Innovation Institute

Digital Skills Gap Widens, Employers Cite Situation Critical

 
 
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September 2017
 
 
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The fact that convergence of technological innovations is changing the conventional wisdom as we know it. New and emerging technologies such as Autonomy, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Data Visualization, Augmented and Virtual Reality and Cloud Computing are reformatting customer and market expectations. Businesses are, and will continue to restructure their operating models and redefine their core competencies, particularly in areas of STEM-related skills, where the supply is intermittent and of varying currency and quality. Digital-centricity is the common theme that ties together technology trends. Such a theme presents a demand that makes digital a ubiquitous presence in today's talent recruitment world. Therefore, every sector in the economy from manufacturing to professional services and retail - can now be classified as a technology company. This reclassification has changed forever the way in which talent acquisition experts do their job, and what candidates have come to expect.
 
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Digital transformation in business means that organisations of all types are fighting over digital talent resulting in many hard to fill vacancies. This is particularly evident in such roles as data scientists, user experience (UEX) professionals, digital business leaders, software developers, bioelectronics, analysts skilled at statistical and predictive analytics, cybersecurity professionals, content professionals skilled at storytelling, and augmented and virtual reality designers.
 
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Balancing the skills development of what the economy needs today and in the future, calls for a systematic approach, and a shared responsibility by all key stakeholders in a region to raise productivity and improve the level of regional GVA (Gross Value Added).

Supported by the European Union's Social Fund (ESF), a research study undertaken by the STEM Foundation, in partnership with the Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough (GCGP) Enterprise Partnership and the Association of Colleges in the Eastern Region (ACER), highlighted the changing needs of STEM skills that are often shaped by technology disruption and sector/region economic priorities and thus, provided intelligence for education and training providers on areas where new curriculum should be developed. Over one hundred businesses including multinational corporations representing a wide cross-sector of the economy were included in the survey.

The study examined the impact that would be suffered by the surveyed businesses if they failed to have in place the new STEM skills and competencies needed to use and support such disruptive technologies.
 
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Key disruptive technologies were identified through various consultations and trend assessments, including where these new and emerging technologies could have cross-sector reach. They included amongst others the following: Robotics & Automation; Internet of Things /Industrial Internet (Industry 4.0); Business Analytics; Audiology, Implants and Prosthetics; Predictive Systems; Telepresence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Remote Control of Machinery, Knowledge Automation (e.g. Telemedicine); Application of Sensors; Near Field Communications; Standards & Protocols in Communication between Smart Devices; 3D Printing (and Multi-D); Design & Visualisation; Machine to Machine Learning; Radiology and Imaging. The study ensured that the technologies selected not only held a currency in today's business environment but also had sufficient capacity to grow in terms of their level of technological maturity, applications spread and take up.
 
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Research findings expressed the on-going disconnect between the way in which STEM fundamentals are packaged and taught by providers with what the job market requires and the pace of technology. A change in philosophy and attitude in how education and training providers prepare and equip individuals to achieve a high degree of competence in self-directed and continuous learning was required, the study emphasised.

The pace of technology confluence (e.g. IoT, Data Analytics, Autonomy, Smart Materials) is forcing the need for a new set of multidisciplinary technical skills, and this in turn is driving the need for 'just-in-time' education and training. The study advocates the need for education and training providers to consider when introducing new programmes the level of 'Intensity of Demand' for skills in new and emerging technology areas, and not just providing sector-specific courses that, through the narrowness of the study area, are likely to have a shorter-self life and are subject to volatility of sector economic dynamics. A multi-sector assessment of market readiness with respect to the level of maturity of these new technologies and their applications will also need to be factored in.
 
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Digital transformation and the impact of technology proliferation such as AI is changing job profiles, and therefore, conventional job families are changing dramatically within a shorter horizon. It is also creating a scarcity in the labour market for digitally competent individuals. As an interim measure, many organisations are developing workforce retraining initiatives to fill many of their open technical roles faster. The study calls for new types of Conversion Courses that enable individuals to interoperate in adjacent disciplines/sectors but still use their existing specialist technical skills and competencies to underpin their newly acquired knowledge.
 
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The Shaping Of The Future report can be downloaded below:
 
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Or visit the Stem Foundation research page:

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