SME manufacturers in Greater Manchester, supported by Made Smarter in their drive to digitalise, are upskilling nearly 475 workers to create the teams of tomorrow.

The Made Smarter Adoption programme in the North West has worked with more than 1,200 businesses since 2019, supporting them to introduce digital tools and technologies to help boost productivity and growth, and navigate the impact of Covid-19.

Among these, 160 businesses have secured matched funding to develop projects using technologies which enable them to integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and even create simulations of their plants and processes. Others are using 3D-printing, automation, and robotics to solve business challenges and meet increased demand.                     

Manufacturers are upskilling 1,822 roles to meet the demands of these emerging technologies and ensure successful digital transformation. They include 38 Lancashire businesses upskilling 473 jobs.

But SME leaders are also navigating the cultural challenges of digitalisation: good digital leadership; bringing the team along on the journey; effective communication of the benefits of change; capturing the technical skills and know-how of older workers before they leave the industry; attracting new digital talent into the organisation; and plugging skills gaps.

Made Smarter is supporting manufacturers in a variety of ways to meet these challenges, including organisation and workforce development (OWD) advice to enhance business performance through people, and a leadership programme designed to equip managers and directors with the strategic view and the skills needed to pursue smarter manufacturing.

Digital technology internships are helping embed digital natives with fresh perspectives into a business, while digital transformation workshops can identify the challenges associated with going digital and develop a bespoke roadmap for technology implementation.

Arden Dies, a die and tooling manufacturer based in Stockport, has worked with Made Smarter to create a digital roadmap, taken onboard digital interns Ursula Ackah and Tom Brine who specialise in 3D printing, and enrolled Operations Manager Sarah Poynter on the leadership programme. The collective result is that 20 of its workforce have been upskilled.

Sarah said: “We have always invested in the best technology and machinery, but there are historic challenges that need our focus if we are to capitalise on the next stage of our growth.”

“We are a traditional manufacturer, so change can be scary. We are on the journey and starting to see the benefits of educating the whole team, top to bottom. We have also focused on improving leadership and project management skills to help drive our digital transformation and better communicate changes that are essential for organisation.

“We have developed in-house training on waste and lean manufacturing to change the culture and mindset across the shopfloor, encouraging the workforce to question if there is a better way to do things. And we have two Made Smarter interns with expertise in additive manufacturing to mentor and share their skills across the business to imbed that knowledge.”

Fabricon Design, a business which used advanced manufacturing methods to produce innovative plastics, aluminium and steel component designs, based in Ashton-under-Lyne, has also used Made Smarter’s digital internship programme to drive the upskilling process. 

Luke Hickson, a master’s postgraduate studying Industrial Digitalisation at Manchester Metropolitan University, has supported the implementation of technology projects and training the workforce.

Rebecca Lee-Panton, Compliance Manager, said: “The success of adopting new technology into Fabricon Design was developing new skills to make the most of the investment. Luke has supported that process, first as an intern and then as a full-time member of the team. He has been an amazing asset, training operators in our new data collection system and the use of tablets and handheld scanners, which is now trickling down to other operatives.”

Ruth Hailwood, Organisational and Workforce Development Specialist Adviser for Made Smarter, said: “Choosing and implementing the right technologies and solutions is only one part of digitalisation. 

“Technologies are tools, but digitalisation is all about connecting systems and processes and sharing data to inform decisions made by people.”

“Empowering staff on the front line is vital to a successful digital transformation, so manufacturers need to have or work to create a culture that is open to change and looking to grow and innovate. This will ensure the buy-in and support of the team, which alongside the right skill sets, good digital leadership, and effective communication, will make sure everyone shares the same vision and people can reap the benefits of using these new tools effectively.

“Doing a skills audit is key to identifying where people need development with a view to future-proofing the organisation. This can also identify and unlock the hidden talent that already exists in the business or focus on capturing technical skills and know-how in a veteran employee.”