Fixing The Industry-Academia Gap To Prepare Tomorrow’s Workforce

Today, businesses and HEIs estimate that only about one-quarter of their total staff and students have the skills to work and interact with emerging digital technologies. This figure is expected to more than double — to 62% for companies and 57% for HEIs — in the next five years.

Learning in today’s digital age has become extremely fast-paced and dynamic. However, there is a widening gap between the industry and the academia in formulating and executing digital skills. While 43% of businesses currently update their learning content on an annual or a biennial basis, 71% of higher educational institutions (HEI) update their curriculum every two to six years. 

A recent survey conducted by Cognizant quizzed 601 senior business executives across banking and finance, healthcare, insurance, life sciences, travel and hospitality, manufacturing and retail sectors and 262 HEIs around the world. It revealed the various reasons for these gaps. First of all, there is a lack of clarity regarding which skills to prioritise, and further, a lack of skilled talent to provide training. Also, technological integration issues and misalignment of workforce strategies often limit the effectiveness of upgrading skills. Businesses also lack clarity in developing and implementing new learning programmes that actually fit the market’s demands. 

Business leaders and educators have a mammoth task ahead. Today, businesses and HEIs estimate that only about one-quarter of their total staff and students have the skills to work and interact with emerging digital technologies. This figure is expected to more than double — to 62% for companies and 57% for HEIs — in the next five years. Consequently, rapid reskilling will become the new norm. While on average, businesses currently invest just 2.1% of their total annual revenue on workforce training/learning, that will nearly double to 4% in five years.

For the workforce of tomorrow

Recruitment should look for human skills and trainability in building tomorrow’s workforce. In future, what makes us human is what will keep us on our jobs. Companies are increasingly placing a premium on job applicants who demonstrate skills such as flexibility, self-motivation, empathy, resilience, creativity and communication capabilities, as they know “humanness” will become a competitive advantage when working with intelligent systems.

Future jobs will require a combination of human and technological capabilities, as will the educational systems preparing the future workforce for these roles. For instance, even big data and data science jobs are more likely to demand creativity, teamwork, research and writing skills than other jobs. 

Jobs of the future will be defined by the new tools of the trade — such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR), big data, and the Internet of Things), which respondents believe will have a significant impact on work in the next five years. To enable more continuous content updates, businesses and HEIs will need to see themselves as curators rather than creators of content.

Automation and AI will increasingly take over not just routine, repetitive and low-end tasks, but also highly skilled white-collar work, making some people’s skills and capabilities irrelevant and outdated. Of the businesses surveyed, 76% are already confronting a daunting talent gap, and 73% feel the skills gap will widen in the next five years.

For increased industry-academia synergy

Preparing the current and future workforce cannot happen in a vacuum anymore. Companies must increase their educational outreach with HEIs, and the academia should, in turn, facilitate comprehensive exposure to latest technologies. The silver lining is that 75% of businesses and HEIs view collaboration as critical to making the ends meet. 

There are several positive examples already showing the way. Co-working space provider WeWork partnered with a HEI digital platform 2U to expand access to learning opportunities for its 175,000 members and its 4,000 employees. The specially formulated graduate programmes are designed to create additional opportunities to foster in-person learning and collaboration among the employees. Both companies have jointly agreed to develop a space for students, faculty and staff to conduct master classes, lecture series, and other events to showcase the future of work and learning. The University of Southern Denmark has begun offering consulting services to businesses on hiring and retaining satisfied employees. 

The rise of automation and AI is raising questions about the employable skills, attitudes and behaviours necessary for people to participate in the future of work. While automation will eliminate some jobs, many more will be created or changed. For instance, welders, joiners and mechanics at German auto-parts maker Bosch have been trained in basic coding skills so they can use robots to assist them in their work.

Emerging technologies such as AR/VR and AI will supercharge learning by focusing on “how to learn” over “what to learn”. New modes of education delivery will emerge, with Netflix-style, on-demand digital assets allowing for anytime, anywhere self-learning. The adoption of AI-driven self-learning platforms and AR/VR systems is expected to grow by a whopping 220% in in the next five years.

Tomorrow’s learning experience will be more active, interactive and frictionless, and take place in an environment that blurs the boundaries between the traditional classroom and the world outside.

Bringing practices to scale

Bringing these practices to scale will require businesses and HEIs to follow this three-point formula:

  • Identify skills required for future jobs.
  • Curate flexible and adaptive learning content and constantly update them.
  • Embrace new forms of teaching (such as AI-driven and AR/VR-adapted). 

While there is clearly no one-size-fits-all approach for preparing the workforce of the future, businesses and HEIs will have to forge more flexible partnerships, and formulate different modes of training delivery. How the industry and academia rise up together to make the right choices and decisions in the next few years will shape the fate of individuals, educators, businesses and even whole economies. Now is the time for both sides to forge collaborative partnerships to successfully tide over the transformative and disruptive impact of the machine age.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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