Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Rice Upskill Enterprise: How we can unlock talent to tackle our troubling skills gaps


By Stephen Rice, Upskill Enterprise

Are we doing enough to think innovatively about how we forecast, react to and fill our skills gaps? Does the current model of education and training, plus dialogue between our learning providers and industry, work well? Evidence suggests not.

In 2005, total output per person in Northern Ireland was 80.6% of the UK average. By 2015 this had fallen to 73.8%.

Working for over a decade in the skills industry, Upskill Enterprise has heard from employers, employees, learning and training providers about the things wrong with different skills systems, everything they find difficult, what they can and cannot prioritise.

On November 27, 2017 a new industrial strategy was revealed by the Government, aiming to tackle Britain's "weakness" of productivity.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said workforce efficiency was "well below what can be achieved" and pledged to address the crisis threatening to "stop us achieving our potential". However, our research of skills systems, including those in Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and USA, shows productivity is dependent on the workforce's competence.

Productivity issues are exacerbated by a lack of practical tools and mechanisms to bring academia and industry of all types together.

We are addressing skills gaps today which should have been forecast years ago. However, it is especially difficult to predict future skills needed, given the fast pace of change in technology and the demands of the labour market.

A recent study by Annica Isacsson from Haaga-Helia University in Finland called 'In the future IQ is simply not enough' concluded: "We cannot predict what the next decades will bring or where skills, learning and education will go, but one thing that we know is that transversal competences including human and emotional skills will be needed more, both in education and in working life." We agree, and from our research at Upskill, we believe that most professions rely on up to 70% transversal/transferable skills and only 30% technical skills.

However, what if we were to tell you that we all have a wealth of talent in our existing workforces, most of which will have well developed transversal competencies, if upskilled correctly. Using efficient innovation and EdTech advancements, we will see better productivity.

A recent project at Upskill, in partnership with GEMS NI, and funded by Belfast City Council, uncovered shocking levels of underemployment within our migrant communities.

These included a Hungarian computer engineer delivering leaflets, an expert Ukrainian CAD designer cleaning floors in fast food outlets, a Portuguese graphic designer working as a waitress and a Portuguese mechatronic engineer working in a coffee chain. Their skills would fill existing, urgent NI skills gaps. All are unable to work in their specialism, as the application process precludes them due to misunderstandings of different qualifications and education processes, or employers struggling to identify the parity of extensive experience vs academic learning.

Upskill developed an innovative methodology with industry and academic partners for assessing the competence of those who have identifiable work experience, using EdTech innovations to put workers on a level playing field.

This issue is not unique to NI; Upskill is now deploying this methodology Stateside in partnership with the District of Columbia University and Mentor Post, and across several locations in Europe.

The issue of underutilised workforces is not isolated to our migrant community and a boost in productivity may be right under our noses. You may have people in your workforce with the right skills, personality and willingness to develop.

Our Upskill Enterprise Workforce Triage system shows where productivity can be linked directly to the processes of organisations, and where simple changes can save thousands of pounds.

We teamed up with Elaura, specialists in the delivery and application of The Birkman Method to give an in-depth profile of where staff are likely to shine. The combination of this valuable data allows management teams to think smarter about who they are going to train, with which provider and what the content should be, therefore avoiding training for the sake of training.

It demonstrates an investment in the existing workforce, which by empowering staff further boosts productivity.

Another added benefit is clarity when recruiting, being 100% sure you need to recruit and who will adapt the quickest, ensuring optimal time to productivity.

By thinking differently about our people, our processes and our systems, Upskill believes innovative EdTech can support big changes to boost productivity quickly, providing dynamism and agility to adapt to current and future skills gaps.

  • Stephen Rice is managing director of Upskill Enterprise

Belfast Telegraph

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