Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce – how are colleges and universities preparing them for emerging jobs?
In universities and colleges across the UK, technology is shaping and informing education, helping to ensure that learners enter the world of work ready for the challenges ahead.
The workforce in the future may look back and think, why didn’t we make more use of augmented and virtual reality? Why didn’t we utilise artificial intelligence and machine learning in supporting our skills development?
Institutions, meanwhile, are looking at local industry to see how they can embrace emerging technology to deliver the driven and skilled employees businesses need.
At the Grimsby Royal Docks, for example, against the caw of the seagulls and the salty tang of the sea air, there’s the operations hub for Hornsea One, the world’s biggest offshore wind energy farm.
State-of-the-art, tech-enhanced, and environmentally conscious, every wind turbine blade was made just over the Humber Bridge in Hull. This industry is poised to offer transformative employment opportunities to candidates with the required skills.
So Grimsby Institute has risen to the challenge, working with Hornsea One developers, Ørsted, to offer wind energy technician apprenticeships that lead directly to a job working in the renewable energy industry. Grimsby is also using mixed reality and simulations to support training in fields as diverse as welding, lorry driving and fish packing.
Such forward-thinking training is key to support learners as they prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.
Paul McKean, Jisc’s head of further education and skills, explains:
“Personalised and adaptive learning provides tailored, on-demand education, which is based on students’ developing knowledge and behaviours, and has the potential to transform the ways in which they develop their skills, whether in an education or working environment. This includes skills development in virtual simulations and augmented real-world working environments.”
How the workplace is changing
To the untrained eye, many colleges, universities, industries and employment opportunities still appear largely unchanged from our parents’ and grandparents’ days – but things are shifting.
Derby, for example, is an area with a rich history in aeronautical and automotive engineering dating back to George Stephenson’s pioneering locomotives of the 1840s. Forget steam and diesel – tomorrow’s trains will be electric hydrogen “bi-mode” hybrids, which will require a new set of skills to build and maintain.
The University of Derby’s Rail Research and Innovation Centre recently secured a £900,000 grant to work with local companies in the rail supply chain to upskill their staff in areas including artificial intelligence and data analytics.
Jisc’s head of higher education and student experience, James Clay, comments:
“As the fourth industrial revolution unfolds, the workplace will be transformed. Former white-collar roles – such as many within finance and legal assistance - could be automated. At the same time, there could be a greater focus on the jobs only humans can do, such as creative activities, problem-solving and emotional support.”
Addressing the skills gap
By identifying potential opportunities for the future, universities and colleges can ensure their courses are fit for purpose, decide if they should offer new programmes, and ask how they can deliver a forward-thinking, technology-enhanced future education.
Students need to look at the horizon too. Despite Office for Students predications that more than a million digitally skilled people will be needed by 2022, and a recognition within the government’s edtech strategy that ‘technology is increasingly part of our society’, only 49% of 13,389 FE students and 70% of 14,525 HE students responding to a 2019 Jisc survey agree that digital skills are needed in their chosen career.
Helping to change this misconception, Jisc is supporting its members to upskill and prepare students to become the productive workforce for tomorrow, says McKean:
“We recognise that, for a learner to leave a college or university truly work-ready, they need to be digitally capable - and therefore, it is critical that the practitioners who are preparing them for the world of work are equally digitally skilled.”
Learners deserve to be trained with the skills required by in a technology-enhanced environment - but a sense of community and access to real, hand-on facilities remain crucial aspects of study for many. The jobs of the future will require new skills and creative vision, underpinned by technology and informed by market needs – but always led by human interaction.