Robotics access vital for skills boost, says report

A major new report from the EPSRC says access to cutting edge robotics should be made freely available across the UK in order to boost digital skills.

The whitepaper, published by the EPSRC UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network (UK-RAS), claims the UK workforce is falling behind in digital areas such as robotics and automation, and immediate action is needed to remedy the issue by 2030. Other areas of concern are a technical knowledge deficit at management level, and failures in the education system to deliver the digital skills that industry requires.

One of the key recommendations in the report is the creation of robotics learning factories, open facilities where anyone can learn about the latest in robotics and emerging technologies in realistic environments. Robotics learning factories have already been successful in Germany and the US, and the model could be supported in the UK by local learning hubs like libraries or other public buildings.

“Much of the current digital skills gap in the UK can be traced to a lack of access to cutting-edge technological resources among the current working population and those still in education,” said Richard Waterstone, co-author of the white paper and MD of the University of Sheffield robotics spin-out Cyberselves.

“We believe that our recommendation to develop and make freely available a public repository of high-level resources through Robotics Learning Factories linked digitally to smaller mini-hubs would be both scalable and affordable, and go a long way to address the digital skills gap in the UK.”

Co-author Professor Tony Prescott, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science, added: “Robotics and autonomous systems are no longer science fiction, they are very much in our lives today and are transforming industry.

“The workplace of 2030 will be a very different environment to what we have seen over the past 10 years. Over three quarters of the 2030 workforce are already in work, but UK firms are already reporting that they are struggling to find workers with basic digital skills and this is only going to get worse if action isn’t taken. With estimates suggesting 53 per cent of the working population lack basic digital skills needed for the workplace, such as sharing and attaching documents to an email, we urgently need to make robotics learning resources accessible to everyone.”