Industry and education: How this partnership is essential to the UK’s future

skills gapWith degrees, A-Levels and GCSE’s now in hand, UK businesses will see a new generation of talent enter the workplace this autumn. But with an imminent skills gap, costing the UK economy an estimated £63bn a year, the job market for candidates is tougher than ever.

As we propel into an increasingly digitally-led business environment, STEM and digital skills are and will continue to be essential to the UK, not only just within technology firms but virtually across all other industries.

As this time of year is just as important to employers, who will be on the hunt to hire a fresh crop of school leavers and university graduates, more needs to be done by both private and public organisations to prepare the next generation of our workforce.

However, it’s important that we look at the bigger picture: whilst both private and public sector organisations have an important role to play in promoting the uptake of STEM subjects among the next generation, it is the partnerships they make with education institutions that will make a real difference.

One example of this is the news that schoolchildren in the UK will be offered lessons in cyber security in a bid to find the future leaders that will overcome the skills shortage currently undermining our confidence in the UK’s cyber defences. What’s clear is that it’s not just about providing the next generation with technology – it is about teaching them how it applies to our everyday lives.

As the leaders of tomorrow, we owe it to our children: the digital generation. That’s why we need to ensure we are investing at the very beginning of the digital journey and developing the right skills to support the future economy.

Addressing the skills gap is a business priority

Whilst the responsibility for addressing the skills gap has often – and unfairly – fallen solely on the shoulders of education institutions, we must recognise the role that both private and public sector organisations have in encouraging the uptake of STEM subjects. After all, a looming skills gap is having a direct impact on businesses, with our Fit for Digital study revealing that over a fifth of UK businesses found the skills shortage to be one factor hindering their ability to respond to digital disruption from the likes of Amazon and Uber.

It is not all doom and gloom for both candidates and UK businesses. The latest figures from Lloyds Bank Regional Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) found London employment was booming despite a dip in new business growth. What this also suggests that as businesses continue to operate in a turbulent, and often volatile market, there can be no questions that they have a crucial role in turning this around.

The age of digital disruption is seeing industries, business models, and working practices transform, as well the creation of jobs that didn’t exist a few years ago. The demand for new skill sets being created in virtually every job and profession, means that it’s important we ensure the next generation of workers are agile and can adapt to the fast pace of change. This will be critical for helping UK businesses stay ahead of their competition.

Adopting a “tech for all” mind-set

Inequality in access to technology in schools is in fact one of the biggest challenges we face when it comes to the skills gap. However, it’s important that this disparity is properly addressed.

We understand more than anyone the importance of a diverse workforce. After all, you cannot adequately think about what people want worldwide if you don’t have a diverse team providing insight from all perspectives. Embodying a diverse workforce makes for a collaborative environment filled with different ideas and thinking methods, which allow staff to be themselves.

What’s positive to see is that both private and public organisations are now recognising that engaging a diverse range of young people is the only way the UK can protect its future competitiveness. And this is being supported by collaboration with industry.

Take the opening of our latest innovation hub at South Devon College as a prime example of this. Following the expansion of our Education Ambassador Programme with 20 new institutions, alongside our industry partners Intel, Brocade and Kyocera, we created innovation hubs that support digital learning initiatives and encourage the development of STEM skills for students and teachers.

With a total of 30 institutions in the UK and Ireland, the programme is aimed at encouraging students to pursue education in STEM subject areas, by providing STEM skills they’ll need to reach their potential in their chosen future career path. With the aim of supporting greater collaboration between industry and education, the latest innovation hub looks to aid career skills development by providing expertise on personalised technology in teaching and learning at South Devon College as well as its wider community.

Fostering a longer-term mind-set to STEM skills

But it doesn’t stop there. Although it is important that access to technology is available across all education institutions, it is also about the next step: opening up more doorways into STEM careers. Because education institutions cannot do this on their own, it’s about providing a cohesive partnership to make this a success. At Fujitsu, we understand more than anyone the importance of following through with our commitment to recruiting young people from our ambassador organisations. We are proud to have two ex-students – Sean Morgan from Fife College, and Thomas Stanley from UTC Reading – employed at Fujitsu.

With the skills shortage continuing to threaten the growth of the economy, both private and public organisations have a responsibility to ensure our digitally native students are equipped with the right skills for employment. It will be this collaboration between industry and education that will prove essential to bridging the UK’s digital skills gap.

Ash Merchant is Director of Education at Fujitsu.

Join FutureScot for its upcoming conference, EduTech (FE & HE): Response to digital disruption and the digital skills gap. The conference on 30 November has been designed to provide delegates with an opportunity to examine how the FE and HE sector is responding to the digital revolution in improving skills, services and enhancing the learning experience for students and staff.