Now is the time to support the next generation of industry experts

Grant McAlpine

Grant Findlay, Strategy Director, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd

With this year’s National Careers Week almost upon us, it is an important time to reflect on the relationship between industry and educators – and the opportunities we need to be offering our young people.

 

The Government has recognised the need to strengthen these links, with its latest FE White Paper – Skills for Jobs – setting out some useful policy positions in terms of getting businesses more involved in the designing of curricula. And as Gavin Williamson rightly said at this week’s AoC conference: “We know that education and training must develop hand-in-hand with business partners if we are ever going to beat our chronic skills shortages.”

This intention is even more urgent as we emerge from a global pandemic, which has completely changed the way the world does business. Jobs are shifting to meet new economic needs and trends, with no industry escaping this requirement to adapt and every single employer having to consider how they will meet their future skills needs.

 

An increased reliance on and necessity for advanced digital technology, catalysed by Covid-19, is evident across the board. This means that we need to develop and secure these technical digital skills in advance of people arriving in the workplace – which requires genuine partnership working with educators.

 

Like other industries, construction is changing. It is an exciting, dynamic and rapidly growing sector which provides many diverse career opportunities for young people and others in later life who may want to up- or re-skill.

 

As a result of technological developments, there are many new jobs on offer within construction, which did not exist a few years ago. From drone pilots and digital marketing managers through to animators who use gaming software to present ideas to clients; it is genuinely a whole new world of opportunity.

 

But to secure the industry’s continued success in this new landscape, education and training must be shaped to meet new requirements and demands. And this is only possible if the educators know and understand what they need to be teaching.

 

FE Colleges are unique in that they often have sector and industry specialists teaching vocational subjects. This is vital to give students a realistic understanding of the workplace and its demands. Yet with the world changing so rapidly, it can be difficult for tutors to keep up to date with industry developments – and even more difficult for awarding organisations to quickly reflect these changes in standards and qualifications.

 

Consequently, we find ourselves in a situation where the right skills are not always being taught at FE level. The onus is then on the employer to provide training that could have been covered at an earlier stage, holding back potential innovation and growth.

 

To tackle this, we need to look differently at the roles of ‘educator’ and ‘employer’ and work more closely with awarding organisations to ensure that qualifications truly cover the skills needed in real industry.

 

Government procurement processes now demand evidenced use of digital design and other digital requirements – yet up until now, this hasn’t translated into education policy. There appears to be a disconnect between skills expectations and the framework in place to develop these skills.

 

Employers need to understand the value of engaging with colleges earlier – before students have finished their courses. As a leading building and civil engineering  company operating across the UK, we recognise the role we need to play in developing future talent for the industry.

 

To this end, we are working with the Career Colleges Trust and City of Glasgow College, sponsoring the development and running of Scotland’s first Career College. This pioneering venture is offering skills training to 16-18-year-olds, focusing on new, digital methods of construction.

 

As part of this work, we are currently piloting a programme to embed digital competencies into one of the construction programmes. This involves supporting staff to develop the relevant technology skills and an understanding of how technology is impacting the construction sector – something many teaching professionals may not be fully aware of.

 

A wider employer board has also been established, with a range of businesses sharing their insight and playing an active part in securing a high-quality skills pipeline.

 

For many young people, the future is a worrying place right now in terms of career prospects. But the reality is that there are many genuinely new and exciting opportunities in many industries, waiting to be filled with young, enthusiastic and ambitious talent.

 

We just need to ensure that the education system is supported to adapt, at pace, to our changing world. This must be a joint effort, with employers and educators playing their crucial parts to ensure we maximise the benefits for one another by nurturing the next generation of industry experts.