Education sector vs commercial experience

How are we going to manage the projected growth of Milton Keynes Tech Sector?

Milton Keynes is one of the UKs fastest growing cities with a population expected to double by 2050 that will be bigger than Edinburgh, Cardiff or Liverpool. The city’s economy is currently worth over £12bn with an expected growth of up to 32,000 new jobs in Milton Keynes by 2031, many of these will be in the innovation and technology sector where we have the biggest skills shortages.

So how are we going to meet the skills and people needs of our growing technology sector in Milton Keynes when we’re the fastest growing city in the UK?

In June I was invited to the Milton Keynes Council Skills Conference to be part of a collaboration of experts from across education, public and private sector. We heard talks from leaders in Higher Education and in the Council’s Economic Development Team followed by a series of ideas workshops with contributions from everyone in the room.

Professor Lynette Ryals MBE, Chairman of Cranfield University discussed a study where companies were asked what skills they want candidates to have and what would make graduates more employable. The response was: team and virtual team working, emotional intelligence, relationship building, applied ethics, intellectual property and financial management, negotiation and commercial skills, project management, confidence, resilience and critical thinking.

I can’t help but think that these skills are usually gained and honed through experience. It’s a lot like learning to drive a car where the real learning starts once you’ve passed the test and are let loose on the road. You can teach the technical skills and know-how but the soft skills and commerciality surely has to come once you get into your first proper job. So how is education going to produce commerciality to satisfy the needs of employers? I have a few suggestions:

We already have a variety of Sandwich Courses offering a year in industry. This year in industry needs to be seen by employers as valuable real-world commercial experience. Often employers refuse to recognise this as valuable. Maybe there’s a way for the placement to be made more real? Perhaps a tighter curriculum attached to this year in industry? What can we do to make sure this experience is more valuable to both the student and the employer?

I would like to see some curriculum improvements so that students get a more realistic outlook on the commercial world. More live briefs, guest lectures, visits to conferences, visits to industry and insightful speakers from the commercial sector. This will all help to improve the students’ perception of life after education.

Apprenticeships could be better promoted. I was surprised to discover there are grants and bursaries available in Milton Keynes for hiring apprenticeships as I haven’t yet come across any business in MK who takes advantage of these.

Worktree Career Workouts are brilliant. I’ve never come across anything like it in any other city in the UK. Worktree Career Workouts are organised in schools across MK to introduce young people aged 11-18 to real people from a variety of industries and roles where the volunteer guests answer questions from the students about their jobs, honestly. Volunteering only takes an hour out of your day and helps the young people to relate their education to potential careers, giving them invaluable insight into the world of work and business. Hardly surprising that Milton Keynes is pioneering the way. Isn’t Milton Keynes a brilliant place for disruption and innovations! I would encourage you to give it a go.

So, can we attract enough talent to Milton Keynes to supply the market with the skills and headcount required for our projected growth? The coveted MK:U which is planned to open in 2023 will bring 15000 students to the city, 5000 of which will be studying high-tech subjects. And it’s great to see that the council and higher education are addressing the issues now and gearing themselves up for the future.

I am sure with forward thinking, innovation and collaboration we will get there.

Jo Carter, Founder & Managing Director of Concept Personnel
Jo Carter, Founder & Managing Director of Concept Personnel

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