The Industrial Revolution that Scotland cannot afford to miss

Everyone knows that Scotland has a rich industrial history and everyone knows, too, the difficult times that Scottish industry faced in the final decades of the 20th century. But making, creating and innovating is part of the nation’s fabric and there are very many world class companies and sectors thriving up and down the country. It is because of this that I believe that Scotland has an opportunity to lead the digital transformation that is taking place in manufacturing and, indeed, other industries too.

Even though Scotland has inherent industrial strengths there is some catching up to do, just as there is in the rest of the UK. This is because Scotland missed out on the last industrial leap that took place in the 1970’s and 1980’s, defined by the rise of electronics and microprocessors. The decline of engineering and manufacturing sectors in the latter part of the 20th century came at a time when other countries were investing in their industrial bases, and heavily at that. Places like Singapore, Taiwan and Japan thrived whilst the UK as a whole typically underinvested and lost its way.

The social consequences of this were dire. Unemployment was far too high for far too long, and too many people and places were left behind.

There is however a new window of opportunity opening for Scotland’s industrial economy, and I will be saying more about this today at the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service’s ‘Making Smarter in Scotland’ Conference.
The new opportunity, the next industrial revolution, is all about digitalisation and how it can unlock the productivity of Scotland’s people and in doing so improve living standards for millions. It is a revolution that is already underway and will transform business and society across the globe.

And my message will be simple – we must invest in the latest and best tech to help Scotland grow its industrial base over the coming decades.

To do this we will need to apply the tools of the digital world – virtual reality, augmented reality or artificial intelligence into manufacturing and physical things, like robotics and production lines. It will need connectivity with the internet of things too, technology that helps machines talk to one another and collect data that can be used to massively improve productivity.

By focusing on digitalisation Siemens believes that not only can industry become more efficient but that the economy can create whole new industries in the supply chain dedicated to these new technologies. Imagine if we ‘cross pollinated’ Scotland’s industrial base with its digital start up sector, for example? You can see the new skills and technologies emerging already, the new economy already seeding.

Take the number of people working in Scotland’s video games sector, which has increased by nearly a quarter since 2016. It is the second fasting growing sector in the country. It’s worth £172m to the economy. There are also around 3,000 digital economy companies employing roughly 70,000 people in total. Imagine if we harnessed these digital assets what we could do for the already hefty industrial sector? Companies like Siemens are digital pioneers, and we can see the potential of Scotland to digitalise and grow its industrial base over the coming years, through this ‘cross pollination’.

Last year I chaired a major industrial review for the UK Government called ‘Made Smarter’. It looked at this very topic and how all four corners of Britain can benefit from this new industrial revolution that so many other nations’ globally are already embracing with open arms. The review found that, as a minimum, over 10 years digitalisation could boost UK manufacturing by £455bn, increasing sector growth up to 3% per year, creating a net gain of 175,000 jobs whilst reducing CO2 emissions by 4.5%.

I firmly believe Scotland must be part of this new revolution building on its already substantial assets such as the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland. The Made Smarter proposals say that there must be a focus on strong leadership to drive this revolution, and that business with government must encourage the adoption of digital tech across the supply chain, especially within SMEs. Critically industry must be faster at innovation and the creation of new industrial digital technologies.

There is good news here, according to the Scottish Development Agency, Scotland does more research per capita than anywhere else in the UK and is the most successful for spin-out companies. And this is important because the Made Smarter Review calls for a UK-wide national adoption programme, a joint plan between business and government to help industrial SME’s digitalise their businesses. Scotland already has the frameworks to deliver such a programme and a great track record of delivering tangible and commercial R&D. This will be driven by a Made Smarter Commission for all of the UK, and will be accompanied by a plan to up-skill new and existing employees in the latest digital technologies.

My call to business and government in Scotland is simple – don’t get left behind, get fully involved in Made Smarter and tailor it to the unique industrial attributes the economy has here.

If we get these things right, coupled with a determination from government and industry to invest and scale up, we can ensure that the next century will be one where Scotland leads the world in the latest innovations. It will also require and create the skills that are needed across all industries: digital skills, engineering skills, programming and coding skills, social sciences skills and lots of creative skills that Scotland already has a firm foundation in.

And that will be to the benefit of not just business but to employees too, as higher rates of productivity help raise living standards – making this new industrial revolution as much about people as it is about technology. The potential is to create many new highly paid jobs, better exports and it will reinforce Scotland’s reputation as a country of innovators, creators and makers.

By embracing this new digital revolution, Scotland has everything to gain for its economy and everything to gain for its people.

1 thought on “The Industrial Revolution that Scotland cannot afford to miss”

  1. The decline in the 1970’s & 80’s of the great British companies involved in heavy electrical engineering, lighting and domestic appliances was indeed dramatic. Industrial trouble in other industries meant it was easy to lay the blame at the door of the workforce. In fact it had much more to do with a lack of investment, particularly in Research & Development. The sale of business assets, land and factories, to consolidate the manufacturing base as the product sales declined due to competition from abroad and worst of all the lack of attention given to product quality. This especially damaging considering the former power of “made in Britain”.
    The resurgence in British Manufacturing in the last few decades has been magnificent. Now it is often non British owners who are providing the investment but that does suggest the previous problems were not all about UK workers or line management.
    So yes it is the moment to scale up the efforts to be at the forefront of the latest technologies and to think “Made Smarter” in Scotland and also in the rest of the UK.
    At the same time dispel the myth that we are not manufacturers anymore and manufacturing does not matter. We are still Manufacturers and many of our products are of the highest quality and are respected once more in markets around the world.
    In or out of the EU we will only prosper if our product in goods or services are of the highest quality and fulfill the needs of customers the world over.

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