Academia and business must collaborate more

The promise of transformational enterprise technologies has been well and truly fulfilled, as we see a growing number of businesses across all sectors take advantage of intelligent automation (IA) and other solutions like it to drive productivity and competitive advantage. 

However, the fact is, demand for employees with the required digital skills to implement and manage technologies such as IA is quickly outstripping supply. It’s essential that academic institutions, technology providers and institutions work together to ensure that the digital skills gap is addressed, so that the full potential of transformational technologies can be achieved.

Why can’t current supply keep up with demand?

Firstly, the number of new emerging technologies and their respective capabilities has accelerated in recent years. Naturally, with this rapid increase, businesses and institutions work doubly hard for training, resources, and career opportunities to reflect the immense growth.

The problem here, however, is that current education and learning systems are not equipped to address the upcoming revolution in skills demand. Despite the gravity of the digital skills gap, there has been slow uptake from academic institutions to incorporate emerging technologies into curriculums. 

The third major factor is the barriers faced by socio-economically disadvantaged individuals, who do not have access to learning opportunities. Addressing this holds huge potential in tackling the skills shortage and filling roles that would otherwise be vacant.

Bearing the brunt of all of this are business leaders, who are acutely aware of the advancement in technology and the consequential skills gap it presents. Almost 90% of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years.

Looking at the wider picture, it’s not just business leaders who will feel the effects of a missed opportunity, it’s entire economies. On a macro level, if skill-building doesn’t catch up with the rate of technological progress, the G20 economies could lose up to $11.5 trillion in cumulative GDP growth in the next ten years. 

There’s good news

Technology providers and institutions are on the right path. More academic programmes are becoming available and are being utilised by a number of institutions and businesses to speed up the intake of in-demand employees. These learning ecosystems being built are only getting bigger and better and will become increasingly available across all regions. 

A key aspect of this is forming partnerships. It’s essential that technology providers become the link between industry and higher education, partnering with institutions across the globe to help support their students with workforce-ready skills.

The success of this approach can be exemplified by Blue Prism’s Academia Program which, to date, has enabled academic institutions to train over 32,000 students in Blue Prism technology by the programme’s second year, with 200% YoY growth of students trained and 135% of institutions onboarded. Figures like these are encouraging from one single provider, yet more is needed across the sector to address the gap.

What is being provided?

In Blue Prism’s case, the Academia programme provides free software, courseware and online training, combined with the opportunity for students to acquire industry-leading “gold standard” certification in one of the global leader’s innovative technologies. 

Students will gain a deep understanding of the importance of a clear vision for Robotic Process Automation (RPA), a clear understanding of the different RPA Organisational Models, and a rich hands-on experience of how to design, develop, and deliver Blue Prism automations of standard business processes.

An important aspect of this is being able to offer courses in a variety of settings. Students should have the ability to carry out their certification via coursework, through a global network of colleges and universities, hands-on labs, or whichever works best for them. The more availability and ease at which students can engage with learning, the more chance they have of jump-starting their career in one of the most promising sectors in the world.

What about existing workforces?

Nurturing the workforce of the future through academic institutions and learning ecosystems is, of course, vital. However, businesses hold a huge amount of potential right at their fingertips. Existing employees are intrinsic to the successful deployment of emerging technologies and, in the case of intelligent automation, are crucial for a successful robotic operating model (ROM), a methodology by which a business can successfully implement and manage the rollout of intelligent automation at scale.

For example, we have a client that has achieved just that. A global insurance provider has implemented a fresh robotic operating model (ROM) to great effect, scaling intelligent automation (robotic process automation fueled with AI) and providing its people the right skills for an ever-changing workplace.

The changes have allowed the business to rapidly increase automation’s exposure across the business, using 68 Blue Prism robots to carry out 140 processes, supporting 85% of its UK functions. 

Business structures are changing because of the emergence of transformational technology like intelligent automation. However, this example of how companies are able to reskill and retrain their existing employees whilst simultaneously augmenting their capabilities highlights a clear path toward the future of work.

Professionals and businesses like this example can benefit from additional support along their journey. In Blue Prism’s case, we have the Blue Prism Community. This comprehensive platform enables users to share best practices, knowledge and insights around Blue Prism and RPA, and is available to help individuals along every step of the way.  

What lies next…

The road ahead is not a straightforward one but, if one thing is clear, it’s that those businesses, institutions and technology providers need to work harder and closer than ever to ensure the opportunity for optimum growth across business and the global economy isn’t squandered. 

It’s vital that we all recognise the importance of providing the next generation of business automation professionals the tools and learning resources in order to fuel the future of work.

Alex Alcalde is the Senior Curriculum Developer at Blue Prism. He is a workplace learning and performance professional with an advanced degree and over 10 years relevant training experience.

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