The future of skills depends upon industry-collaboration

Colourful abstract view of a computer monitor and education

Different mindset, ways of learning and more are the future of ensuring skills development is fit for the workforce, shares Stewart Watts

Before the Autumn Statement in the UK, big tech companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, Amazon, and BT, along with the Institute of Coding, wrote a letter to the government. They asked the Treasury to focus on teaching digital skills to bridge the gap. They mentioned the importance of better connections between educators, businesses, and employers to address regional differences and fix the wider talent gap in the UK.

In response, Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has pledged £50 million to help improve skills and apprenticeships, focusing on areas like engineering and other important growing sectors. However, there are currently more than 870,000 vacancies across the UK tech sector and business leaders are concerned that the UK will be unable to meet the technological challenges of the future.

While most industry leaders have welcomed this investment, other responses have been mixed. Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive at EngineeringUK called for more large scale investment to ensure the UK has the workforce it needs. He expressed concerned that the plan to boost training and break down barriers in these industries is only a short two-year test.

This follows previous government initiatives such as the introduction of T-Levels or the returnerships for over-50s as part of a wider effort to address the ongoing talent shortage across multiple industries. It’s good that the government is expanding ways to learn and build careers, but for these training programs to really work well, businesses and institutions need to collaborate more closely.

A recent report by EDSK, an education think tank, says almost half of apprentices don’t finish their courses. They point to problems like poor quality, not enough training, and bad management. Similarly, Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, found that British firms spend half as much on training per employee as European ones. They also train fewer workers and give them less time in class.

Exploring new programmes and accelerating skills development

There’s a noticeable gap between the skills needed in today’s workplaces and what the education system currently teaches. We need to rethink how we value and provide education to bridge this divide.

The current talent shortage is particularly complex because it’s centred around technical skills. One of the key areas apprenticeships will focus on is digital and manufacturing skills, as the government looks to help those industries who are struggling to fill vacancies and create a steady talent-pipeline. However, these skills are difficult to nurture and even harder to assess. For these apprenticeships to be effective, all subject matter experts should be involved in the design phase. Modularity, or an omnichannel approach toward education and training, will be essential.

Designing courses in this way takes time. Governments, businesses and education providers will have to be patient and constantly review these programmes to ensure young workers are engaged. Over time, it should be a lot easier for employees to top up their skills periodically, so colleges should provide options for part-time learning to make these courses accessible. This will only be achieved as colleges and businesses continue to work more closely and identify new ways that they can work together as we look to answer the more complex business challenges. At the same time, trade associations and membership bodies will also need to review their learning offering, and work far more closely with their industry counterparts to ensure courses are designed with current industry and sector challenges in mind.

Most importantly, as the government encourages businesses to take on more apprentices and make these schemes workable, it’s important that organisations look at ways that they can ensure apprenticeships are a success. To attract and retain potential talent, companies need to shift away from the traditional mode of learning.

Investing in talent now, will pay its dividends in the future

The Chancellor is pushing hard to improve the skills of workers, and we’ll likely see more demand for training. To make this work, we have to change how we think about and do training. It’s crucial for the government, educators, and business leaders to join forces and deal with the skills shortage together.

Closing the skills gap and dealing with the shortage of workers won’t be easy. In the future, it’s not just about learning new skills, but also about having the right mindset. Employees should be able to re-enter the education system and learn new things every now and then. Also, businesses need to be open to trying different and more flexible ways of learning so students are ready for jobs. If everyone works together, we can make sure useful skills are part of all courses and programmes. That’s when we can have training that really works for the new digital economy.

Stewart Watts is VP EMEA for D2L

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