4.0 require major up-front investment, and therefore the workforce needs to be on board in order to continue to drive productivity and become brand ambassadors for the company. External stakeholders need to have faith in the practises and technology, and the workforce can drive this by championing its use and demonstrate how effectively it can work to improve business capabilities.