Collaborating to address the skills gap

City of Bristol College’s recent expert panel discussion considered how businesses and colleges can work in partnership to develop a curriculum which will help to address Bristol’s skills gap and promote upward mobility.

Panelist Vanessa Moon, Director at Moon Consulting shares her comments from the event.  

(from L-R) James Durie Business West, Vanessa Moon Moon Consulting, Lee Probert City of Bristol College, Ben Rhodes CBI, Clare Vertigen SWAC, Emma Jarman City of Bristol College

(from L-R) James Durie Business West, Vanessa Moon Moon Consulting, Lee Probert City of Bristol College, Ben Rhodes CBI, Clare Vertigen SWAC, Emma Jarman City of Bristol College

A collaborative curriculum

A collaborative curriculum should go beyond academic learning so that it can support future employer’s real needs. For example, a curriculum which includes the development of soft skills and the management of social media will create future employees who are able to thrive in a business environment.

There is a growing concern amongst employers that their future workforce will be more interested in the technology, apps and benefits that go with the job, than the actual job itself. Creating a curriculum which gives students the opportunity to see how businesses operate first hand could help bridge the gap and provide employers with valuable insight into reward & benefits expectations.

At the same time, employers have a responsibility to start to invest in their future workforce while they are still students – mentoring can be a great way of providing students with additional skills while giving them a real insight into the world of business.

This is echoed by Lee Probert, Principle & Chief Executive at City of Bristol College who comments, “our event, in partnership with employers, is about partnering with the City’s businesses to develop a co-designed and co-delivered curriculum that responds to specific skills gaps in organisations and creates more prosperous and socially mobile communities. Only by working together we can effectively continue developing sustainable economic growth and maximise the benefits of lifelong learning for the City region.

City of Bristol College is the City’s college, and we will be as much at the heart of the planning and development businesses do to inform their future skills requirements, as we are with school leavers and other key student groups.”

Including sustainable skills

Sustainable skills go beyond the basics required to do the job. From entry-level positions to board level, more onus is being placed on the soft skills that employees can bring to a role. It is important that both colleges and employers recognise this and encourage both the future workforce and current employees to develop these skills through training, attendance at suitable networking events and mentoring.

As the demographic of the workforce changes and the use of social media becomes second nature, how you are represented on these channels will become increasingly important. Employees need to learn good social media management as every element of their network, commentary and posts may be examined by prospective employers. Just as social media can affect a company reputation, a candidates’ job prospects can also be undone by one badly thought out post.

Closing the gap

Employers need to recognise that those coming into the workforce are not necessarily looking for a job for life or a job which is just nine-to-five. To keep their ‘rising stars’, particularly in areas where there is a skill gap, employers will need to address that critical work / life balance.

Employees want to feel that they are supported in terms of academic learning which will further their career but also have time, and the opportunity, to pursue other activities such as charity work.   

Employers should consider how they can maintain their competitive edge and what skills their employees need to help them achieve their business objectives.

Working in conjunction with colleges to create a curriculum and additional learning & development (L&D) programmes which address these needs will create a more dynamic and skilled workforce.

Employers can’t just play lip-service to developing their workforce. The most extensive L&D programme is no good if it is not supported by a culture which allows employees the time and the tools to develop. The importance of L&D should be led from the top down and reinforced at line manager level.   

Addressing social mobility

The recognition that the next generation of board members can come from any background is a positive move. More employers are actively mentoring young people from different socio/economic background throughout their career journey.

Employers should encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to undertake work placements as this can open the door to a career which might have been thought to be closed to them.

Schemes that allow their employees to work and study at the same time will help to encourage those who may not otherwise be able to afford to attend university or college.

Support from local government to help facilitate positive change and re-educate communities is also important, particularly when trying to break out of the socio/economic stereo-types which can be detrimental to students being pushed to try different careers.

The government’s transformation of post-16 education, which will see thousands of courses to be replaced with 15 straightforward routes into skilled employment, will help to encourage those from different backgrounds into more diverse careers. While in Bristol the One City Plan aims to bring together Bristol’s businesses and organisations to form a collaborative approach to resolving the City’s challenges and creating a more equal, inclusive and sustainable city.

However, businesses, colleges and local government need to continue to work together to bring the about positive change needed to create a truly sustainable and diverse workforce.