Universities Must Help Business to Take Next Step on the Skills Ladder; Interaction Is Vital for Wales' Economic Future the Long View

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Byline: david rosser

THE interaction between universities and business is a topic much written about currently, and generally in the context of R&D and innovation.

How can the knowledge in universities be developed and commercialised and how can it be used to promote the economic development of Wales and its businesses? This is a very real issue and one that is being taken increasingly seriously by Government and of course universities and companies themselves.

But there is another, and much bigger, area of interaction which gets much less attention and that is the role of higher education in helping companies to develop their workforce. Too many employers still regard universities as places into which you pour 18-year-olds, and three years later hope that they come out with the knowledge that is needed for the economy of the day.

And universities, which are increasingly looking for new revenue streams, are missing out on the significant sums that companies spend on workforce training.

The CBI and Universities UK have just issued a report, Stepping Higher, looking at how the two sectors can liaise more closely in workforce development.

And it proposes a number of actions that can be taken by companies, individual higher education institutions, and indeed Government, to improve effectiveness.

Employers should identify and explain in general terms the skills they require and those they are likely to want in the future and be prepared to invest some time in researching suitable partners - not all universities have the same strengths.

The institutions should market their services better, making it easier for employers to know who to contact and ensure that inquiries are followed through effectively.

And they can help employers with the process of identifying future skills needs and turning them into programmes.

Employers have to be prepared to invest time in helping with the course design and, if appropriate, releasing staff to help deliver it, and of course provide feedback on programmes and their impact in the longer term so that universities can refine and improve them for the future.

And they have to be realistic in selecting participants who are able and willing to cope with the demands of higher education courses.

The value of qualifications to employees also needs to be recognised, even if the employer is primarily interested in meeting its skills needs. …