Show 122 – Future talent and how to address the digital skills gap

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Produced in partnership with SAP UK, we focused on Future Talent, looking at the importance of graduate programs and apprenticeships and how we can address the digital skills gap.

Russell Goldsmith was joined online by:

podcast guests

Digital Skills Gap

Lindsey said looking at it at a global level, there’s been some recent studies with McKinsey and the World Economic Forum and it’s been identified that there’s a skills gap in digital across all areas. She added that 87 percent of companies have identified those skills gaps either right now or they’re expecting them to develop in the next five years. Lindsey explained that certainly from SAP that’s then the barrier to digital transformation and it’s not only the fact there is a skills gap, but actually what that’s impacting. She said the majority of jobs will then be evolving and changing and there’s a real need to up skill and reskill people to having those digital skills for the future.

In relation to the biggest skills shortages, Stephen said it’s a really murky problem to try and untangle. He explained that it’s difficult to generalise about an early talent labour market, because different sectors, different employers all want different things. He explained that the phrase ‘digital technology’ covers a wide range of skills and said we get into the language of skills and attributes and that further muddies the water. Steve said that one of the challenges is actually how does an education and training system stay relevant when the pace of change is so fast? He said he gets asked all the time, “what’s the future of jobs in five or 10 years?” And said it’s very difficult to predict. He explained that’s why we’re seeing employers move more into the apprentice space, for example, because that, in a sense, shortens the supply chain of development. Employers are much more involved in training and development of early talent as it comes on board into their organisations. He said for him, it’s just that keeping pace with change, that’s the challenge and there’s good reasons why education systems can be a bit slow to change, so he said we’ve got to find ways to get round that.


Nick explained that at Fujitsu, they’ve run a graduated apprentice program for a number of years now, but what he’s seeing is that there’s more demand for a certain type of digital, more computer science type of graduate or apprentice than previously ever before. He said that his responsibilities are across all of Europe, and every year, they take on anywhere between 200-250 grads and apprentices. He said just in the UK, it’s about 50 to 70 grads and 50 to 70 apprentices every year as well. Nick explained that a few years ago, their business was asking for more of the business type roles and whilst they’re still recruiting those, the demand for software developers, for cyber, for data, has just increased almost tenfold.

Nick explained that on both of their programs, they have no age restriction, although the majority of the recruitment for their apprentices is generally school leavers. So, they’re 18-year olds who have decided not to go to university and Fujitsu offer a Level 4 apprenticeship and a degree apprenticeship as well. He said the degree apprenticeship is much more popular for candidates, but equally, there’s a level of awareness raising that needs to be done in the marketplace, because he said a lot of people still think of apprentices as plumbers or electricians, they don’t actually realise that the apprentices cover a wide range of different skills, especially in the tech and digital sector.


Kim agreed with Nick and said they have apprentices from level three up to level seven and what they find sometimes with a level three is they have to bring them at that level because they’re going to such specialist areas such as manufacturing or engineering, but they don’t just stay there. She said they get more demand for the degree ones because they still think of the degree is the only thing that matters, but in an environment like a pharmaceutical environment, which is so highly regulated, there are some areas where you do have to start that level three and work your way up.

Kim explained they have about 173 apprentices across their business at the moment, a mix of early careers, who typically join them straight from A levels and there’s no upper age limit, so they have some people who are returning to work mothers or career changes for example. She said they’re also seeing a growing number of employees who are upscaling using the apprenticeship levy because they have a culture of lifelong learning at AstraZeneca. She added, for 2020, they saw an expanse of the types of apprenticeships that they have, they had four new programs and they’re going to have even more than that for 2021 and looking at different parts of IT, Quality is coming through, finance, project management, that kind of thing. Kim added that at AstraZeneca, they find that the apprentices have provided them with much needed skills that sometimes traditionally has been hard to recruit, they find the apprentices bring a diverse perspective to the business. She said their company is typically quite academic, and the calibre of candidates for the apprenticeships that they get coming through are people that have chosen not to go to university. She said you can train to be a scientist using the apprenticeship levy and they have had apprentices in the business for over 40 years, a lot of their senior leads in the business have started out life as an apprentice.

Kim said that during Covid recently, they found with their apprentices, a number of them actually had to step up, they were given opportunities that other early careers positions haven’t been given because, in the labs, for example, they have to make sure that they still delivered. AstraZeneca were doing the vaccine, working on the Tier 1 projects and had to keep those going. She said sometimes there were people, for example, senior leaders who had to self-isolate, so the apprentices had to step up and step into their shoes and work on some of those areas, they have had apprentices in Covid testing labs and working on the vaccine as well.


Lindsey explained that for them in the UK, they have a number of different programs with the concept of learning for life, so making sure that the program is also around reskilling and upskilling existing employees. She said they have a number of programs that focus on diversity, for example they have an autism at work program. She said there’s lots of different initiatives but specifically in the UK, they have a large internship program where people need to do a year in business coming out of second year university. SAP UK have 50 plus students join them every year, this year virtually, but they are just about to start the apprenticeship journey.

Lindsey explained that it’s exciting times at SAP as they’re thinking how to bring in more diverse talent and then use that to start bridging the skills gap and not just for SAP. She explained they have over 21,000 partners globally and they also have these challenges, so they are looking at how they can leverage the levy and make sure that they’re using that to drive that skills gap.

Apprenticeship Levy

Nick explained that traditionally, organisational training programs were often, put someone in a classroom for a couple of weeks and get a certificate at the end of it, then it’s up to the organisation to find ways for that individual to apply that at work. However, he said the apprentice model works really differently to that, it’s not only studying, but practically applying that learning during the apprenticeship. He said you can put an apprentice model in place, which reduces the number of billable hours and productivity time because you have to spend 20 percent of your time in off-the-job learning. He added the employers who have jumped on this have said they want to increase the number of apprentices they recruit into the business as it’s a fantastic way to develop the skills they need. Nick said it’s a great way to get diversity into the organisations, so some employers have done that and at Fujitsu, they have increased their apprentice intake into the organisation. However, he said what some organisations don’t understand is, you can take existing employees and help to upskill them in their chosen career or their chosen skills path. He said at Fujitsu they’ve done this quite well, they currently have about 200 people studying for some type of an apprenticeship, 50 percent of them are their current employees. However, he added that it’s been a real difficult sell back to the organisation, if some of their consultants who are normally billable for 80, 90 percent of their time, they’ve had to work with the business to change their charging model to 20 percent of their time not being billable. He explained they will be applying their learning; learning new skills and the business has really had to get their heads around that real shift and it’s for at least 12 months, probably two years and that’s a difficult sell back into the organisation. He explained that organisations are saying, it’s a bit too hard and complex of a problem for them, if they have to pay this money, they wonder where they get value from it. Nick added that organisations haven’t fully understood it and will just write it off ‘because it doesn’t fit their business model’.

Kim agreed with Nick and said it’s a case of targeting those individuals in the business who need the upskilling, the skills gaps but facing the challenge of losing the person to 20 percent. She explained that it’s making them realise that their training works alongside what they’re doing in their day job, so actually, it’s a parallel process that feeds into each other and can benefit the organisation as well, because they’re typically on open programs. Kim explained this means when they go and train, they’re training with people from other organisations, so, not only learning about the academic side, but about other organisations, how they do things, which is great insight for how they can become more efficient within AstraZeneca as well. Kim explained that one of the challenges with the levy is, when they bring a new apprentice into the business, they bring them in on a fixed term contract, like a permanent employee, they have almost all of the same benefits, but the process is quite admin heavy and requires support from the business and sometimes that can cause a challenge for the business in terms of how many apprentices they bring in.

Steve added that their data says the same because they ask their employers what they think about the levy and it’s that realisation that the levy only pays for a certain proportion of the new hires cost, there’s significant other costs attached. He said one of the other things that some employers don’t understand is that the levy system is not designed for employers to recover all the money that they spend on the levy, it’s a payroll tax. He explained there isn’t a pot of £130 million sat in a bank account waiting for somebody to go and find a way to spend it, it’s a tax and it pays for the whole apprentice system. He said some of the information he’s seen coming out of government is that, that tax is fully spent, it’s paying for the whole system and there is a lot of reform that needs to happen with the apprentice system to make it work properly for employers, apprentices and the college training providers as well.

Nick explained that when businesses get it and they don’t see the 20 per cent or the length of time in training as a barrier, they think, actually, this aligns perfectly with how they want to train up their people and develop skills, they then can’t get enough of it. However, he explained there is that initial hurdle that businesspeople need to get over.

Lindsey agreed with Nick and said they had something similar when looking at their internships.  She said once people know and see the value, they’re just so hungry to do this work and get involved and they come in with all new ideas, they’ve got no barriers or apathy in them.

Enactus UK

Amy explained that Enactus UK is the UK’s lead in combined youth social action and Youth Social Enterprise Charity, developing thousands of young entrepreneurial spirits every single year. She said their mission in the UK is to be recognised as a leader in developing a sustainable national network of socially minded young leaders of the future who transform communities and society through real life social action. Amy said Enactus work within universities, with students to develop projects in their local community around the sustainable development goals. She said they have students working on a multitude of projects across the UK and over 2000 students working on projects in a Covid safe way. For example, working with local supermarkets to repurpose food waste, such as turning waste bread into beer and creating breweries as a result. Another example is STEM for schools, which is about working with students at a young age to try to develop these technological skills. They have a project called The Race to End the Digital Divide, which is working on a need that has been exasperated by the pandemic and by Covid around access to education and technology in deprived areas. Amy added that SAP are one of their partners and work really closely with their teams and are developing projects around tele care for social isolation, using contactless technology to work with those who are in temporary accommodation to create a business around the model of beggar to busker.

Amy explained that this is important from an employability perspective because the students are doing this alongside their degrees. So, for example the bread to beer project, FutureBrew, the leader of that project is studying an aerospace engineering degree alongside creating this brewery. She said from an employability perspective, their students are really demonstrating on the ground a lot of those key skills that are missing.

Amy said that EnactusUK had a study from Universum that showed the application to hire rate of the average UK student was 0.9%, whereas for Enactus students was 45%.

Lindsey said at SAP, with their partnership and relationship with Enactus last year they didn’t even realise the potential. She explained that as they started to involve themselves with the students, it was one of those moments where people were blown away, they look at projects in different ways and so their big driver behind their relationship with Enactus was the focus of the social enterprise aspect of it. She added one of the key things that SAP is looking at from a purpose perspective, with the type of scale of their organisation, is that they are in a position where they can use that level of scale to have the impact in the communities. She said once they started to work with Enactus, they realised that actually it’s almost an extension of your workforce, just bringing in different ideas and the current workforce suddenly get really inspired. Lindsey explained that because sometimes when you’re sat working, going through your day to day for many years, you lack that spark and inspiration. So, their workforce had the opportunity to coach and mentor and get involved in the teams which made them take some of those ideas back into the business as well. She said in terms of their customers and partners, their goal is to collaborate all as one on these ideas. She explained that joining the Institute of Student Employers was an eye opener and when you’re talking about skills and students, it’s completely non-competitive, it’s a unique dynamic.

Encouraging Young Talent into a Career in Tech

Lindsey explained that her and Nick took part in an event with three other employers earlier in the year about getting into tech because they know there’s great people that need to be inspired to get into technology. She said just being able to share those pieces and if people and organisations come together, you’re going to be much more likely to achieve this rather than trying to do it alone.

Nick explained that digital is really interesting because they’re competing in the market that every single industry is competing in which is part of the reason why there’s a digital skills gap. He said from an organisational point of view, sometimes SAP is one of their partners and they work collaboratively on organisational things, but actually there are other tech players who are their competitors that, when it comes to winning customers, they would be competing against each other. He said they all recognise the needs of developing and inspiring students into STEM careers because they’re not going into STEM careers, they work really collaboratively together, almost like they leave their logos at the door, and come together for the good of the industry and say, if we can inspire people into digital roles and have them for a certain amount of time, that ultimately just benefits the industry and UK economy.

Steve added that they always found employers do collaborate. He said often when people talk about skills gap, they talk about the need to do things to train and develop and build structures, but they’ve got to deal with a preference piece, whether it’s for an industry, because location can be an issue as well. He explained that businesses are commercial operations so there’s a point where everybody has to collaborate so more people can understand about the opportunities that are out there. He said the problems around careers information and access within schools is part of the issue, it’s by employers collaborating with all sorts of organisations, that they can help solve that and help address problems with the skills gap. He said employers do then fight tooth and nail, they’ve done the marketing, the industry bit, now they fight for the talent they want, so it does get competitive.

Kim said if employers work together, because there are the gaps, or the lack of people coming through, it’s about inspiring them. She said it’s inspiring them about the art of the possible, people look at AstraZeneca a pharmaceutical company and think it’s all about science, but they don’t realise that without IT skills, digital skills, data skills, their scientists can’t do what they do. She said Fujitsu, SAP and AstraZeneca and lots of other companies can all work together and inspire people about the range of careers and the fact that it’s not about sitting in a dark room and coding, it’s a lot more than that. She said all these companies working together can showcase the range of opportunities and inspire people to take a plunge.

Amy agreed with Kim and said she’s always trying to put herself in the student generation because in her generation, it was a case of when she thought of technological skills or digital skills, it was all about coding which to her is a scary concept. However, she said they have a project at the moment in Sheffield that’s working on showing how things like coding are almost a key core skill now for so many different jobs and industries. Amy added that it goes back to that point that it isn’t just the technological industries that the digital gap is now impacting, it’s everyone. She said especially with what we’ve seen in this past year, it’s so important to be developing technology all the time.

Lindsey said they try to shout about careers in tech from the rooftops in every type of way they can at all levels. She said certainly with younger ones, tech is actually cool, it’s not seen as something geeky, they just love it; they live and breathe in it the whole time. She said it’s that mid-range of people that either are thinking about transferring into tech, not just young people, there is no age gap. She explained that looking at what’s happened with Covid, some industries have been hugely impacted and it’s totally unpredicted. She said there’s a lot of controversy around reskilling or retraining and they’ve seen a number of areas and studies that say people are going forward and thinking about a career in tech. She said for them it’s just that continual education, getting people to see it, collaborating with others. Lindsey explained that she is seeing traditional industries rebranding themselves as tech companies, a lot of the finance banks, because they know that’s where they’ve been disrupted. She said for example if you look at the fintechs coming in, they’re realising actually that’s what’s making it attractive. So, she said part of it is just continual education and Enactus helps them with that from SAP, because they’re talking to university students and now getting into the school level as well. She said they’ve been working with co-op academies which has got a large number across the northwest, it’s just that inspiration, getting children to see technology as a different career path. Lindsey added that the influence of family members and for them to have an understanding of career types is also important. She said just knowing that there’s a future career, whatever industry that is, that’s the bit that they need to all be collectively doing, she added that if you look at it just purely as the UK, and everything that we’re seeing at the moment, inspiring those children to think, actually I will come out of education at whatever level, there will be a really cool job for me. She said people’s wellbeing have been hugely impacted recently, feeling like the options aren’t there and we have all got a responsibility to get young people or those people out of work inspired to thinking when we get out of those things on the up.

Amy agreed with Lindsey and said showing that these kinds of skills are relevant to different industries is so important. She said Lindsey specifically did a fantastic session with over 150 of their students a couple of weeks ago on employability, but also on subjects like brand and LinkedIn presence, she showed how it was relevant to technology and how by using technology, people could assess candidate’s abilities, capabilities, and core competencies. Amy said she’s from a HR background and would’ve never considered technology as part of her role, but the way that Lindsey and SAP ran that session, it showed that it’s a really important skill for multiple industries and showed the students how key it’s going to be for them.

Kim added that it’s also showcasing as well. She said employers would benefit from showcasing how they used those skills and she always thinks about those kids in a chemistry lesson at school thinking, I just can’t do this anymore. She said if employers show them how they use chemistry to save people’s lives and inspire them, it brings on a whole new meaning. She said it’s the same with all the STEM subjects, if you can show people the different way, if you get an A level or a GCSE in chemistry or maths or technology, actually you’re on the first rung of being able to have a really fulfilling career that potentially is going to save somebody’s life, they have a responsibility to do that, to inspire them.

In relation to the pandemic, Kim said they had a 121% increase in their application rate for apprentices from 2019 to 2020 and even when they’d filled them all, they had people coming through who decided not to go to university because of Covid. She said she’s going to be watching with interest to see if they get another increase for 2021 because it would make sense.

Placements Nick said he did a placement year when he was at university and when he then was applying for a graduate role, there was a level of maturity, a level of life experience that he had. When he got his job there wasn’t that steep learning curve, so he said the placement option for anyone considering is a great way of getting some real practical work skills and real-life skills as well. He said with the ISE, Steve has research around placements students that go back to the same company, do they stay longer, and do they perform better? The results are yes, they do and so if you do have a placement program and then that’s a pipeline into a graduate program or another program, you get more benefit from that candidate, they will stay longer and they’re likely to perform longer as well. Nick said at Fujitsu they don’t offer placements anymore, they’ve converted those to apprentice positions as the results of the apprenticeship levy, but in the recruitment process they look for that level of work experience. He said if you have done summer jobs, if you’ve done placements, that all adds to your richness as a candidate, all of those additional skills that you’ve learned in whatever type of work experience is really valuable to any employer.

Amy explained that she did a placement but wasn’t actually due to do one at all, it wasn’t part of her degree, but she made the split decision before she went back to her final year of university to take a year out and work a year in industry. She went back to the same employer after she graduated and said it was really useful for her, knowing that as soon as she started her final year at university, she had that graduate job waiting. She said that she could focus on her degree, whereas a lot of her friends were going to assessment centres, filling in application forms, travelling to London for interviews, she didn’t have to do any of that. Amy was also an Enactus student herself, so it also gave her loads of time to work on that. She explained that she went into her final year, having been used to working and going to a couple of lectures a week was so easy and it was brilliant, and she felt she could be more productive than normal students. Amy said she would always advise and encourage people to take placements.

Lindsey explained that in terms of what they see happen to somebody in a year on placement is the best thing to watch in terms of a transformation. She said when their placement students come in, they have to be taught a lot of the stuff, the etiquette, the life skills, but in 12, 13 months, they change completely. She said they actually go back to university with a different perspective, they treat their studies completely differently. Lindsey spoke to a placement student who’s just gone back, and he said he’d wake up really late for his first two years of university but actually now, he gets up, gets through all of his work on time so he can actually have a bit of an evening and not cram. She said in terms of that loyalty piece, she’s got two of her team who were on placement then came back and they’ve been back in the business five or six years and they’re already going through their promotions. She said you definitely get that loyalty from doing that because you were there at that bit where they probably felt daunted, she said they certainly use placements as their main feeder for early talent.

Amy added that it saves on onboarding and hire costs as well if you think about it from an actual organisational cost perspective as well, if you’ve got placement students that are coming back into the business that whole onboarding piece, the time training piece, is already gone.

Steve said that their data proves the case and there’s a reason why employers do placements and internship programs, they are a really good way of sourcing talent. He explained that he hears the same from universities who say the students who go back for their final year are better students and there really are no lows in this. He said so many employers that aren’t engaged in things like placement programs are really missing out on a very useful talent stream and that’s why over the last 10 to 15 years, there’s been a really significant growth in early engagement programs. However, Steve said there is a danger that students think if they haven’t done a placement, they’ll never get a job. However, there never are as many placement or internship program opportunities as there are graduate jobs, so, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get one and he said it’s important to give that balanced message to students and the more that we can do these kinds of programs, definitely the better for all concerned.

Apprenticeships vs University

Kim explained that AstraZeneca go live with their vacancies in January and they close in March, so they’ll know for certain then if the pandemic has had an effect on students applying for apprenticeships over university. She added that if you look at the careers events they’ve been supporting, then the interest has been huge and the experience of going to university isn’t what it was. Kim explained that there’s the uncertainty in the job market and its encouraging people to research things and they’re realising that in some cases they can actually train in the job that they want to do, getting the degree that they want to get, while earning money and not getting the debt. She explained that it’s down to a combination of things, certainly Covid, but the overall awareness of apprenticeships is increasing as well. She said the influences such as parents, carers, teachers, career advisors are more aware now as well that their child going into an apprenticeship is not an embarrassing thing, it’s actually something they should be very proud of. She said apprenticeships can be tougher because they come into a proper job and expected to deliver. She said it’s certainly not an easy option and that awareness has increased and is encouraging more people to look at it.

Lindsey said that knowing statistically what it’s looking like and also getting a sense of how people are feeling since the pandemic. She said there’s definitely people feeling a bit disgruntled going back to university and there’s certainly going to be a shift in terms of people considering apprenticeships. She said now that they’ve seen the success stories over the last few years, there are people that can look up to these. Lindsey explained that she went straight into work at 18, and when her friends came out of university, they then got the job that she got when she was 18, they came out at 21 and went into the exact same company because that was the big employer in the area. She said that for her, it was a big reminder that actually, if you have the right attitude towards things, you can get that opportunity. She said that university, for some people, it’s the best thing they could possibly go and do but knowing that there is choice and that one isn’t better than the other will really help the brand of apprenticeships.

Nick said that it’s a really difficult choice for anyone leaving school right now because there’s such a different array of options available. He said for him, it was expected that he did A-levels and then on to university, but actually, a degree apprenticeship where if he was 18 and didn’t get into as much debt as he did would be a lot more of an attractive option. He agreed with Kim though and said it’s hard with balancing a job as well.

Amy agreed and said 12 years ago when she went to university, it wasn’t really a question, that was the only thing. She said she was the first in her family to go so didn’t have any guidance from anybody around her to what university even looked like. She said in terms of apprenticeships, she agreed with Nick and said she would love to not have the debt from university and said schools should definitely educate around the benefits of them.

Nick said the awareness piece is still huge, it’s getting better and they’re on a journey, but there’s still more to be done. He said they need to be telling the stories, having the role models out at schools, and saying, I picked this option and actually I’m having a great time. However, equally he said there are some structural policies that need to happen as well. He said he didn’t know if schools still are, but a few years ago, schools were still targeted and reported on number of UCAS applications – people going to university – nothing about apprenticeships. He said they should make the choice more equal and viable for a student career service at sixth form college to actively promote it.

Kim agreed and said she remembered one apprentice when he said he wanted to do an apprenticeship; they did everything they could to persuade him go to university. So, he made it his life’s work to go back to them at every given opportunity just to showcase exactly what he was doing, how he was progressing, just to make the point.

Nick said that he’s got grad’s that he recruited this year who’ve now joined at the same time as their degree apprentices and said, oh, if I had known that I would have done a degree apprenticeship as well.

Impact of Coronavirus

Nick explained that a 10-year digital transformation journey that we have all been talking about for a number of years has been forced to happen in almost 10 months. He said that’s a really positive thing, we’ve accelerated the pace of digital change. He said he remembers when stories were coming out, February, March 2020 time and at Fujitsu, he said they have always been ahead of any government guidance. They stopped international and domestic travel at about February time. He said they got the early careers recruitment team into a room and started planning for virtual assessment centres, they started to see a reluctance of candidates to book onto assessment centres. They had already issued guidance that there were no more external visitors allowed onto site, they went live with their virtual assessment centre the next week and never looked back. Nick explained that, what they thought was going to be a second-rate option, they’ve been really surprised at the effectiveness of it. He said you still get to see lots of the candidates’ behaviours, you can interact with the candidates really well and he said it gives a better candidate experience because you’re not asking them to travel long distances, spend the night in a hotel the night before for them to get worked up and nervous about, they’re doing an assessment centre that’s potentially in a more comfortable environment for them and it worked really well. He added that regardless of whatever happens with the return to normal, they will still keep a virtual assessment centre. He said they had to work really quickly to pivot to online virtual delivery of development and it worked really well, especially when you’re doing a lot of reflective type work, in your own environment actually works really well, better than had they got everyone together. He said all of their apprentices this year haven’t seen a Fujitsu person yet physically, they’ve never been into a Fujitsu building and literally joined them from their bedrooms. Nick explained that they had to get stuff shipped out to them and work really hard to think about what they’re lacking and for Nick, it’s a lot of the unwritten cultural norms. Thinking about when to log on, log off at the end of the day and go for you lunch break. He said they’ve been surveying the whole organisation throughout the pandemic and generally as an organisation they’ve been fantastic. He said they have noticed people under 30 have experienced the pandemic in a very different way to the rest of the organisation, a lot of them will be living in shared accommodation where they don’t have a study or an office that they can lock. So, he said we’re thinking about how to expose them to more shadowing experiences, where your manager might say, come along to this meeting I’ve got, that type of stuff that might have fallen down because actually they’re just not there. He said they’re getting their heads around supporting their managers with some additional things that they need to be thinking of when developing and training people who are really early on in their career.

Kim said it’s a very similar experience at AstraZeneca, everybody was offsite, the only people that have been on the sites are people in the labs, and only if you’re on Tier 1 projects, the vaccine and manufacturing. She said all of their processes went online, and they were having to think about things like mental health issues, how to keep these people engaged when last week they’re in a classroom and this week they’re sat home in their bedroom, trying to get their heads around working for an organisation. So, she said, it was making sure the managers thought about it as well and tried to get them to step up the mark, but it’s gone really well. She explained that some of the scientists, some of the manufacturing apprentices are the only people that are on site alongside the teams, so they’ve had a very strange experience going into labs where they’ve never worked before, going on to manufacturing lines. She said there’s also the additional thing of working with the education providers who haven’t worked as quickly, but considering they’re not on a global scale, they haven’t had that support, most of them have done a really great job in terms of providing that learning to the apprentices and supporting them. Kim explained that the only challenge they’ve had is where they’ve started to say they can now come back onsite and she can’t have an apprentice going out to a college or university, and mixing with the public, then going back to work on a manufacturing site where there’s nobody else allowed apart from front line workers, because it is too much of a risk. So, she said that’s caused a little bit of a challenge, but there have been some positives out of it, they’ve all got to know each other across the UK, for a start, which couldn’t happen in previous years, they were all on different sites across the UK and they’ve wanted to get to know each other and go to different sites which is a challenge. However, she said now they’ve spent an awful lot of time on zoom calls and things together which has worked. She said considering everything, it’s been a great success and she’s really pleased.

Steve said that all their members are still recruiting and although it’s a tough jobs market graduate vacancies, they’re down by about 12 percent this year, which actually, all things considered, is positive. He explained that it’s different sector to sector and some sectors like public sector are actually seeing a growth in vacancies, but some sectors have been hit very hard. He said it’s tough, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hiring going on at all.

Lindsey said it just forced them all to talk about the stuff that you’d end up years planning. She said for them, it became clear they’d already hired everyone, so the decision was made. She said the biggest benefit was the students saw how much fun opportunity is for them, they’ve known that their friend at university had their placement cancelled, so, they’ve actually thrown way more into it. She explained that normally in the first month when they onboard them, it’s all the social stuff, figuring out the who’s who and the dynamics going on, but they haven’t had that as they’ve been at home. She said it’s made their learning excel and they’ve been able to get up to standard way quicker than they’ve seen in any previous year. So, Lindsey said a lot of stuff will continue virtually both in assessments and also on boarding.

Amy explained that Covid has affected the Enactus programme in every single way possible. She said the program’s made up of students and the majority of students haven’t been on campus, so in terms of their teams forming and developing, it’s been a challenge. She said the students work with beneficiaries, which they’ve not been able to get as much access to, so they’ve had to really think about how they can create an impact. She explained that they can’t say to beneficiaries that they can’t do anything at the moment as it doesn’t work like that. Amy said they are a charity, so rely on the funding of their partners and sponsors and with everybody having to tighten the purse strings in their own organisations, sometimes Enactus can be seen as a nice to have versus a need to have. She said although it has been a challenge, there have been some fantastic results, they are able go online and are actually getting to see their students a lot more. She said she wouldn’t necessarily change but at the same time, they cannot wait to get back on campus and see the teams.

Digital Skills Gap- Will there always be one?

Steve said yes, but not in a negative sense, because the pace of change that is now in the world of work is so rapid that is going to continue. He said we can predict what those gaps will be with any certainty in five to ten years’ time, so it’s not necessarily negative. He said it’s a long game and if we talk about the Apprentice levy, in 5- or 10-years’ time, we’ll have seen apprentices become much more well known in the markets, parents will become more aware of them. He said it’s going to take a long time to change those attitudes, but they will change.

Amy agreed and said like with anything, technology develops and as technology develops, the different skills needed will develop alongside it as well. She said 10 years ago, we probably didn’t think we would need all the skills when it came to coding etc, which are now emerging as we’re thinking about the future. She said another key thing to add in as well is rather than it being just STEM, moving it back to STEAM to add in the arts and the creativity back into that digital divide and have that innovation as well. She said we’re seeing a shift in that conversation around what skills are really needed but in line still with that technology, digital space more than anything else.

Nick said the pace of change of technology is amazingly quick. He explained that Boyle’s law says it doubles every year, so if you started with one grain of rice on a chessboard and you doubled it every square, by the time you got to the 64th square, you’ve got enough grains of rice to stretch to the moon and back, that’s the pace of change of technology. He said the computer power is doubling just about every five years, probably quicker now, so the need for skills to harness the value of technology, therefore needs to keep up to that change. Nick said what it means for them is, there’s no longer the world of education and then the world of work, learning is lifelong. He added that you might be working but you might have to retrain in your career five or six different times, and no one wants to not feel insecure and have to retrain but actually, that’s the type of conversation which needs to become a bit more normal in the workplace.

Kim said until we know what technology is going to be relevant for the workforce in the future, the skills gaps are going to remain. She said because of this, we need to focus on the learning and training across the business, keeping in mind that it’s an ongoing commitment. She added that the technology skills gaps have been articulated to highlight dramatic changes in fast paced environments and we can’t know for sure which skills are going to be required in the future. However, Kim said we do need to invest in the learning so that people can be adaptive and maintain that mental flexibility. She said as line managers, we can support the development of a flexible mindset and the adaptive approach with agile and lean learning and at AstraZeneca they’ve invested in the tool called Degreed, which is a learning system, it’s got lots of different content so no matter which part of the business you’re in, things that you can take time out and learn. She said the critical role in any business, is to understand how the new technologies can benefit a company and staff and tailor learning experiences to that. Lindsey agreed with Amy’s point about that, adding the A into STEM, she said they’re hiring a lot of creatives, because technology is all about the user interfaces, how it all works and having that completely creative mindset backs points they made around tech. She said will we still be having these conversations and we’re in danger that by five to 10 years’ time, are we still going to be having conversations around social skills and mental health challenges? She said as we go through this, we need to make sure that resilience is all in our development plans as well because, it’s getting scary. Lindsey added that you can technically do everything without ever connecting with anyone, but you still need that, we need that social interaction and that real feeling of meeting people, so we’ll always be having the conversations, but she does think if we can almost nail both at the same time would be ideal.

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