SAP calls for greater collaboration between educational institutions and industry

Action is needed now to ensure the workforce of tomorrow have the necessary skills to enter the business world

Feltham, UKSAP (UK) Ltd (NYSE: SAP) is calling for businesses to work more closely with schools and universities in order to motivate young people to be interested in technology and bridge the skills gap that is threatening to stifle future innovation.

A recent roundtable event, which brought together leading industry and education experts, discussed the skills needed in today’s work environment, both in terms of technical and soft skills. Attendees were Cathy Ward, EMEA Head of Diversity & Early Talent at SAP, Martin Gollogly, Director University Alliances Programme at SAP UK, Debbie Forster, UK managing director, Apps for Good, Richard Pettinger, Principal Teaching Fellow in Management Education, University College London, Stephen Lofthouse, Senior Lecturer in Business Computing & SAP, Sheffield Hallam University and Jonathan White, Professional Development Manager, Foundation at IBM. The experts focused on how young people can be inspired to consider a career in IT, as well as the best teaching methods for students in both compulsory and further education.

Cathy Ward, EMEA Head of Diversity & Early Talent at SAP, commented: “The IT industry as we know it is changing dramatically. Over the last few years we have seen more and more businesses move from on-premise to cloud-based models, as well as the rise of big data and mobile. However, these new technologies require new skills. The European Commission predicts that by 2015, Europe alone will lack a staggering 900,000 ICT practitioners. It is clear that something needs to be done; we cannot wait for policy to change, we must act now. As one of the largest IT organisations in the world, it is incumbent on SAP to play its part and invest in the workforce of tomorrow.”

Debbie Forster, UK Managing Director of Apps for Good, a charity working with schools and enterprises to change how technology is taught in the classroom, passionately believes there is a crucial role for industry to play in educating young people. “Between the ages of 10 and 14, children begin to look ahead and think about their future; they even start to rule out certain careers. This is the time to open their eyes to the possibility of a future in IT. If organisations can work more collaboratively with schools they can educate young people on the opportunities available to them.”

As part of its commitment to developing the workforce of tomorrow, SAP runs multiple initiatives designed to grow young talent such as the University Alliances programme, which introduces students to the exciting technologies shaping businesses today, and the Early Talent programme, which is designed to attract and retain the best people within SAP. It is also supports initiatives and organisations that foster Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education amongst youngsters, including Apps for Good and the First Lego League.

“Industry working with educational institutions is not just about ticking a box for corporate social responsibility (CSR), it is an investment in the future,” said Martin Gollogly, Director, University Alliances Programme, SAP. “Young people need to integrate academic learning with practical opportunities to test that learning whilst they are at university. By doing this they learn what is important both academically and for themselves personally. Otherwise they run the risk of being technically qualified but being under-skilled.”

SAP believes strongly in helping young people gain the skills they need for the modern workplace, and as such offers an intern programme where students doing university sandwich courses can spend their year in industry working at SAP. Interns are given the opportunity to be involved in and contribute to real business impacting projects, are encouraged to propose and put forward new ideas and projects and are actively supported in their development throughout the year, through a buddy system. “Employers today are looking for young talent that can demonstrate both knowledge and skills,” commented Forster. “It shouldn’t be an ‘either/or’ situation. It all comes back to getting the right balance in education.”

Richard Pettinger, Principal Teaching Fellow in Management Education, UCL, added his thoughts on the skills debate: “Qualifications and softer skills such as team work, problem solving, analytical and communication skills, need to be integrated if we are to solve this issue. At UCL, all of our courses are related to industry and developing those skills which are in high demand from employers. Of course, anything is possible in a microcosm. If we want to close the skills gap we need to demonstrate the value of integrating qualifications and skills in order to get more input from industry and more financial support from the Government and EU.”

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