The fourth industrial revolution – being built on digital platforms that increasingly use artificial intelligence and real-time data analysis – is taking shape around us at an unrelenting pace.
But at the same time, many nations, including the UK, are fast approaching a skills crisis as older workers in vital industries approach retirement and not enough young people are heeding the call to develop skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or ‘STEM’ subjects – that future industries will be built on.
The combination of Britain leaving the European Union at the same time as vast changes to the UK’s industrial landscape make it imperative that young people develop skills that will help the nation’s businesses to compete effectively on the global stage.
By doing so they will also develop skills that they can use not just in the UK, but around the world. For example, a British Chamber of Commerce study shows that 75% of UK businesses currently has a digital skills shortage while in the US 4.4 million jobs will require IT skills by 2024.
Join the Industrial Cadets
Many current school, college and university students are likely to start their careers in STEM jobs that haven’t even been created yet, so there is an urgent need to engender excitement among young people to become part of this transformational change.
This view is backed by research from the Royal Academy, Kings College London, City & Guilds and others, which indicates that more needs be done to inform and inspire them about the opportunities STEM industries offer. Without this, they will tend to opt for the career paths that are more visible in the media or where they have personal experience.
One industry initiative that aims to bridge the gap between young people and businesses is the Industrial Cadets scheme. This grew out of a conversation between HRH the Prince of Wales and Tata Group in the UK about providing effective experiences of work and industry.
The result was the beginning of what is now a rapidly expanding accreditation scheme for STEM experiences within industry known as Industrial Cadets. Its growth reflects the demand among employers for a programme that assures them of the value of young people’s workplace skills and experience.
Large employers, including Rolls-Royce, AkzoNobel, Nissan and Tata Consultancy Services, offer young people a structured programme of activities, at the end of which they graduate as Industrial Cadets with a nationally recognised accreditation.
Industrial Cadets are provided with unique insights into industry at regular intervals throughout their education, from the ages of nine to 21. Their skills and knowledge are enhanced over time, while the benefits of their access to role-models and mentors from industry simply cannot be quantified.
14,000 young people have already graduated from accredited programmes, and an ambitious expansion plan aims to grow this to 500,000 by July 2021 with the right partners and support.
This is achievable if the STEM sector and UK businesses more widely recognize the need to embrace a single, well-founded system of certification that allows best practice to spread among a wide range of employers and shows that young workers have the portable skills both they and industry need.
The scheme means employers can have a direct influence on the skills developed by young people, something that is usually reserved for governments. The Industrial Cadet scheme also provides a chance to broaden the talent pools in local areas, raising the aspirations and career expectations of young people nearby.
As the fourth industrial revolution continues to change the way we work, STEM employers must keep doing more to set the direction of the skills young people are learning and show them the potential of careers they may never have previously thought about.
By Julie Feest, CEO of the Engineering Development Trust