Jason Fowler, Fujitsu’s director of HR for the UK & Ireland, talked to Tom Ritchie about the skills young people will need in the digital economy and the benefits of apprenticeships.
How is the digital economy affecting the skills organisations require from young people?
The first way is fairly obvious in that the digital economy demands more technical skills than ever before. And the distinction between general industry, general employment and technology has completely disappeared; what isn’t technology anymore? The pressure on organisations to hire, build and create their own technical capability — to support their own digital transformation — is huge.
The second aspect is that it’s no longer enough to be great at technology and technology alone. The tech team no longer sits in a room on its own speaking to machines or to each other. What we need are brilliant technical people with the ability to interact with others.
What skills does Fujitsu look for in its candidates for early careers?
Empathy, that ability to collaborate; people who are able to think and work in teams to understand what a piece of technology could do — how could it be applied to deliver commercial and societal benefit? If you’re coming straight from school, a STEM educational background gives you a foundation upon which you can then bring technical capability because you’ve got that mental logic around how it all fits together.
How is Fujitsu engaging school leavers?
We have an apprentice scheme, a degree apprentice scheme and a graduate programme, and have made a significant investment in degree apprentices as well as reskilling existing employees and recruiting experienced staff.
Bringing in young talent is a great way of building for now and for the future. It’s a talent pipeline that has a much greater affinity with the organisation. We feel we’re invested in them and they’re invested in us.
We have success stories from our industry, not least from our cybersecurity business — a hot topic for most organisations nowadays.
How can employers help educators to bridge the skills gap?
Employers need to be much clearer about what they need when they’re talking about digital skills. At Fujitsu, we try to be really specific and have a lot of partnerships with schools as well as with universities for degree apprentices in technology in Manchester.
We have a role not only in describing the problem, but also in getting involved in close partnerships with schools, universities and colleges to help them shape solutions.
There’s still too great an emphasis on measuring a school’s success by the number of students who attend university
Could government policy or interventions support the teaching of required skills?
There’s perhaps still too great an emphasis on measuring a school’s success by the number of students who attend university. This can create stigma, a sense that apprenticeships are a second choice or not of the same standard as degrees.
We just don’t see that. A degree apprenticeship could actually give you a significant head start on someone who’s gone to university, because it’s grounded in practical application of technology. You’re also far more likely to keep abreast of changes in technological developments because you’ve been using it right at the ‘coal face’.
How can your people continue to develop their own skills?
When organisations talk about their need to evolve, they should be talking about how we ensure each of the individuals in our organisation is evolving their capabilities.
Having that mindset is critical. I do think there’s an obligation on employers though. The pace of change can negatively affect people’s mental wellbeing. It’s incumbent on organisations to create the right environment so that their people have the time and space not only to do what’s expected of them in today’s role but to develop the skills to thrive in tomorrow’s.
What are the core skills you anticipate young people will need in future?
We talk a lot about automation: any skill that’s at a premium today, technology may automate tomorrow. We need people who can push through that, with an enquiring mind and ask “what does it mean?”.
Technology is great only if there is a purpose behind it. The people who can make those connections are going to find their careers really interesting and exciting and will be immensely valuable to their organisation.
Fujitsu is a leading global provider of IT products and services, including hardware, software, networking and business solutions. fujitsu.com/uk