Why businesses and universities need a lesson in collaboration

24 Jul 2018 By Professor Helen Marshall

Workplaces and higher education providers should be working together to actively address skills gaps, says Professor Helen Marshall

In a month which has seen undergraduates up and down the country don their caps and gowns for graduation – including musician Peter Hook, CEO of Barnardo’s Javed Khan and entrepreneur Wendy Tan White MBE at the University of Salford – I’d urge businesses and universities to think about how they can work more closely ahead of the new academic year.

We’ve seen recent statistics from the Open University showing that businesses are buying instead of building skills, as 91 per cent of companies still struggle to recruit the skilled workers they need. This is just the latest in many studies of this kind. There’s no getting away from the fact businesses need better and more appropriate talent to safeguard their competitive advantage for the future.

It’s my view that collaboration is key. Universities need to step up and help to deliver the workforce of the future. This goes beyond creating a matchmaking platform aimed at delivering work-ready graduates to employers with graduate schemes and/or entry-level roles to fill.

Collaboration should run through the fabric of a business’s talent strategy: from helping to shape the curriculum, to knowledge transfer partnerships and continuing professional development.

At Salford, business partnerships have resulted in the creation of our Industry Collaboration Strategy: an innovative solution that actively seeks to address recognised skills gaps and deliver a future workforce with a high level of technical skills. The big challenges on the planet are multi-disciplinary, so our focus on industry collaboration across health and wellbeing, sport, engineering and digital seeks to address real-world problems.

Salford isn’t the only university investing in new infrastructure, new ideas and new solutions to close skills gaps – it’s happening all over the country, and I would challenge employers to think about whether they could be working with their local university to do their bit. After all, this in turn delivers a bright future for the town, city or region you share. Centre for Cities research shows attracting and retaining talent is crucial for a region’s prosperity.

Those companies not forging links with the universities around them are missing a huge opportunity. Instead of bemoaning a skills gap, why not start the conversations that will help to tackle it and make a difference?

Collaboration is an opportunity that should be embraced by businesses – large and small – that have an interest in delivering a graduate workforce with the right skills, as well as contributing to the wider economic picture.

Those businesses embracing opportunity for collaboration will benefit the most.

Professor Helen Marshall is vice chancellor of the University of Salford

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