Professor Robin Clark, Dean of WMG and Director of Education at WMG, University of Warwick looks at the importance of skills in industry.
Delivering effective education provision
Though the spotlight has been shining brightly on the subject of skills development for industry lately, it has always been of paramount importance. The ever-changing nature of the workforce is shaped by the way that businesses evolve based on emerging challenges. Industries will continue to evolve, with some sectors experiencing the pace of change quicker than others. If modern workforces are to keep up with the pace of change, we must have different avenues of education and seamless pathways between these – whether reskilling, upskilling or new skilling the workforce.
As an education provider, we need to keep up with fast-paced technological, environmental, economic and societal changes. To achieve this, it’s vital to stay well connected. Awareness is important philosophically when we think of education as a journey. Though we operate in a certain space, that doesn’t preclude us from exploring opportunities in others. We need to ensure the diversity of our offer – from outreach, WMG Academies, Degree Apprenticeships, and undergraduate and postgraduate degree course provision, to short courses and lifelong learning– is based on constant research and assessment of what is needed for development in order to deliver industry relevant, targeted and effective skills and education provision.
To deliver relevant and sustainable education for industry, we must focus on lifelong learning. This should be manifested by encouraging a mindset to reflect and actively seek this, by demonstrating the value of lifelong learning in the minds of learners. In the technology, engineering, mathematics, science and management space, applied learning is often preferred as it presents opportunities to the learner in a visual manner. When people can apply learnings to their roles and projects and demonstrate the difference it makes, it can have substantial impact.
In order to skill future generations, we at WMG, University of Warwick, embrace the idea of connections and breaking down the silos to take a holistic view of where and how education can work in collaboration with industry. We identified a gap in our education offering that could be filled by short courses, in which learners start with a short workshop or programme and use these as a building block for their learning, and for progression or diversification of role in their organisation. Our courses are based on research and are created with the very latest thinking and ideas in place, with significant input from businesses.
The WMG Skills Centre
In January 2022 we launched our WMG Skills Centre, created to combat the skills shortage facing both businesses and industry. The Centre strives to enable learners to gain the maximum amount of knowledge in a short space of time to build on their existing skillset. Our Course Leads work closely with or come from industry, and so they appreciate the importance of staying ahead of the skill development curve. Our courses are designed to empower employers to future-proof their workforces.
The short courses offered by the Centre bring future skills to business today, including key areas such as Engineering, Technology, Supply Chain, Automotive Electrification, Battery Engineering, Automotive Power Electronics and Motor Drives, Digital Manufacturing and Digital Healthcare.
The Centre poses a perfect example of the benefits of university education to a company. Those teaching a subject are researching it too, meaning they are forever forward-thinking. Rather than teaching a set of outdated established ideas and principles, our people build and develop new ideas and stimulating questions based on input from industries. Whilst we appreciate that learning must be tuned to the level required by the learner and their business, our ethos is to inspire people through intellectual challenge and innovation.
The power of collaboration
To optimise the impact of these education programmes for businesses, the key is to design and create frameworks in conjunction with businesses, working closely together to produce a custom-made plan. We have done this recently with the National Electrification Skills Framework and Forum, which brings together and leverages on the strengths of employers and educators to the benefit of industries and their employees. As we advance through this process, we must constantly assess and finetune our strategy, based on findings and communications with the business. Contextualisation is where value can be truly enhanced, and we are always open to exploring this route – and would encourage others to as well.
To reach this point though, a business needs to truly understand what it needs, which should act as the first priority. Sometimes this gets missed and companies try to fill gaps and follow trends, but by truly realising their needs, they can start to plan sustainably.
Businesses and education providers must work together - the need for skills in this country is so great that collaboration is essential. Though time is short, we can achieve this and continue to help companies grow and thrive.
Responding to the needs of businesses and learners
Our initial focus for the WMG Skills Centre is the West Midlands region - we are based here and have established educational programmes and research with local industrial partners. We then plan to expand and provide support both nationally and internationally. The key is to start with established frameworks, networks and collaboration, so that partners can signpost and work together. It’s not about competition.
We’ll continue to establish the Centre, respond to the underlying needs of businesses and learners, and continue to be creative in our delivery of this.
“Skills are the foundation of our collective future, so co-creating and building that future together is essential. That is where an idea like the WMG Skills Centre can be so valuable and so exciting.”
Article originally featured in Business & Innovation Magazine here.
Find out more about WMG’s new range of short courses at the WMG Skills Centre here.