Skills for Employability: Provoking something different

Digital INnov8ors

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to provide insight on the findings of our new publication Doing Business in Solihull: An Economic Snapshot.

Doing Business in Solihull: An Economic Snapshot is produced by the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce policy team. It offers an introduction to the local economy and business community within Solihull. The report is sponsored by Prime Accountants Group , one of the West Midland’s leading independent firms of chartered accountants, forensic accountants, business and financial advisors.

This post is featured in the full report here.

The need

The West Midlands is home to many “digital” businesses and has been recently recognised as the best one in the country in which to develop a digital career. Digital businesses require a good supply of skilled talent which many identify as the limiting factor on their growth.

Skills availability/access is one of the key selection criteria for companies when deciding where to locate their businesses. In view of this promoting skills acquisition and development should be an active component when considering boosting skills and productivity for economic growth.

The changing landscape of employment need, driven by advances in digital technologies as well as economic uncertainty such as the impacts on availability of skilled people driven by Brexit, highlights a need to engage not only those learners in “traditional” education pathways via higher education but also those still in the formal education system that are hard to reach because they have been disenfranchised by the education system; the uninspired, the undecided those self-describing as ‘the lost’. This will be an inclusion initiative as we reach into the region’s Wards with high (generational) unemployment.

The ‘something different’ needs to address a future based on knowledge, which unlike the exhaustible resources of raw materials and energy on which past economies were founded, is a growing resource - the more you use the more you have (after Yuval Noah Harari).

Piloting a Solution

It is essential that the next generation can grasp the new employment opportunities that will be there in the coming 5-10 years. Such learners [will] inherit the earth; while the learned [will] find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists (Eric Hoffer). Today’s educators and education system focus on qualifications and skills while employers talk about behaviours and talents. A three year old project run by Digital INnov8ors has highlighted a new approach to learning that promotes the acquisition of a ‘skills cloud’ generating learners that are more readily employable and digitally enabled. 

The aim, to develop and scale an alternative approach to address the skills shortages and create new paths to future employment particularly, but not exclusively, for those that are more practical than academically oriented.

In this young and diverse region there is a need to maximise the power and value of the collective by delivering a diverse and productive workforce - a truly inclusive society. Digital INnov8ors identifies the Gen Zs as the first ‘digitally innate’ generation and embraces the digital revolution as a democratising tool; crossing social divides to create opportunity for all to engage with employment opportunities in the knowledge economies. These young people use technology everyday - their devices are just an extension of who they are; the way they seek information, socialise and run their lives is all managed digitally.

Such digitally innate learners take the digital world for granted and yet they are not been given the “smart” skills that could make them effective in the workplace. They are in fact often prevented from using their devices during structured learning in the classroom, which for those that are less academic, can add to their feeling of isolation - leading to them losing their way….. ‘the lost’.

INnov8ors presents ‘Digital’ as just a way of solving problems.  This training focuses on providing them with the means of applying their skills through an emphasis on foundation skills - digital literacies and social and emotional skills that are crucial to effective use of digital technologies in their daily lives. It builds to the generic skills designed to enable use of such technologies for professional purposes and on then, where appropriate, to provide more specialist skills to programme, develop applications and manage networks.

The Digital INnov8ors mission, working with and supported by Solihull College and University, is to address the digital skills shortage by creating new pathways to future employment for 16 - 19 year olds, not so much by giving learners digital skills; more by accessing and developing learners with digital skills. The approach provides a demand-led local skills system aligned with supply - linking curriculum learning to careers through project-based learning, encounters between employers and employees through project-related work placements, pre-employment and job opportunities. This has been demonstrated to lead to digitally innate pre-apprentices that are sought after by employers.

The approach promotes the use of their devices in the learning of the softer skills; collaborating and communicating effectively. It enhances skills, knowledge and understanding enabling critical, creative, discerning and safe practices when engaging with digital technologies in all areas of life. It encourages and develops Core Behaviours - communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking along with Employability Skills - attitude, aptitude, ambition and application to deliver flexible, adaptable and resilient individuals.

A key for ‘the lost and undecided’ is employable people in employment as Apprentices; or indeed an informed decision process leading into a university education.  However, there is also a recognised need to promote continued (life-long) learning, which will be increasingly essential in the fast-moving knowledge economies to ensure continued employment. This creates the need to support employees and employers through a continuing professional development programme.

Mick Westman
Digital INnov8ors