According to The Training Magazine Network, there is now a ‘digital skills gap’:

‘New technologies have the potential to transform productivity in the workplace. But, this potential will remain unrealized unless we empower the workforce with the digital skills necessary to take advantage. Organizations consistently find that today’s workforce does not have these digital skills. The resulting digital skills gap is damaging business and the economy as a whole.’

The training magazine network (June 2015)

Postgraduate researchers are a diverse workforce and the skills gap issue affects them and universities in two main ways:

IT Matters to employers!

Information Technology Skills are increasingly important to employers and they expect to recruit employees who are proficient rather than have to invest a large amount of time training them up. Many PhD researchers develop these skills themselves rather than for the research project. The issue researchers face is that often employers see the skills they have developed as project focussed rather than people focussed. The IT skills developed may be too specific such as use of software or programming and difficult to utilise more generally. Employers don’t have the time or want to spend time investigating if these specific skills are transferable or not? This means researchers have to work harder to sell themselves in this area. A generic skill which features in most roles is ‘providing good customer service’, this is a matter of knowing who your customer is as well as evidencing it? For PhD students this may be tricky to identify: is it the public or government who may fund the research, or someone else? The use of social media means that information is much more accessible to the world and public but the PhD project doesn’t always prescribe this type of use of technology and public engagement communication. In fact often the interests of the research project are in conflict with the idea of open communication and doing this through social media. There may be sensitive issues, pressure to publish first or IP issues to consider. Whereas these concerns may be accepted in a university or research environment, those wishing to peruse careers outside of this may find it challenging to evidence the skills needed and identify gaps in their training.

The BYOD Void!

The use of technology is becoming essential in building a learning culture and can help breakdown barriers to promote a diverse learning environment. However, increasingly this approach identifies ‘skills gaps’ in the learning community. As the technical agenda moves at lightening speed, universities are finding it difficult to keep up and ensure that our researchers are employment ready.

There is no longer a need to provide technology as a facility, increasingly BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is leading the way.

Did you know that the average smartphone today is more powerful than the PCs that took two astronauts to the moon in 1969?!

Origin Learning (June 2015)

PC clusters and PC labs may become a thing of the past instead we may meet for teaching or training in the Cloud or virtual learning environment. Emphasis will be online social rather than face-to-face social. The way learning happens is changing and instead of learning styles, there may be learning ingredients. Rather than focus on the way we people learn, it could be a matter of individuals ‘cherry picking’ an approach to suit them. The learning may no longer happen on campus but elsewhere. There may be further challenges for institutions in managing the student experience, in-particular ensuring that it is equatable.

Quality control may be an issue. Managing different platforms where content will be accessed and stored. Curating the content may be more difficult as it could become self selecting rather than institutional selecting.

Despite these challenges, technology offers the opportunity to connect to others and means global is local. We can experiment and be creative with it whilst learning which is exciting.

‘The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential.’

Steve Ballmer