Closing the Midlands skills gap – Tech Week 2023 key takeaways

The Midlands technology sector is booming and innovation is at its heart. However, a significant obstacle stands in its way – the skills gap. This deficiency of talent threatens to stifle growth, hinder advancement and impede overall productivity. To address these challenges, universities and colleges are stepping up to bridge the gap between education and industry, working in synergy to nurture the talent needed. As part of Birmingham Tech Week 2023, we hosted a panel event that brought together industry leaders and academic experts to explore what companies need, what educational institutions can offer, and how they can both build better, deeper and more strategic partnerships to support growth. Smita Jamdar, partner and head of education who chaired the event, shares the key takeaways from the discussion.

Collaboration is Key

Universities and businesses must collaborate closely, creating a two-way exchange that benefits both sides. Educational institutions can learn from each other and from industry partners, and vice versa, ensuring graduates are job ready. These partnerships can help align education with the needs of the working world.

Recognising diverse pathways

It is vital to acknowledge that not everyone suits a traditional university degree, and that the majority of the UK population does not have one. Building sustainable capacity in alternative pathways – such as apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning – will mean the talent pool gets larger, helping to bridge the skills gap.

Beyond technical skills

The skills gap isn’t confined to technical proficiency – it extends to softer skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and working with people. In the fast-paced, ever-evolving world we live in, the ability to adapt to new technologies and navigate a changing landscape is just as critical as technical expertise. The education sector is already looking at how it can develop flexibility, encourage resilience and foster the right growth-oriented mindset to ensure the next generation is not only technically proficient but also job ready and mentally equipped for a world where change is the only constant.

Moving away from a rigid curriculum

If you look back just a few decades ago, many jobs in the tech sector weren’t even thought of. When you think about how long the education system is and how the curriculum is planned, we’re asking it to develop people for jobs we don’t even know exist yet. The curriculum, therefore, must be increasingly flexible and innovative, allowing people to hop on and hop off whenever they need to develop their skills.

The role of employers

Employers play a vital role in bridging the skills gap. While many businesses actively invest time and money in the development of their workplace, some do not. To unlock potential from both ends, there must be a call to arms for all employers to follow suit, ensuring they take their share of responsibility for building the skills of the future by identifying what they believe is missing from the candidate pool and filling the gaps through training programmes or by practice-based opportunities for students.

Furthermore, there is also a pipeline issue, with not enough people entering further or higher education to fill tech roles. Inspirational leaders from various industries can play a pivotal role in encouraging more young people to explore diverse career paths and highlight the opportunities that could be available to them.

Inclusive education

Education is an essential tool for closing the skills gap and addressing broader societal issues. However, too much emphasis is still placed on leaving school with a certain number of grades, rather than developing programmes that are more integrated with real-world applications and benefits. So many young people enter the working world feeling that only grades matter, but this risks doing them a disservice as many employers move to grade-blind recruitment and it is the wider qualities, attributes and experiences that will get them noticed in interviews.

Engaging young people

Young people need to be part of the solution and must be actively involved in discussions about the future of education and work. Their input is crucial to aligning educational systems with the needs of expectations of the upcoming generations.

Looking ahead

The tech skills gap is a pressing issue for both businesses and the education sector. However, through collaborative efforts, a focus on flexible education, and an emphasis on mindset and adaptability, it’s possible to bridge this gap and ensure the workforce of the future is well-prepared to meet the challenges of a rapidly-changing world. Continuing the dialogue and taking practical steps towards these goals is the way forward.

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Smita leads the team that works to shape the universities and colleges of the future by providing strategic advice and sector specific insight across all their legal needs.

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Published: 24th October 2023
Area: Birmingham

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