Belinda’s Blog: Digitalisation in the UK Advanced Manufacturing Sector 

Published on: 9th July 2024

The advanced manufacturing sector in the UK is at a pivotal point of transformation, driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and digital innovations are revolutionising products and production processes, significantly reshaping the UK economy. While some businesses are already benefiting, many manufacturers have yet to embark on their digital journey. The advantages of digitalisation, including enhanced productivity and reduced operational costs, especially for SMEs, are compelling. However, several barriers stop the widespread adoption of digital technologies.  


Key Barriers to Digitalisation  

Skills Gap  

Lack of Digital Skills: Many SME’s lack the necessary digital skills within their workforce to implement and maintain advanced technologies. Continuous skill development and training are critical, ranging from basic digital literacy to advanced technical skills in areas like automation, data analysis, and AI. The key is to first establish the individual skills sets of the team and use the right people for the right role. 

Training and Education: There is a significant need for targeted education and training programmes to equip current and future workers with the skills required to navigate and excel in a digitalised manufacturing environment.   


Funding Constraints  

Initial Investment Costs: The initial costs associated with digitalisation can be prohibitive for many SMEs. Investments in new technologies, infrastructure, and training can strain financial resources.  

Access to Financial Support: While some funding opportunities exist, many SME’s struggle to access the financial support needed to invest in digitalisation. More generous and accessible funding mechanisms are desperately needed.  


Knowledge and Expertise  

Awareness and Understanding: A lack of awareness and understanding of the benefits and implementation processes of digital technologies can put off SME’s from adopting these innovations.  

Expert Guidance: Access to expertise and guidance on how to effectively integrate digital technologies into existing operations is often limited.  


Culture and Leadership  

Resistance to Change: Organisational culture and resistance to change can pose significant barriers to digitalisation. 

Leaders may be hesitant to adopt innovative technologies due to fear of the unknown. Employees may have concerns about job security and just may not want to change the way they’ve always don’t things or to embrace new technologies.  

Leadership Commitment: Strong leadership commitment is crucial to drive digital transformation. Without a clear vision and commitment from the top, digitalisation efforts can stall.  


Strategies to Overcome Barriers 

Skills Development  

Investment in Training Programmes: Develop and promote robust training programmes to enhance digital skills across the workforce. This includes partnerships with educational institutions to align curricula with what the industry needs.  

Continuous Learning Culture: Foster a culture of continuous learning and professional development to ensure employees can adapt to modern technologies and processes.  


Cultural Change and Leadership  

Leadership Training: Invest in leadership training programmes to equip executives and managers with the skills needed to lead digital transformation initiatives.  

Change Management Strategies: Implement change management strategies to address resistance and build a positive attitude towards digitalisation. This includes “shouting out” about the benefits and impact of modern technologies.  



To fully support the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the UK advanced manufacturing sector must address the barriers to digitalisation. By focusing on skills development, enhancing financial support, sharing knowledge and expertise, and fostering a culture of innovation and strong leadership, SMES can overcome these challenges, unlock significant productivity gains, and cost reductions. Ensuring that SMEs can start on their digital journey will be key to sustaining the sector’s competitiveness and growth in the global market.