Preparing the workforce of the future through a more flexible approach to education
Over the last few years, organisations across the UK have faced many challenges, including Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, the pressure to meet net zero goals, and now with fears over the UK’s shrinking economy, the need for businesses to be adaptable, resilient and as efficient as possible has never been greater. To meet these challenges, businesses need to be able to continually evolve and keep up with industry trends – and a skilled workforce is at the root of this.
While the government is launching schemes to help to push the skills agenda, such as the UK’s new Green Jobs Delivery to help power the UK’s green industrial revolution, and the new digital strategy to address tech sector skills, investment and infrastructure; Higher Education institutions have an important role to play in ensuring they equip graduates and industry professionals with the skills they need for now, and for the future.
Assessing future challenges
A key challenge for businesses is to be able to critically assess what the correct skills set of skills are for future and being able to meet this demand. Understanding what skills will be in demand in five, ten and twenty years or longer will be crucial to businesses thriving.
In order for Higher Education facilities to equip industry professionals with the skills they need for the future, courses should be continually evolving, and institutions need to work collaboratively with industry to gain the latest insights. The key to success is fore sighting what these skills are by working with businesses to design and evolve courses based on informed activity and industry intelligence.
No degree can equip workers with everything they need for their entire career. Businesses and employees are also under tight time pressures so it’s important for learners to gain the maximum amount of knowledge in a short space of time to add to their existing skills to empower employers to futureproof their workforces.
To help graduates and industry professionals prepare a portfolio of skills for shifting needs in industry, earlier this year, we launched the WMG Skills Centre which offers a range of courses to meet current and future industry and business needs. Our short courses enable learners to start with a short workshop or programme and use these as a building block for their learning, and for progression or diversification of their role in their organisation. These include Engineering, Technology, Supply Chain, Automotive Electrification, Automotive Battery Engineering, Automotive Power Electronics and Motor Drives, Digital Manufacturing and Digital Healthcare.
To deliver relevant and sustainable education for industry, we must focus on lifelong learning. To address the skills gap, it is not just about teaching news skills, reskilling existing workforces in alignment with the skills the individuals and businesses now need is vitally important.
We need to demonstrate the value of lifelong learning in the minds of learners. Applied learning, enables learners to see their roles and projects in real life scenarios and demonstrates the difference their work can make, which can have a substantial impact.
Apprenticeships play a valuable role, but they need to be more flexible to ensure that they are still relevant at the end of the programme when the needs of businesses and the jobs they require may have already shifted - particularly in those industries experiencing the most rapid change. Education providers need to continue to work in partnership with businesses to ensure that education programmes meet the needs of the sectors now, but importantly, a future five years from now. Making education and training available in smaller chunks, over a longer period of time, would fully realise lifelong learning and help people to adapt.
This thinking forms the basis of our Degree Apprenticeship courses, as they bring together the best of Higher Education and work-based learning. We’ve developed programmes with our industry partners for undergraduates and postgraduates that deliver expert insights and engaging learning experiences that allow students to work on live projects while working alongside industry experts.
It's also important that Higher Education institutions work with businesses of all sizes to support important regional and national agendas. For example, being environmentally friendly and reducing our impact on the planet is no longer a fringe movement, it is a core expectation of society, and all industries must contribute. To support this, we offer training courses on the circular economy to enable businesses to progress their sustainability journey and support their social responsibility activities.
Enabling the green revolution
A prime example of where a skilled workforce is needed more than ever, is the UK’s transport sector. With the UK Government targeting 2030 for ending new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle sales, this has provided a definitive target for the automotive industry and will accelerate change in other sectors. Together with the industrial digitalisation, the UK government’s commitment to the electrification revolution represents the largest shift in industrial skills for the UK in a generation. The need to move quickly, and effectively, to re-skill and up-skill the existing workforce, whilst providing newly skilled workers to fill crucial roles, emphasises the need for a unified national skills structure more than ever before.
This won’t be an easy transition, and will present many challenges – that’s why we’ve created the National Electrification Skills Framework. Working with industrial partners to identify the key principles and skills needed to make the UK a world leader in battery technology, power electronics, motors and drives, and the clean energy generation, the National Electrification Skills Framework and Forum provides an opportunity to map, design and deliver the training needed to supply these skills for the UK’s workforce.
Skills for the future
As the skills agenda continues to evolve, higher education providers need to evolve their courses at the same momentum. The fundamental way courses are designed and delivered must change in order to address skills shortages effectively. We need to work in collaboration with industry, to ensure we’re offering a flexible approach which marries together industry and academia to futureproof our workforces to the best of our ability.
This article was written by Dr Benjamin Silverstone, Head of WMG Skills Centre. To find out more about the range of short courses at the WMG Skills Centre here.