IBM's Jenny Taylor on educating for tomorrow's UK economy
Jenny Taylor, UK Graduate, Apprenticeship and Student Programme Leader at IBM
As thousands of students reflect on their results and go on to choose what subject to take next, and ultimately, what career path or route they wish to take, the debate turns again to the shortage of skills in the technology sector.
There is huge demand for tech jobs crying out for qualified individuals.
So, how do we prepare the next generation of students for a new type of career or even one that might not exist yet?
Firstly, let’s address the problem head on. In the UK there is an urgent need to adapt our models of schooling, to respond to the rapidly changing employment landscape. Emerging technologies are changing the world of work rapidly, at a pace that even the most advanced companies in industries hadn’t necessarily anticipated.
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Although technology is helping to create new and exciting jobs, there is the potential for the current skills gaps to widen if the education and training sector fails to keep pace.
Many employers are already struggling to attract and recruit the right people with the right skills. Cyber security is an area where the skills gap is particularly acute. As we have seen earlier this year with key infrastructure attacks such as WannaCry, all organisations need to ensure that employees are educated from a security perspective to some level. Yet the supply of young people with these particular skills emerging from our schools and universities is a long way from being able to meet current, let alone future demand.
It is a global problem and there are two successful initiatives operating across a variety of markets. Let’s take the UK first.
Apprenticeship schemes have been garnering more attention from the media in recent years and rightly so, due to the real-life situational experience they provide. An increasing numbers of students are becoming more aware of alternative paths to successful employment and career opportunities, as opposed to the traditional University route. University should be considered among a multitude of other viable options and some of these options are apprenticeships.
IBM offer a couple of different types of apprenticeships, one open to school leavers (A-level/diploma equivalent requirements) and the other known as a degree apprenticeship.
The benefits to pupils opting for this career route are numerous, including a guaranteed salary and no debt, to name a few. However, there are also advantages to employers of apprenticeships that are slowly starting to be recognised. It is clear employers recognise the value in apprenticeship programmes and they likely to proliferate substantially in the future.
Apprentices have great value in sought after technology roles too (particularly given the skills shortage we are facing). Apprentices can learn deep technical skills (on the job, in real life situations) and often progress rapidly up the organisational career ladder. In the last few years, IBM has found that apprenticeship retention is high and they are highly valued employees. Not only that – they often outperform graduates and once qualified, are indistinguishable from other technical specialists, bringing a new and fresh approach into a workplace.
One approach (which we have seen work well in the US) is to disrupt the qualifications state school systems offer and re-determine the skills young people need to develop.
In the US, many of the vacant technical roles relating to cyber security, cloud computing and software development do not require a degree. Many companies in the US are starting to recruit people who hold an associate degree, a US qualification that sits between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree: a middle level qualification for middle level jobs, or what are known as ‘new collar’ jobs.
At IBM in the US the company is leading a transformation of high school education that means students are graduating, age 18, from its P-TECH schools (Pathways to Early College High Schools) with a high school diploma and an associate degree (equivalent to a Level 4 qualification such as a HNC or BTEC here in England) in, for example, engineering or computer systems technology. The new school model is equipping young people with the qualifications and professional skills they will need to progress to the ‘new collar’ jobs that are being created by emerging technologies.
A call to action
It’s clear there is a call to action for businesses governments and education authorities alike to ensure that they are equipping the next generation with the tools and qualifications they need to be successful. Never has it been more apparent that huge change is needed to support the dramatic acceleration and evolution of technology and we must embrace this change, in order to produce optimal results for our societies.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”