These were not starry eyed idealists but sensitive people who could see the potential downsides and were happy to debate with members of the audience the moral and ethical issues associated with autonomous vehicles and other difficult choices we may have to make. But what came across loud and clear was the positive stuff; the enthusiasm, the creative opportunities for engineers now and in the future, the potential to provide and harness the power of big data to find life changing solutions to some of our planet’s biggest problems.
Closer to home I was party to some similar positive thinking about the opportunities offered by Industrial Digitalisation when I attended a workshop recently at the Royal Academy of Engineering. We were asked to consider whether Industrial Digitalisation would create more jobs in the long run or destroy jobs. Again, it was a lively debate but the message which I took away from that meeting was a sense of optimism. We talked about how automation and robotics will be an essential part of filling the chronic skills gap we all acknowledge we have in Engineering and Manufacturing industries , not by replacing people but by enabling people to upskill and to work with digital technology to drive step change productivity improvements and to transform manufacturing and engineering processes. We talked about how this will enhance the roles of those who work in engineering, whether that is alongside robots or in designing and building engineering solutions of the future. We also concluded that we don’t talk anywhere near enough about the upsides and the positives of these technologies which are with us today and are already transforming our lives for the better.
Perhaps that’s why we are lagging behind other industrial nations in our level of investment and our rate of adoption of these technologies in so many workplaces. Perhaps if we stopped scaring ourselves that the robots are going to take our jobs away and looked on them as friends who are going to become part of our lives and help us do things better and faster, we could start to inspire more young people into Engineering and Science.
I don’t know what others think, but I think it’s time to start countering the doomsayers and talk much, much more about the exciting employment opportunities and careers that the future will offer to those who embrace industrial digitalisation. And with the publication earlier today of the Industrial Digitalisation Review Interim report, there’s never been a better time to start doing this.