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Small business struggling to fund digital adoption, report finds

Small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are struggling with the transition to digital technologies due to a lack of skills and technical knowledge amongst their workforce, Make UK has said.

The broad move towards digitisation has been accelerated in 2020 due to the pressure exerted by the coronavirus pandemic to shift employees to home working.

In a new report, Make UK said that finance “scarcity” - exacerbated by the pandemic - is becoming a significant block in preventing companies from boosting their digital credentials.

Make UK has called on the government to broaden programmes designed to boost digital adoption, such as the 'Made Smarter' pilot in the North West which has made the region second to only the South East in this area.

Other countries, such as Germany and Japan, have extensive support systems in place to help their manufacturing SMEs modernise, giving them a significant boost to their international competitiveness, said Make UK.

Stephen Phipson, Make UK CEO, admitted that many manufacturers have faced “unprecedented challenges” in recent months which has further highlighted the need for digital technologies.

“Remote working, whether that be monitoring of equipment or remote production processes, have without doubt been the saviour of many companies,” he added. “Digital programme rollouts have been achieved in a matter of months when such change would normally have taken years to achieve.”

“In the coming months, as supply chains return to normal, it is important to build resilience and further accelerate digital adoption to give UK manufacturing that turbo charge to deliver even greater international competitiveness.

“Digital adoption allows companies to work as effectively and efficiently as possible and it is vital government steps up to work with industry to make sure Britain’s smaller and often most innovative companies get that bespoke help they need to make the most of the technologies available to them.”

A recent survey of almost 1,000 members of the Institute of Directors (IoD) found that three out of four would be keeping increased home-working even after the coronavirus pandemic has ended.

More than half of those polled said their organisation intended to reduce their long-term use of workplaces. Other adjustments such as flexible working and moving services online have also worked well, business leaders told the IoD.

Nevertheless, an unrelated poll undertaken last week found that while UK workers are mostly happy to operate outside of the office, they are uncomfortable with technology that monitors their activity when working remotely, such as keystroke and camera monitoring. 

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