Fourth Industrial Revolution could lead to 13,000 new jobs in the North West – but firms must invest

Research from Barclays Corporate Banking claims if SMEs invested in areas such as sensors, big data, energy self-generation and machine learning the benefits could be significant. Tony McDonough reports

Investing in the digital technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution offer a path to business growth

 

New advances in digital technology could lead to the creation up to 13,000 new jobs in the North West within a decade – but only if firms are prepared to invest in new advances.

Research from Barclays Corporate Banking claims that, rather than taking jobs away, fast-emerging technologies such as sensors, big data, energy self-generation and machine learning all have the potential to create employment.

They collectively come under the banner of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR, and the Barclays Intelligent manufacturing: an industrial revolution for the digital age report says too few small and medium-sized firms in the North West are prepared to invest in them.

Optimistic outlook

Another recent report, Made Smarter, says 80% of manufacturers in the North West are confident about Britain’s ability to compete in the international marketplace over the next five years – and 39% attribute this to 4IR technologies.

However, the survey of 500 manufacturing industry decision makers by Barclays found that, while basic forms of automation such as robotics have a high rate of adoption (76%), 43% of manufacturers in the North West are yet to invest in 4IR technologies like artificial intelligence.

Yet economic modelling included within the report predicts that manufacturers could boost the sector by an additional £102bn per year by 2026, provided 4IR sees greater adoption and investment over the coming years. 

It adds that it is the UK’s traditional industrial heartlands of the North West, West Midlands, Yorkshire & Humber and East Midlands could see an extra 49,000 jobs created by 2026 with investment into 4IR technologies.

Local push

In the Liverpool city region the Local Enterprise Partnership has established LCR 4.0, a three year, EU-funded programme to allow SMEs access to the latest 4IR technologies, which has so far engaged almost 100 firms.

There is also the £15m Sensor City project in the city centre, a collaboration between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University which provides cutting edge research and a business incubator. Its target is to help create 300 start-up businesses and 1,000 jobs over the coming year and a number of fledgling businesses have already moved in.

The reception area at Sensor City in Liverpool, a £15m project which wants to help create 300 new businesses

 

Liverpool city region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram also has plans to tap into the Hibernia Link – one of the main transatlantic internet cables which comes ashore at Southport – and link it with the Hartree supercomputer in Daresbury to create superfast connectivity for businesses and homes across the whole city region.

And there is Liverpool’s £2bn Knowledge Quarter project, a transformation of 450 acres in the city which is already under way.

‘At a watershed’

Tony Walsh, managing director, North, at Barclays Corporate Banking said:Our research shows that North West manufacturers see the benefits of this cutting-edge technology, and many have started to match their intentions with investment.

“However, we are at a watershed. While the outlay may seem expensive for many at a time of uncertainty, the industry needs to raise its levels of investment in the skills and infrastructure needed to harness these new technologies and keep us more productive than other international manufacturing hubs.

“Businesses that make the leap will be rewarded. Manufacturing is going through another industrial revolution in the North West but confidence alone does not translate into success and benefit.

Barclays identifies one of the barriers to investment being the shortage of skills with 21% of manufacturers citing a lack of skilled workers as the reason for putting off investment in 4IR.

Additionally, of those that aren’t confident about the UK’s ability to keep its competitive edge internationally, 40% attributed their pessimism to difficulties around recruitment due to a skills shortage.

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