In this post-Brexit world, there is uncertainty on many levels. Universities might be looking over their shoulder wondering where future funding is coming from, now there are no guarantees that funding, certainly from a European perspective, may be forthcoming as we head into uncharted waters.
Industrial engagement will forge the path ahead for Scotland’s universities in a much more dynamic way than it does presently and whatever shape or form that takes is, of course, open to debate.
There is a groundswell of opinion that suggests we need to get both research activities and industrial engagement more synergised and this will, in turn, help to shape the employability agenda for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, thereby helping to “future proof” the skill sets they need in the future world of work.
Who would have thought, a year ago, that we would seriously be looking at Brexit? Therefore, graduates who come out of our universities in the next year and are looking to work in industry are going to have to plot a path through Brexit.
Now, more than ever, we need companies that embrace the skill sets a university graduate can bring to enhance the industries of tomorrow. Most companies have not prepared the ground for this, but they need to bootstrap themselves fairly quickly in order to remain competitive.
Given industrial engineering and manufacturing has been our lifeblood for so long, factories of the future will need to create competitive advantage through high level productivity and that’s not about removing people, it is about making better use of people and their skills – so there are elements around areas such as industry 4.0, robotics and high-level control systems that will be crucial for our future role as an industrial nation that has competitiveness, impact and gravitas at its core. However, the future has to be thought through now and graduates recruited from our universities to make this happen.
From an open marketing perspective, perhaps companies are not calling for it loudly enough – many have a “live for now” attitude of short term goals and horizons and again, with Brexit very much caught up in current thinking, it is taking the focus away from future skills, whilst many companies continue to sit navel gazing and looking only at what potential threats and risks there are to the commercial side of their business.
At the same time, if you don’t plan for the future, you plan to fail. Future proofing skills is a big element and one area where I know we can make significant improvements. One of these is to regard our universities as partners in leveraging the skills that pave the way to a smarter, successful Scotland.
Engineering and manufacturing companies across the board are, in my view, not tapping into our university framework nearly enough. These same businesses are happy enough, generically, to take graduates and get them into employment, and whilst there are lots of initiatives within our university infrastructure which encourage graduates to look out into the marketplace, too few companies look into what our universities are achieving in throwing open opportunities for industrial engagement and placements. We need to put time, capacity and effort into scoping out our future ready projects and skills needs, and commit to addressing these needs. If we don’t, someone else will.
Our universities are open to engagement with industry, so it is all about seeking out who might offer the clear route to solving a dilemma that exists in your organisation. Organisations like Interface – The Knowledge Connection for Business has been pivotal in academic/industrial collaborations. It it is surely up to industry to grasp the opportunities.
Moreover, the University of West of Scotland, an active founding partner of CeeD, has been particularly successful in engaging with companies on Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs). These are great mechanisms, particularly for SME businesses.
And while there may be a financial outlay for the company to engage, the payback they get if they scope their project out properly and enable the KTP to optimise the opportunity should easily bring a tenfold return on the issue which brought them into a university collaboration in the first place.
Our universities remain an under-utilised resource and opportunity. Engineering and manufacturing businesses are missing a golden opportunity to be part of a strong academic industrial engagement platform which will be beneficial to our country in the post Brexit era which lies ahead.
Scott Sinclair, Managing Director, CeeD, www.ceed-scotland.com