10 years ago if I told you that Amazon and Apple would have been in a race to be the first trillion dollar company in 2018 you would be right to have responded with a degree of scepticism if not bemusement. Amazon? The online distributor of books and CDs? Apple? Sure, that new iPhone looks quite flash but it’s too expensive and heavy to catch on… Tech companies are today’s business global leaders – and it’s happened fast. In 2008, ownership density of smartphones like the iPhone in the UK was at 18%; today it’s 78%. Most people had a desktop PC 10 years ago; that ownership plummeted by 40% between 2008 and this year.

Technological change is driving wider change: economically, socially and politically: think of the way debates from the Brexit referendum to the election of Donald Trump have been dominated by the use of social media and the internet. As a society, it is our responsibility to respond to that change. And nowhere, I would argue, is technological change more relevant than in helping upskill young people to respond to that change.

That’s why WorldSkills UK recently brought together a range of experts from across industry to discuss how construction and engineering, so crucial to the future skills our young people need to allow us to compete in the global economy, can best respond to the challenge of change.

In the construction roundtable, much of the debate focused on how to blend current construction site trade skills needs while preparing for the future where construction processes would be more akin to manufacturing processes which would take place off site. Kier set out how it was already introducing new ways of working with its digital construction apprenticeship. And a consensus quickly emerged on the need for an “innovation leap of faith” – with employers agreeing that much more collaboration between them and the education sector was necessary to help prepare for the technology shifts. This would include a much stronger conversation between employers and education on a “research and development” agenda as technology develops and placing the conversation in a much longer timeframe.

In the engineering roundtable, much of the focus was on employees having to develop a mindset that is constantly adapting to change. The group held a critical discussion about the culture in which businesses develop employees and how open they are to technological change. Siemens noted the importance of more junior staff having the opportunity to innovate, come up with their own ideas and being able to present these to their management team. This enables them to feel empowered in the process of change, with employees feeling 40% more motivated as a result.

The engineering roundtable also reflected on how the UK education system has been historically viewed as too exam focused. There is a perception that it is not preparing young people for the modern workplace in which the ability to recall information is becoming less and less important, compared with the need to prepare young people for the digital age by focusing on the application of knowledge as well as its acquisition. Warwickshire College Group discussed feedback from employers who have identified that young people on apprenticeships who are learning on the job are found to be more solutions-orientated and more innovative than other graduates. This elucidates the potential that exists through the further development of apprenticeship standards in the next few years.

Given the wide ranging discussions at these round tables  there was a very clear sense that we need to reimagine engineering and construction and that this will require leadership and innovation from industry and education. The scale of the reboot needed was acknowledged, in terms of how we prepare young people through more creative education processes which are aligned with more innovative thinking at work.

Therefore our work at WorldSkills UK does not stop at the roundtables. We will be following on from this through a range of activities: hosting follow up events with partners at WorldSkills UK LIVE this November, which will look at how we can make further progress; implementing a ‘seeing is believing’ philosophy on technology through a dedicated area focused on inspiring young people through the Year of Engineering and Industry 4.0; and working with partners to reflect the change in new integrated disciplines in the competitions we run and share this best practice across the sector.

In 10 years from now, the technological revolution in society will have created new Apples and Amazons, these companies are most likely not to be in existence today. The future is exciting and unpredictable. To ensure our young people are ready for it we need to invest in the skills that will equip them to take advantage of the opportunities as they emerge. WorldSkills UK and our partners are at the vanguard of this movement and it is through us all working together that we will see potential realised, challenges overcome and a successful, productive economy sustained.

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