Dr Freeha Azmat, Senior Teaching Fellow and Course Director at WMG, University of Warwick highlights how innovative Degree Apprenticeships can become a key tool for organisations during a time of global change and digitalisation.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend life around the world, data (big and small) and digital competence has taken a central role in mobilising the right efforts to prevent further disruption. As people, organisations and industries like engineering and manufacturing face unprecedented hardships, digital technology-focused roles such as Data Analysts, Software and Network Engineers are going to be integral to the solution.
The coronavirus pandemic has damaged many companies’ bottom-line. First, it has affected consumer behaviour negatively. Although, for the most part, companies are avoiding laying-off employees, according to McKinsey & Company “during lockdown around 7.6 million jobs are at risk”.
Clearly, the pandemic has impacted business revenue and put organisations into survival mode. Cost-saving actions are part of the “Reaction – Resilience” phases according to KPMG ’s Global Recovery Framework. Demand for digital technology roles will be high in the next phases of the Framework: “Recovery and New Reality”, where the organisational strategy moves to a longer-term and more future-focused discussion on the pandemic. Their research says that the acceleration of digital transformation and focused responsiveness to customers will determine the speed and success at which businesses can move out of Recovery and into the New Reality.
Ensuring a robust pipeline of talent
The capability to interpret and understand problems, and work with the right internal teams to develop solutions has never been more prevalent, particularly across industries such as engineering and manufacturing. However, industries can ensure that a robust pipeline of talent is in place by delivering education programmes such as Degree Apprenticeships that are tailored for organisations both in terms of providing the right digital and technological skills but also in terms of aligning the logistics and delivery of such programmes. This will help ensure convenience for employers and reduced disruption for employees.
Business recovery through maximising existing workforces
Roles across software, networks and data capabilities play a key part in helping companies become more agile and adapt to our virtual world. However, as well as providing a pipeline of talent into these industries and professions, we also need to ensure that the talented professionals already delivering these roles are kept on the cutting edge of the sector’s requirements both for the good of the organisation and to encourage individual prosperity. With digitalisation being a fundamental part of many people’s lives through the pandemic, the need to innovate, understand challenges and improve operations has never been greater.
Leading educational institutions and businesses of all scales and complexities have a responsibility to collaborate in order to deliver skilled personnel to make positive contributions across these disciplines throughout multiple industries. The automation of processes, products and services, and digital transformation expedited by COVID-19 elicits the need to upskill employees digitally in these areas. Our Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship at WMG, University of Warwick addresses this demand in the market through a multi-strand approach tailored to the requirements of a set of core individual digital roles needed for businesses to recover. The strands are designed to either prepare students for careers across a variety of sectors or help access a different or more advanced role within industries such as manufacturing, engineering and finance. We know that strong relationships between academia and industry are vital, and this has allowed us to not only develop courses in response to real industrial challenges, but it has also highlighted exactly where the emphasis needs to be if we are to help the UK’s economy recover.
Overcoming challenges through a blended approach to education
Our new reality in the education sector is a blended approach, with mostly online delivery for a significant amount of degree courses right now. When considered in the context of employees embarking on an education programme away from the workplace with a view to expanding their skillsets, a blended or online approach saves accommodation costs and reduces the time away from the workplace and family.
This is a core principle that should be integrated within Degree Apprenticeships as a standard offering. It is something that we have been working on at WMG for some time now and we’re seeing how this approach can translate into more effective work-based learning, allowing apprentices to contribute to their respective employer in a more diverse selection of ways.
Having said that, whilst offering flexible approaches to the Degree Apprenticeships that we deliver through module selection and tailoring content depending on our partner employer’s needs, we also maintain the importance of face-to-face learning and interaction where required, particularly when conducting activities such as lab and experimental work.
With widespread shifts in the ways businesses operate, and new unforeseen goals and economic objectives, organisations will have to think creatively about the best ways to boost their recovery through strategically utilising digital technology in many cases. Having the right workforce in place will be essential if these strategies are to be successfully implemented, and education is already playing a key role in helping equip new and existing personnel with the digital skills needed for short term business recovery and long term sustainability.
Article originally published in Engineering Magazine here (pp.20-21).