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UK needs ‘greater ambition’ to benefit from fourth industrial revolution, review says

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A report commissioned as part of the UK’s new industrial strategy states that the fourth industrial revolution could create thousands of new jobs and generate hundreds of billions of pounds if handled appropriately.

The report, “Made Smarter”, was chaired by Juergen Maier, CEO of Siemens UK and Ireland, with contributions from senior figures in industry (including executives of IBM, Rolls and CBI), small business leaders and university researchers. It was commissioned with the launch of the government’s new industrial strategy for post-Brexit future in January.

It is focused on industrial digitalisation: the application of digital technologies to industry, allowing for a merging of physical and digital worlds. This fusing of physical, digital and even biological is central to the “fourth industrial revolution” (also known as “Industry 4.0").

“Industry has put forward a set of recommendations that it firmly believes, if delivered as a combined package of measures, will achieve the UK’s ambition of becoming a world leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by 2030,” Maier reports.

“Delaying action will not only perpetuate the current productivity challenges within UK industry, but erode the opportunity for the UK to be an early adopter of transformational technology.”

Advances and expansions of technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented and virtual reality, 3D printing and robotics could boost the manufacturing sector by nearly £500bn over the next ten years, with annual growth of up to three per cent, and create a least 175,000 new jobs, the report stated.

However, this requires “greater ambition” to take advantage of the latest digital revolution and an effective plan for the future of the UK after its withdrawal from the EU. At present, the UK suffers from poor leadership of industrial digitisation, low levels of adoption and the inability to translate research into commercial applications.

The report presents a number of “game-changing” recommendations, summarised under the headings of Adoption, Innovation and Leadership.

These include the establishment of a National Adoption Programme beginning in the North-West of England to provide support for smaller businesses and upskill a million industrial workers, the founding of 12 ‘Digital Innovation Hubs’, and a ‘Made Smarter UK Commission’ bringing together government, academia and industry to lead industrial digitisation.

Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn used his keynote speech at the Labour Party conference in September to speak out about the need for a “National Education Service” to provide training in new skills for Britons of all ages, in order to protect against technological unemployment in coming years.

“The technologies that underpin [the fourth industrial revolution] are highly disruptive, requiring business to be innovative, agile and adaptable,” Maier’s summary concluded.

“Get it wrong, and we risk further de-industrialising our economy, and becoming ever more reliant on imports. Get it right, and we will have found the key to rebalancing and strengthening our economy, creating many new, exciting, and well-paid jobs, and leading a renaissance for the UK as a true nation of creators and makers”

The report has largely been received positively by industry. According to  Graeme Wright, CTO for manufacturing, utilities and services at Fujitsu UK and Ireland: “The recommendations made in this report are a step in the right direction, and we hope they do come to fruition. The clamour for traditional industries to move into the digital age is mounting, with governments, businesses and trade associations alike calling for action.”

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