Business has a responsibility to bridge the skills gap

The private sector can't just wait for governments, says Salesforce's European president.

by Miguel Milano
Last Updated: 08 May 2018

I like to speak to as many young people as possible – especially students – about business and the world of work that they're coming into. Not too long ago, I was talking to a recent engineering graduate who had found that her skills were disconnected from what businesses actually need. She also told me she was worried about the jobs of the future being passed to machines and algorithms.

She has reason to be concerned. Many of the students that throw their caps in the air as they graduate from university this summer will do so without the skills they need to thrive in the modern world, where every company is a tech company. Every type of business – from banks to beauty companies – needs individuals that understand technology. 

For businesses to thrive and innovate in this age of disruption, we need the current and future workforce to be equipped with the right skills and have access to the right opportunities to develop them. This topic dominated conversations throughout the World Economic Forum and, according to PwC’s latest CEO Survey, more than 83% of UK CEOs see attracting and developing the right talent as a top priority.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution offers incredible opportunity, but it also brings the risk of widening existing equality gaps and even creating new ones. No individual company, government or politician can solve a societal challenge of this scale on their own, so we must take collective action.

In a world where graduates aren’t leaving university with the digital skills businesses demand and too few organisations are effectively reskilling their people, business leaders need to take responsibility and work together to train people for jobs in the future digital economy and ensure that nobody gets left behind.

Collective action for universities 

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report found that 35% of core skills will change between 2015 and 2020. In this context, it's vital that universities offer more personalised courses to students and consider the digital skills they are going to emerge with when they decide course content.

This will only happen if businesses become more embedded in our education system and partnerships form between the private sector and Europe’s universities. One way we, as business leaders, can do that is by offering more internship and apprenticeship programmes to students, getting them into a business environment as early in their university education as possible. 

Another solution is for businesses to bridge the gap themselves. Salesforce, for example, has partnered with Steinbeis, Germany's largest private university, to offer a job-integrated Bachelor's Degree in Information Business Technologies with a focus on digitisation and transformation. This degree program will impart the theoretical know-how to understand new and emerging technologies and at the same time give graduates the opportunity to gain hands-on experience within the ecosystem of the digital economy.

Develop cultures of lifelong learning

Alongside this, there needs to be a fundamental transformation of what we consider to be education - particularly where it ends. We used to think that education stopped when you completed a university degree – with the ceremonial throwing in their air of graduation caps symbolic of a job well done. But given the pace at which the world of work is changing and will continue to change, graduation needs to be seen as the start of something rather than an end point. 

The problem, of course, is that most people don't have the time or necessary funding to take months or even years off work in order to take new courses or study for a degree. That's where online learning comes in. This model is increasingly being adopted in the education sector, but the true revolution will come when businesses really invest in it to reskill their staff at scale throughout their working lives. 

Thanks to the very technologies that are powering the revolution in the way businesses are servicing their customers, lifelong learning and career development can be personalised more effectively than ever. The future of learning at work is about creating communities where individuals can self-skill at the right pace and in the areas that are most relevant to them.

If the education system and businesses work together to bring these technologies and new ways of working to everyone, then the future looks a lot brighter for this year's graduate class and those of years to come. The way we work is fundamentally transforming, and the way we learn and think about learning must undergo a similar level of change.

Work needs to be a bigger part of education and education needs to be a bigger part of work, so that graduates going into the workplace for the first time are motivated by the fact that they're just taking the first step on a lifelong journey of learning. 

Miguel Milano is President, EMEA, at Salesforce.

Image credit: Sergieiev/Shutterstock

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