Bridging the Gap between University and Employment

Bridging the Gap between University and Employment

The STEM skills gap has been widely documented in recent years with one in five employers reporting they have experienced difficulties filling vacancies due to candidates lacking the necessary practical skills and experience.

"The enhanced degree features all elements of a traditional degree but will additionally address the key skills identified by employers in their sector."

Indeed, the need for a greater collaboration between universities and businesses has become a top agenda item for Government. Now through a range of new initiatives efforts are being made to plug the significant gap between the skills gained through university education and the skills needed in employment.

John Coyne, a UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) Commissioner and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby, recently reported that:

"collaborations between employers and universities have a significant role to play in providing the supply of highly skilled people to meet demand from businesses both now and in the future.”

I'm delighted to be part of one such collaboration as chair of the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) board. SIP is employer-led, formed in response to the employability skills gap of young graduates.

We have developed an Industry Degree Scheme and Modular Masters programme, to forge a greater relationship between universities and employers. It's designed to equip students with the practical skills and knowledge that science sector employers are looking for.

The SIP Industry Degree Scheme is a collaborative initiative between industry and higher education. The Scheme provides employers with the opportunity to develop and recruit the next generation of scientists, engineers and leaders and allow SIP member companies to become more engaged in the learning process. Our partner Universities include UCL, Manchester University, Lancaster University, Newcastle University, Birmingham University and Kingston University.

The Scheme incorporates existing degree programmes with an industry programme that is undertaken in the workplace of a sponsor company.  In addition to existing academic studies, a student will develop sector specific and company abilities that will help accelerate their career upon graduation.  

"SIP not only benefits employers by producing a stronger talent pool, but also helps incoming talent by equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to secure a high value graduate position."

An employer is paired up with a student, who will gain experience in industry through a minimum of two summer placements. This link throughout the programme will build a longitudinal relationship between student and employer. Throughout the industrial degree scheme, Cogent will support students, universities and employers.

The Industry Degree Scheme builds upon existing best practice. By linking a student with the employer for the duration of the Scheme, the student will graduate with an enhanced academic record, ideally leading to a full time position with the host employer. The enhanced degree features all elements of a traditional degree but will additionally address the key skills identified by employers in their sector.

The collaboration between employers and universities is not only important to equip students with the skills that employers are looking for, but is also a fantastic platform for employers to work alongside major universities to ensure the employer ‘voice’ feeds into curriculum design and the collaborative growth of the science industry.

The SIP Modular Masters programme is an innovative programme developed to address the lack of coherent training in Formulation Science and Technology. (Mixing chemical ingredients into a final product).

This lack of specific training has resulted in the industry finding it difficult to develop employees with the right skill set for scientific, technical and production functions at all levels. A range of modules are available from March from Manchester University, De Montfort University and Birmingham University.

The Modular Masters has been designed to be flexible in order to meet the needs of employers in industries that utilise formulation. Students can choose to study one of more modules as CPD or alternatively acquire credits which build up into a full Masters qualification.

"The full Masters programme includes a substantial research project of relevance to the employer."

The full Masters programme includes a substantial research project of relevance to the employer. The programme focuses on developing those skills in formulation which employers have identified to being critical to driving innovation, productivity and growth.

By partnering with universities and employers, the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) is helping to bridge the gap between university and employment. This SIP will also foster further feedback on the skills that the UK science industry requires.

This not only benefits employers by producing a stronger talent pool, but also helps incoming talent by equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to secure a high value graduate position.

I believe strongly that faced with shortages in the skills they need, all companies need to get involved in helping to provide them. As an employer-led scheme, I hope that SIP can show the way.

The SIP has been partly supported by HM Government with Employer Ownership funding.

Malcolm Skingle CBE is Academic Liaison at GSK and SIP Chair. 

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