Q&A: Digital Upskilling

I was asked to contribute to an article, where “Experts discuss the ways in which training providers are responding to manufacturing’s shifting skills landscape”.

This was for The Engineer - May 2021 and can be found here.

For reference, my answers are also published below.

Digital skills seem more important than ever across all strands of engineering. What are the major challenges of digital upskilling as Industry 4.0 evolves?

The diversity of digital platforms and technologies appears to be rising at an exponential rate and while this increased diversity opens up a huge number of opportunities it also brings its own challenges. What digital skills should I be learning? And this is where a mindset change has to take place, rather than approaching digital upskilling as a technological challenge.

How has the COVID pandemic helped or hindered training at/ with your organisation?

The pandemic has both helped and hindered skills development within the University of Sheffi eld AMRC. In the early stages of lockdown, staff were still transitioning to the ‘new normal’, and during this time they had time to devote to online training courses. However, as the ‘new normal’ turned into the ‘normal’, the appeal of online courses diminished and staff looked forward to peer group learning returning. It is felt by many that learning in a physical environment allows greater fl exibility for non-linear learning.

Are there any new technologies or platforms that you are using/ hoping to use to upskill your teams or members?

For upskilling, with COVID we have had to adapt our training and collaborative working. Industry 4.0 combines conventional IT systems with Operational Technology (OT) devices that make purely online working very difficult. The adoption of Digital Twins that give a cyber physical representation, combined with Virtual Reality (VR) platforms, have allowed faster learning in the remote virtual environment. When combined with online learning we have found this very successful. Moving forward we expect the use of VR and Augmented Reality (AR) for learning in what we expect to be a new hybrid home/office normal.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone who is looking to create a digital upskilling programme within their organisation?

It has been observed that many digital programmes ,not just upskilling, fail due to a lack of management buy-in. Therefore, it is critical to have board sponsorship. However, it doesn’t stop there, as digital upskilling needs to extend from the shop floor to the top floor. All levels within an organisation will be impacted by digital technologies and therefore an appropriate skills programme for each level needs to be implemented to enable the true potential of digital transformation to be revealed.