Businesses, schools and government all have an increasingly key role to play in overcoming the skills gap. Traditionally, companies involved in education would provide a single element, either in the form of a textbook, a program or a device. The Dowling Review provides a number of concrete recommendations for improving the level and intensity of collaboration between universities and businesses. In addition, one of the routes to business innovation and growth is through closer collaboration with educational establishments. This shift in thinking has meant that global and multi-industry businesses are starting to play and embrace a new and vital role in education.
According to a 2014 report by FSG , businesses can bring many benefits to education including fulfilling unmet educational needs – such as providing access to educational material – or improving student outcomes through training programs that equip students with skills relevant to industry. Businesses can also overcome workforce constraints in ways that bring economic benefits back to the company. Some examples and steps in bridging the skills gap is cited in the article “Bridging the skills gap in STEM Industries”.
A 2013 study by MathWorks, revealed that Universities and businesses believed that the skills gap can be mitigated with greater collaboration between academia and industry. The MathWorks STEM Skills Gap Report also revealed over half of employers and almost two-thirds of academics thought that industry does not currently work closely enough with universities. Further to this, 63% of businesses surveyed would like industry to have more of a say in the STEM curriculum, as well as making a greater investment in the long term.
In addition, 74% of respondents agreed that they saw the value of project-based learning at secondary school, which invites students to investigate science and real-world engineering problems ‘hands-on’. This approach not only encourages students to ask ‘Why?’, ‘How?’ and ‘What if…?’, but also helps develop transferrable skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, which are essential for future careers.
A key goal is promoting computational thinking skills to students of all ages which will act as a catalyst to provide a long-term solution to the “skills gap” between the number of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them . From September 2014, the UK launched big changes to the national curriculum, with ICT lessons being replaced by computing lessons, including coding lessons for children as young as 5.
Alongside this change in curriculum, businesses have an increasingly key role to play in providing extracurricular support for education. Releasing senior employees to contribute to activities such as code clubs is a simple yet powerful way some companies are enabling organic transfer of skills. As well support for extra-curricular activities, is it vital that businesses work alongside teachers in order to help develop relevant programmes. There are already some valuable opportunities to help teachers bridge the theory-practical divide in schools, and it is important that these continue to grow – a responsibility that should be shared by senior decision-makers in both education and industry.
In the UK we are lucky to have teaching staff that are personally passionate and interested in their subjects. However passion alone is not enough, and more must be done to provide teachers with the power, resources and opportunities to show students how to apply STEM in real world situations. It is therefore vital to sponsor real-life projects where students can get hands on with STEM subjects, preparing them for industry by igniting a fire for STEM throughout school life.
MathWorks is actively involved in supporting STEM education, ranging from developing a maths workshop for primary school children that uses a human cannonball as an example to demonstrate angles, distance and modelling, through to guest lectures at university, sponsorship of Formula Student and other engineering competitions as well as internship programmes.
If companies continue to support and engage education, they will become essential, trusted partners for government and civil society. Companies will prove their value to education by delivering usable knowledge and skills at every stage of education from early childhood through the attainment of a meaningful career.