Ulster University Business School: closing the skills gap
The Business School is working alongside organisations in the development of programmes that support emerging skill requirements and career development
Maureen Fox: “Through strong business collaboration and the engagement of work and study simultaneously, the Business School is ensuring innovative and contextualised learning within the region”
As a leading provider of entrepreneurial education, research and impact, the Ulster University Business School is supporting future economic growth through the development of innovative, new educational models. “The Business School has a long history of engaging with business,” says business development manager Maureen Fox. “We take a highly responsive and collaborative approach to meeting the skill needs of industry.”
The need for greater skills focus has become more acute. The Northern Ireland Skills Gap Barometer is produced by the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre and its most recent report in July 2019 forecasts the creation of 85,000 new jobs in Northern Ireland between now and 2028.
“The original research dates back to 2015 when the Economic Policy Centre built a model to estimate the quantum of future skills needs,” Fox explains. “Most of the new jobs which will be created in the next 10 years will be in the professional, scientific and technology services areas.”
Further exacerbating the skills challenge faced by companies in Northern Ireland will be the changing nature of work and careers. “The new world of work will be a continual learning process,” she adds. “A graduate today will have 17 jobs with five employers during their careers, according to future of work strategist Heather E. McGowan. When you think about that, and the impact of technology, you have to ask how many of those roles do not exist yet?. That can be overwhelming. One thing we can say is that the Millennials coming through embrace change, and universities must adapt to embrace it as well.”
Ulster University Business School (UUBS) is playing its role not only in meeting the current skills needs of business but in helping both undergraduates and employees for a transformed future world of work. “We have 6,000 full-time and part-time business students across three campuses, and with 1,000 graduates each year,” says Fox. “The university provides an exceptional talent base and resource for businesses in Northern Ireland. It is estimated that 33 per cent of future jobs will require at least an undergraduate degree. That’s why universities are so important. We are producing the graduates required for that jobs pipeline.”
Collaboration through disruption
It is not just a case of offering standard business programmes and courses, however. “There is a lot of debate about disruption at the moment and that spurred us on to develop and become more entrepreneurial in thought and action,” she says. “We are working with business to develop and co-create solutions that meet industry needs and we are preparing students and business for the changed future.”
Courses are constantly adapted to remain relevant to the demands of business while the Business School also offers a range of customised programmes to address specific requirements. “We collaborate closely with business and professional bodies and industry bodies to shape learning,” she adds. “Features of our dynamic approach are the flexibility, agility and innovation in the University’s response and the multi-disciplinary programme offerings, coupled with the utilisation of an advanced virtual learning environment that supports highly personalised and authentic learning experiences.”
We have changed the way in which we deliver programmes in response to changing student and business demands
The virtual learning environment is a portal for students to log on remotely from any device at any time. “Students can access a range of materials through the portal and interact with tutorials and online learning as well,” she says. “It’s about adapting to the digital world. The days of coming to university at set times every week are a thing of the past. Students must be able to access learning anytime, anywhere and on any device. Our part-time students don’t just work Monday to Friday anymore. Some of our students work internationally Monday to Thursday and fly in to attend classes on Friday. We have changed the way in which we deliver programmes in response to changing student and business demands.”
In relation to lifelong learning and the shift to work in order to continuously engage and learn, the Business School is increasingly working alongside organisations in the development of highly relevant and progressive programmes that support emerging skill requirements and career development.
“We offer masters programmes, management development, leadership development, executive development and various programmes and courses designed to suit individuals and businesses. We try to ensure that the skills gap is being addressed by the curriculum and we continually engage with industry to design the content to ensure that it is relevant.” Many programmes offer January as well as September intakes. In fact, we are currently recruiting for a range of postgraduate programmes commencing January 2020.
'Innovative and contextualised learning'
UUBS also supports the Assured Skills Academies through the development of short courses and customised programmes that provides skills development and the retention of exceptional talent within Northern Ireland.
“The Academy model typically takes graduates from any discipline, and through a conversion course, provides training to prepare them to embark on a new career path,” Fox explains. “For example, we run a course for graduates from other disciplines to move into financial services. They can complete a short, specialised course of 6-12 weeks followed by a work placement whereby they may secure a permanent job.. To date over 350 graduates have secured industry employment through this programme.
Any company can come to the university to collaborate on the development of customised fully accredited programmes to meet their own individual need
“Through strong business collaboration and the engagement of work and study simultaneously, the Business School is ensuring innovative and contextualised learning within the region that will ensure that students at all stages of their career not only survive but can thrive amid the challenges to come,” says Fox. The Business School also offers Higher Level Apprenticeships which combine workplace training and development with an academic degree qualification. “We developed the first degree apprenticeship in Northern Ireland with Deloitte in 2015 and have now expanded into GB,” she says. “It’s a very good option for students to earn while they learn. They get paid for doing the job while completing a part-time degree. The first cohort of students on this highly successful programme are graduating this autumn.”
UUBS delivers another programme at Masters level for Northern Ireland financial services firm, First Derivatives. “We designed the Masters in Global Capital Markets programme which is helping the company meet its skills needs now and plan for the future. They want to recruit exceptional graduates and retain their best talent and programmes such as this are key. Any company can come to the university to collaborate on the development of customised fully accredited programmes to meet their own individual needs.”
UUBS is a key partner in skills development and is heavily involved in the delivery of the Springboard programme through partnering with Irish Times Training, to support upskilling on the island of Ireland.
UUBS also partners with a wide range of professional and industry bodies including the Institute of Company Secretaries (ICSA), the Institute of Directors, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, the CBI, CIPD, ACCA, Chartered Accountants Ireland in the design and delivery of courses. “This wide network informs how we address the skills needs of business,” Fox concludes.
For more information on our projects, or to collaborate with us, contact Ulster University at firstname.lastname@example.org.