Human Capital of Tomorrow

The Growing Shortage of Digitally Skilled Professionals

Lonneke BrandsUtrecht (NL), November 2021 – Lonneke Brands graduated from the University of Twente as an educationalist. Since then she has worked at Saxion University of Applied Sciences, holding positions as researcher, ICT coach, advisor, and educationalist. For the past two years, she has been working on a Dutch national project entitled "Acceleration Plan Educational Innovation with ICT", which seeks to bridge the gap between education and the workplace, invest in future proof digital skills, and educate the human capital that will be needed tomorrow. At OEB Global, she will speak about "Educating for the Digital Transformation".

What types of impulses stimulate willingness to embrace digital transformation as an educational goal?
Lonneke Brands:
The fact that there is a growing shortage of digitally skilled professionals makes it urgent for educational institutions to educate professionals for the digital transformation. Next to the shortage, there is also the development that digital skills are becoming more important in professions in every sector. Students are not always well equipped to contribute to the digital transformation, and there is a growing mismatch between education and the job market. Students are frequently not aware of the digital skills they lack and do not exactly know which skills or technologies are in high demand in their professions.

Is there a way to nurture digital transformation?
Lonneke Brands:
Bringing together various disciplines from the human, technology, and social perspectives, enables them to strengthen each other. It is very difficult for educational institutions to keep up with developments in a profession because technology is developing fast, and most changes in the curricula of educational institutions are made very slowly. What you can do is create an environment in which education, companies, and research can come together in interdisciplinary field labs, living labs, or learning communities, which can be realized in public-private partnerships. These are often physical spaces where smart technology can be used and adapted to their needs. A big challenge is to merge the technologies in, for example, smart factories of smart cities, instead of focusing on individual technologies. What you can observe happening is a sense of awareness about what is possible and what is needed being created. The stakeholders exchange knowledge and experience, and accelerate each other’s output. It offers participants the opportunity to practice things at which they are not yet skilled.

What needs to be changed in the various educational organisations to achieve this?
Lonneke Brands:
Only a very small percentage of all students are involved in these kinds of learning environments. The same applies to the number of companies. This has to expend, so more students, teachers, and professionals become involved and learn in this way. Education has to respond quicker, and the slow dynamics in educational institutions has to be broken. What you often see is a large number of loose projects for students in which companies formulate the assignments. For the numbers to grow, bigger and better focused projects that last several years have to be established. In these projects, teachers, students, and researchers can build knowledge together with companies.  

To what degree does education have to undergo digital transformation in order for the process to be termed a success?
Lonneke Brands:
Education cannot offer everything the professional field asks for because there are so many different accents within professions, and technological developments occur fast. What you can do is get closer to the professional fields and work together with them to educate the professionals who will be needed tomorrow. It is the responsibility of educational institutions to educate skilled professionals who are ready to adjust to new situations and to a changing job market. Skills that are important in such situations are adaptiveness, flexibility, and the ability to collaborate with other disciplines. When students gain such competences during their education, they will be ready to make the needed contribution to the digital transformation.