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Industry meets education: an unbeatable collaboration

By Ash Merchant, Director of Education, Fujitsu

Posted by Charley Rogers | August 01, 2017 | Primary

It’s no secret that wherever you look, technology is a force to be reckoned with, driving rapid change across industries from manufacturing to retail to healthcare. So much so, our Fit for Digital study found that almost half of UK businesses believe they will not exist in their current form by 2021. 

And while policymakers and the private sector have a big role to play in encouraging the uptake of relevant subjects to the workplace among the next generation, a lot of the responsibility also lies with educational institutions. That’s why the launch of the new Tech-levels earlier this year highlighted just how high technology now is on the national agenda. It is no longer a nice-to-have; technology is absolutely core to the future of the UK economy – particularly as we move into the age of the Internet of Things and smart cities.

Tackling the looming skills gap starts with schools

In an increasingly digitally-led business environment, STEM and digital skills are essential to the UK, both within technology firms and across virtually all other industries. Our Fit for Digital study also found over a fifth of UK business say the factors preventing them from responding to digital disrupters such as Amazon and Uber is a lack of the right skills and talent.

With the skills gap costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion a year, it’s clear that more needs to be done to attract talent into STEM roles. And as a fundamental influencer of the citizens of the future, this needs to begin within schools. What’s positive is that we’re already seeing a proactive push by schools to encourage an uptake of relevant skills for the future workplace. Take the news that schoolchildren in England will be offered lessons in cyber security in a bid to overcome the skills shortage that is undermining the confidence in the UK’s cyber defences, through finding future experts to defend the UK from attacks. This highlights that it’s not just about providing the next generation with technology, but instead teaching them how it does and will apply to their everyday lives.  

With the skills gap costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion a year, it’s clear that more needs to be done to attract talent into STEM roles. And as a fundamental influencer of the citizens of the future, this needs to begin within schools.

Despite this, we’re still a long way off. We still need to remove current barriers, promoting greater awareness of STEM opportunities early on by providing formative experiences at school. Educational institutions from across the spectrum – primary schools to universities – are pivotal in closing the digital skills gap, rectifying the STEM shortage and ensuring our children are fully equipped for facing the future digital workplace. 

As we quickly progress towards a ‘digital first’ nation, we need to ensure we are investing at the very beginning of the digital journey and developing the right skills to support the future digital economy. As the leaders of tomorrow, we owe it to our children, the digital generation.

Adopting a ‘tech for all’ mind-set

A shortage of candidates is partly due to a lack of awareness of the opportunities that exist, and the flawed perception that some groups don’t belong in STEM professions. Engaging a diverse array of young people in STEM is the only way that we can protect the future competitiveness of the UK economy. Although simple enough, inequality in access to technology in schools is in fact one of the biggest challenges we face when it comes to the skills gap.

Commonly, it used to be independent schools which typically led the charge with introducing new technologies into the learning experience. And often with an ability to operate in a more agile fashion, private schools were the driving force of fostering innovation in the sector. In recent years, this is fortunately no longer the case. The gap between students at public and private schools, particularly in their access to learning through technology, is now being bridged and this is being supported by collaboration with industry.

The gap between students at public and private schools, particularly in their access to learning through technology, is now being bridged and this is being supported by collaboration with industry.

The opening of our latest innovation hub at South Devon College is a prime example of this. This followed the expansion of our Education Ambassador Programme to 20 new institutions which alongside our industry partners - Intel, Brocade, and Kyocera - allows us to create innovation hubs that support digital learning initiatives and encourage the development of STEM skills for students and teachers.

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. In particular, educators at the college are driving this skills development by using the hub to support the training of local apprentices as they move into STEM-related careers, giving them the tools to prosper in our digital future.

But it doesn’t stop there. It’s not just about providing accessibility to technology, but instead about opening up more doorways into STEM careers. And industry needs to work in tandem with education institutions to make this a success. Indeed, at Fujitsu we are strong advocates of following through with our commitment by employing young people from our ambassador organisations. For example, we’re proud to have two ex-students from UTC Reading and one from Fife College employed at Fujistu.

With business leaders across all sectors telling us the skills shortage is a major threat to the growth of their businesses, both private and public organisations have a responsibility to ensure our digitally native students are equipped with the right skills for employment. As we progress towards a ‘digital first’ nation, the collaboration between industry and education will prove essential to bridging the digital skills gap in the UK.

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