Skills gap concerns cloud UK’s position in the ‘global technology race’

Business leaders across the automotive, utilities, construction, aerospace, and services sectors have warned that a skills gap is holding the UK back in a "global technology race", which separate analysis suggests could generate £34.8bn for London's economy by 2030.

Siemens polled 30 chief executives of UK businesses at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, to analyse how businesses were reacting to the UK’s attempt to embrace disruptive new technologies in areas such as data and mobility.

Notably, 25 of the 30 chief executives felt that a lack of advanced digital skills in the workforce would hinder the UK’s ability to integrate new technologies into existing business and infrastructure systems.

“We spoke to leading CEOs about what they thought digital could do for Britain – and the sense of excitement about what could be achieved was very real,” Siemen’s chief executive Juergen Maier, said. “There is an appetite to accelerate digitalisation in the UK, but lack of leadership and skills hold us back.

“The consensus was overwhelmingly clear – we need to rapidly retrain the existing labour force to cope with changes in technologies and get the new entrants the best possible start with renewed investment in education and technical digital skills.”

Business leaders agreed that industry should work with the UK Government and higher education institutions to deliver best practice that is focused on equipping existing and future workforces with the right skills to embed new technologies such as big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) and distributed energy systems into the private sector.

It was agreed that part of the problem stemmed from the “lack of a truly joined-up” national industrial and digital strategy. In fact, almost half of the business leaders felt the UK was too slow at placing new technologies into manufacturing operations, compared the five who felt the UK was the fastest.

Seamless mobility

The UK’s ability to deliver new systems based on disruptive technologies could have huge economic ramifications. Earlier this week, McKinsey analysis of 50 metropolitan areas across the globe – including London, Shanghai and Singapore – revealed that integrating smart mobility systems could generate more than £450bn globally.

The analysis claimed that governments that were willing to advance towards a “seamless mobility system” that captured IoT, autonomous driving and distributed energy systems ahead of other cities could boost GDP by 3.9%. From 2015 to 2030, the cumulative benefit could reach as high as £34.8bn for London.

The McKinsey analysis also highlights the importance of a joint-up thinking approach between the private sector and policymakers to deliver the benefits.

“The private sector will exert important influences, too, as companies adjust to new consumer behaviours,” the analysis states.” Utilities, for example, will need to manage possible increases in electricity demand resulting from the wider use of electric vehicles.

“Automakers can expect the automotive revenue pool to grow and diversify as the mix of vehicles sold tilts toward electric and autonomous vehicles. The trend toward connected cars will affect technology companies and insurers, causing disruption and creating opportunities in areas such as data analytics.”

Technological advances will likely boost London’s air quality, according to the analysis. A combination of EVs, ride sharing and public transit will reduce transport emissions that have been aggravating local air pollution.

The timing is relevant. Environmental lawyers are taking the government to the high court for a third time in a bid to remove “major flaws” from minister’s plans to tackle the UK’s illegal levels of air pollution.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie