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Going digital: Bridging the gap between education and industry

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(Image credit: Shutterstock / whiteMocca)

The gap between industry and education has been a widely discussed and debated topic for many years. At one end, manufacturers are finding it hard to hire talented employees while on the other end, graduates are unable to secure the most suitable job.

The cause of this mismatch is the widening gap that separates employers from job seekers, which is consequently making it harder for employers to understand job seekers and vice versa. This gap is known as the chasm of uncertainty.

Facing the chasm of uncertainty

For the past few years, one of the biggest concerns in the UK manufacturing space was Brexit. Nevertheless, after the general elections, there was an upsurge in confidence and investments.

But even then, firms including the top performing ones, have had to revamp human resources, solve supply chain issues and upgrade legacy systems. And since then, businesses have been faced with Covid-induced economic uncertainty, coupled with the rise in competition and ever-changing customer demands.

The pressure on graduates is equally high. The current climate has forced students to go into a locked-down and locked-in situation. This closed and socially distanced environment will naturally narrow the exposure students would have otherwise obtained.

Without knowing the industry’s expectation, students cannot be at their optimal best right from day one. Consequently, businesses are inhibited from getting a workforce that is resilient, flexible and adaptable to volatile market conditions.

Closing the gap

It is no secret that there is a widening digital skills gap in the manufacturing sector, but with the impact of Covid-19, manufacturers have realized the importance of having a digital-first strategy and now, more than ever, there is a requirement to alter our way of thinking. The ecosystem has revealed the need for a fresh growth mindset and an industry 4.0 adept way of working.

According to Make UK, 91 percent of manufacturers have benefitted from adopting new digital technologies during the pandemic, yet the biggest barrier to accessing it is the lack of digital skills within industry.

While a report from the Sutton Trust found 61 percent of employers offering work experience placements have had to cancel, and 39 percent of graduate employers say they expect to hire fewer graduates or none at all in the next 12 months.

It seems the only way to ensure promising graduates from the most diverse backgrounds reach their full potential and become the leaders they aspire to be is by supporting them, not just in the future, but right now when they actually need help.

Less job opportunities for graduates means there’s a serious risk of the digital skills gap widening in industry with businesses in danger of falling behind in the face of a global crisis. This highlights how imperative it is to engineer a bridge between education and industry.

Building bridges

One of the strongest elements of this bridge is for employers to have the confidence in hiring new talent and the realization of the potential impact it could have on their business.

Building confidence is not just a qualification issue - for instance, having people with the latest engineering degree is only part of the story. It’s about hiring people with the right blend of academic background, professional qualifications, technical expertise and soft skills. Plus, ambition and resilience.

Ultimately, manufacturers can accelerate their digital transformation initiatives as a direct result of investing in talent that’s ‘work ready.’

Industry work placements, apprenticeships and mentoring schemes offer an opportunity for a student and an employer to get to know each other and can be a really valuable experience for both parties. This lowers risk because they’ve seen the graduates in action, while reducing recruitment and development overheads.

Graduates get the most effective work-based method of training. They are nurtured with the knowledge and know-how to drive digital transformation and with training focused on subject areas that graduates are passionate about, their levels of commitment to the workplace are high.

Driving talent

Having seen the overwhelming impact of the pandemic on young people, IN4.0 Group has developed its third cohort of the talent academy to support anyone from Greater Manchester or Lancashire, aged 19-30, who has been unemployed for 12 months or less.

They will have either studied a STEM related degree at university or had experience of working in the manufacturing, engineering or technology sector.

The fully-funded 12-week specialist digital skills training program offers a guaranteed interview with employers, a two-week industry placement and recruitment support from the IN4.0 talent team.

The program is supported by the Fast Track Fund, in partnership with the Department for Education, the Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA).

The course upskills participants in cloud computing and data analytics, and upon completion, they will be qualified Amazon Cloud Practitioners and members of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

The program also includes Sales Geek Academy sessions, designed to equip learners with the essential skills they need to be successful with sales.

IN4.0 aims to support graduates from diverse backgrounds and empower them with the technical expertise and soft skills they need to enter the workplace with confidence.

In the academy, 50 percent are women, over 50 percent of the graduates are from a BAME background and over 25 percent are the first generation of their family to attend university.

A strong and stable bridge

Yet, taking the steps to invest and grow your own talent takes time and commitment from both the employer and the employee. Once achieved, a highly skilled workforce will be able to upgrade legacy systems in order to support current and future ways of working.

With the power of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and rapid prototyping techniques, senior management can have the foresight of business gains even more before making major financial investments.

New data visualization tools, machine learning, and cloud technology have given the power to generate real-time insights like never before. This newfound capability not only enhances the business’ value proposition but also the confidence in making decisions.

Therefore, with the additional benefit of having an upskilled workforce, businesses can ensure a maximum return on value for the knowledge and expertise they have developed over the years.

While the next year will continue to be challenging across all sectors, businesses that can access diverse, ‘work ready’ graduates with a combination of technology and engineering skills have the highest chance of thriving.

Arun Kumar, Associate Consultant, IN4.0 Group

Arun Kumar is Associate Consultant at IN4.0 Group, an industry 4.0 training, consultancy and digital transformation services provider based at The Landing, MediaCityUK and the University of Central Lancashire, Preston.