Businesses and universities need to collaborate to tackle the growing skills shortage

Written by
Steve Hill

07 Mar 2016

07 Mar 2016 • by Steve Hill

The skills sets which businesses most need are undergoing rapid change, particularly as a result of developments in technology. In order to compete in this fast-paced world, companies need to build and maintain a competitive advantage through developing teams with the knowledge and experience to deliver success in a changing work environment. Universities are central to this training ecosystem and there is room for much closer engagement with businesses to better understand the skills gaps that they are facing, and to deliver training in a way which boosts business growth.

Skills gap makes vacancies harder to fill

In the current climate, this mutual understanding is more important than ever. The skills gap has reached a critical point, with the number of unfilled jobs rising to its highest levels since comparable records began in 2001. A recent report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills highlighted that the proportion of this growing number of vacancies which can be attributed to a shortage of skills is now at 23%. This figure represents a significant increase over the past four years: in 2011, 16% of vacancies were unfilled due to the skills gap.  

We need to focus on the current workforce

What is clear is that the solution to this shortage must lie with the current workforce. We cannot merely rely upon school leavers and young graduates to bring the requisite skills to the workplace, as up to 90% of the current workforce will still be employed in the next decade.  This means that re-training and up-skilling existing employees is more crucial than ever if businesses are to ‘future-proof’ their employees for the rapidly changing world of work. The challenge for HR professionals is to invest wisely in employees’ development, ensuring that training options will deliver the skills their company needs both now and in the future.    

Practice-based learning aligns education with business need

Better engagement between HR departments and universities will enable them to design courses which align high quality academic content to Britain’s workplace requirements. Working together to develop courses which address key skills concerns is one part of the solution. Just as importantly, stakeholders must adopt new ways of delivering training, ones which prioritise opportunities for practical application.  Advances in education technology mean that training courses can be increasingly flexible, available for learners to access whenever, wherever and however they choose. This flexibility provides HR with an opportunity to counter many of the objections that are raised by business leaders when faced with the challenge of upskilling employees. 
Crucially, this flexible education can take place whilst individuals are still in work, making room for direct practical application of academic study. Rather than releasing an employee for 9-12 months, a time during which they see no benefit from their investment, employers can expect to see their staff applying their learning even within the first weeks of study. The value of this education becomes apparent quickly, providing HR with a more obvious return on investment. 

A closer relationship between education providers and businesses comes as part of an understanding that work-based training creates value for businesses and individuals alike. Their collaboration offers a new approach to workforce training that is vital to productivity and growth, as well as individual’s professional development and engagement. This relationship will empower HR departments to take an active part in up-skilling  and retraining individuals, preparing their businesses to thrive in the future.