Education leaders must develop close partnerships with the Scottish business community to create a generation of workers ready to take full advantage of ‘Industry 4.0’, says Professor, Sir Jim McDonald

The continuing acceleration of the impacts of digital technology on the workplace and jobs generally means we must not only educate young people about the technical aspects of a job, but also the ability to thrive in a dynamically changing environment where they may change jobs several times and have to continue their learning and professional development throughout their working lives. 

As a consequence, as well as preparing our young people to become skilled employees, it is essential we help develop their enterprising spirits too. 

This can not only help them think about becoming self-starters but also to seek to apply an entrepreneurial approach in the organisations they may join.

Many employers already see such employees as highly valuable as the power and value of innovation and enterprise in a company is now beyond a “nice to have” and has become more of a commercial necessity.

The phenomenon of “Industry 4.0” in manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, medical technology, and fintech is based on the use of automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and data analytics. 
Consequently, employers in these sectors are encouraging schools, colleges and universities to expand upon the education material necessary to achieve qualifications, degrees and other awards, and include increased awareness of the digital transformation we’re experiencing. 

And yet, it is very often the case that business leaders prefer the right attitude over the perfect CV. Employers routinely make judgments on how an individual will fit and contribute to their organisations. Personal attributes such as enthusiasm, a clear interest in the type of business being considered, self-discipline, the development of a good work ethic in applying themselves and an openness to develop professional relationships with others in the company all matter.  

Critical to this is building confidence in young people, something that is gained more often than not gained from “learning by doing”.  

A good example of the benefits of collaboration is this area is the Graduate Apprenticeship programme that brings business, colleges and universities together to create pathways to degrees and professional careers while embedding the students in companies that develop their work experience and skills.

In education we can support young people’s preparation best by partnering with business, industry, and organisations such as Young Enterprise Scotland (YES) to enthuse and inspire them to see their personal development and life opportunities as entwined with the careers they choose to pursue. 

Demystifying what “work” is all about, instilling excitement for starting careers and offering work experience are all key to launching a young person successfully into the world of work. YES does this through its company programme, Bridge 2 Business and various challenges and I am very proud to support them in these great initiatives. 

Similarly, at Strathclyde, many of our students are supported to experience job placements, attract sponsorship, and engage with business throughout their degree programmes.  

Achieving that strong balance between formal education provision and training opportunities helps satisfy business and industry demand and can excite more young people into pursuing careers in emerging sectors and those undergoing digital change. 

The only safe prediction about the future is that change is inevitable and continuous. We must develop a shared vision for the world of future work between business, industry, schools, colleges and universities and then collaborate and co-invest to build opportunities for our young people. 

Professor, Sir Jim McDonald is Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Strathclyde University and an Ambassador for Young Enterprise Scotland