Automation has long been seen by most as a negative force, an enemy of jobs and the people who inhabit them. There have been doom and gloom statements, stories and opinions, with regards to the adoption of automation within the UK economy. I, on the other hand, see things differently. I view automation not as the enemy, but as the solution. Increased adoption and implementation of automation are both good. Will automation solve all our problems and fast? No, it won’t. But it can be the answer to some of the key challenges that we currently face (and will face) in our economy.
The UK has a productivity problem that has been present for almost a decade. The ONS (Office for National Statistics) said: “it has taken the UK a decade to deliver 2% growth, which historically was achieved in a single year,”. If productivity is down, that is a sign that we are not making or selling more and as a result, the goal of a more prosperous economy seems to be only a dream. Investment by the government and the private sector, into automated technology, is necessary to help drive the increase in productivity and create growth.
The rise of self-service checkouts has brought about a very familiar debate. It has been argued that self-service checkouts will take away jobs from the humans who man the checkout stations within supermarkets. This may be true, but they also create more jobs than redundancies. Self-checkout machines require a workforce with the skills to write the software they will use, design and build them and they also need workers who are skilled to service and maintain them should they need it.
PLCs are used in a variety of today’s everyday tasks and equipment and they have transformed how automation works. 1968 saw the introduction of the very first PLC, but they were brought in to replace a previous technology called relays.
Relays were the only way in which machinery could be operated remotely. Relays functioned by passing electricity through a metal coil which would then create a magnetic force that would turn a switch to the on or off position. The issue with using such technology meant that they took up a lot of space, coils would break often from being repeatedly heated and troubleshooting these issues took up a lot of time.
As the need for a more reliable automated system was required, PLCs became more complex and powerful in their function. They also needed to be programmed and this led to the implementation of a universal standard to which programme languages would come under. Innovation in this area of automation has seen the benefits not only for businesses but also for customers. Amazon is a great example of a business that operates on a large scale and therefore requires automation to ensure that the process from when an order is placed to being delivered, is carried out perfectly.
With a rising population and an increase in the demand, businesses need a way of ensuring products and services that they produce is done on an even greater scale, quickly, whilst not compromising on quality. Take the case of Coca-Cola. In 2012 Coca-Cola had partnered with Siemens to initiate “a new standardization of automation and controls process”. The aim of this was to “aid Coca-Cola’s drive to step up the production capacity of its bottling and canning line”. To meet their goals, Coca-Cola and companies in similar positions required the expertise of companies who specialize in automation. Currently, companies such as Capula, Cougar Automation, and Boulting technology are some examples of companies that had been developed to offer system integration services to companies in need.
I will not ignore the fears that automation will mean that certain jobs done by humans will be taken over by robots. In the pursuit of increased productivity and prosperity, this cannot be avoided. But it does offer an opportunity and this opportunity is one that should be seized upon and not feared or ignored.
Investment in our educational system and promotion of STEM subjects should be the main priority for policymakers. Developing a more relevant and up to date curriculum within schools, colleges and universities offer long term benefits. This will ensure that those coming through our education system will be highly trained and well equipped to enter the workplace.
Education is needed not only to ensure that the future workforce is well skilled, but it is also needed to make sure existing workforces can learn new skills. This will cut down the amount of those who are left behind because they occupy repetitive jobs that are easily replaceable.
The positive effects of automation will not be seen right away as it will take time to work out how best to manage this transition. But I think it is important that we embrace automation as a solution to the challenges we face. It would be a wise move for both policymakers and business leaders to invest in automation. Done right, the UK could be in with a chance of being a key player, or at the very least play a part, in this fourth industrial revolution and in time, a leader of the coming fifth revolution. Failure to invest and embrace automation will ensure that the UK will be left behind.
As stated in my title, automation is not the enemy; it is the solution. Automation is a tool that can be used to solve many problems. As we develop more ways to be productive, we will require those with the skillset to help develop programs to benefit the entire UK economy and the wider world. Let us get behind automation.
EDT Charity Partnership Announcement
Hernshead Recruitment Limited are pleased to announce the Engineering Development Trust (EDT) as our first charity partnership.
EDT will benefit exclusively from the Hernshead graduate recruitment pledge, whereby a donation of £500 per graduate placed within the Engineering & Technology sectors is made.
This forms part of Hernshead Recruitment commitment to help develop and promote the industry and encourage the next generation of young engineers to continue the UK’s envious reputation within Engineering, Technology & Manufacturing.
EDT is a dedicated nationwide charity with over 30 years of experience. They work with over 1,300 schools and educational institutions to deliver more than 40,000 STEM experiences per year.
They are also responsible for developing and leading the Industrial Cadet initiative of which His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales is a patron.
Tom Johnson, Director of Hernshead Recruitment said “As a business we were very impressed with the great work the EDT are doing to increase interest in STEM careers and working with young people and business to help create further opportunities. Their ethos fits perfectly with our aim to promote, support and engage people into the fantastic STEM Industries this country has. We look forward to our donations helping to give more young people opportunities and allowing our staff to volunteer with this fantastic charity”.
Julie Feest, CEO of Engineering Development Trust said "We are delighted that Hernshead Recruitment are joining with us as a charity partner. Partnerships are an important part of the charity’s future, and Hernshead show all the qualities of an organisation that we love to work with, by making the steps to getting the first job easier for graduates and kindly making a donation to us each time they place a new graduate with a business. By enabling this partnership, we are supporting young people to see the pathways to a successful career in STEM, which is in line with our vision and puts young people’s needs at the forefront of everything that we do.”
Even though Scarlett Allen-Horton failed to become the third recruiter to win the BBC TV series The Apprentice last month, another recruiter has persuaded Lord Sugar to invest in his company.
Without appearing on the programme, Tom Johnson, who only set up Hernshead Recruitment in July last year, told Recruiter he had approached Lord Sugar through the tycoon’s private investment vehicle Amsvest.
“He [Lord Sugar] was advertising that he is interested in businesses that maybe didn’t want to go on the TV show, and we are looking for investment, so I reached out to him,” explains Johnson.
Johnson says the process involved providing Lord Sugar with an insight into the market, the company’s growth and expansion plans, and explaining how the company would differentiate itself from others in a crowded market: “Engineering and manufacturing was his passion initially, and how he made his name and fortune, so I think it was a chance for him to enter a market he knows.”
Having watched the final of The Apprentice last month, Johnson said: “It was very familiar. Lord Sugar knows it’s a crowded market and is interested how can you stand out and be different. He knows recruitment because he has two other recruitment businesses [Ricky Martin’s Hyper Recruitment Solutions, and James White’s Right Time Recruitment].”
While not going into detail, Johnson says Lord Sugar has invested a substantial amount in the business, which has been used to hire staff, open a new office and give staff the best technology and IT equipment.
Johnson says that as well as being a company director alongside himself, Lord Sugar has a strong interest in the business and how it is run. “He has given me some real insights, and he has a very established team around him that provides a lot of support.”
He has an interest in which clients we are working with and how he can help. He is very hands-on when we need him to be in terms of helping to promote and guide the business forward.
Since launching the business this summer, Johnson says the company has enjoyed strong growth. However, he emphasises that the company is not pursuing growth at any cost. “What we’re trying to do is to find the balance between growing quickly and not growing too quickly because one of our key things is that the people we put out to deal with clients and candidates are well trained, well qualified and experienced in their field.
“We’re not just putting anyone on the phone, as our reputation is key. We have a fourth person joining the business shortly and we’re looking then to expand into double figures over the next year.”