The Next Wave of Innovation Is Coming. Are You Ready for It?

Olaf Swantee

CEO at EE

In this series, professionals share their insights on the skills gaps and skills need for tomorrow's workforce. Read the posts here, then write your own (use #SkillsforTomorrow in the body).

How many people, even just a decade ago, would have predicted the evolution of the humble mobile phone into a smartphone – and other mobile computing form factors – and the impact it has had on our daily lives?

I half-jokingly wrote a post a while back asking if there was anything left to invent. Some argue that all of the significant technological breakthroughs have already happened; that we're down to simply refining and iterations of innovation. I have to say I don't believe that for a second. From man’s early days living in caves figuring out how to light fires, making tools for hunting and inventing the wheel, there has always been and always will be an unstoppable human capacity, need and desire for discovery and innovation.

For every area of technology that might be reaching a level of maturity a new one is only just beginning to open up. And some of these are clever reinventions of the same technology – take the evolution of the electric vehicle from the Sinclair C5 to today’s super-sleek and powerful designs by the likes of Tesla as just one example. Who can't think about trends such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, virtual reality, robotics and new materials such as graphene and not be excited about what innovation that will bring over the coming years and decades?

Even right now we are only just beginning to fully tap into the benefits of mobile, cloud and Big Data. And just coming within reach is the Internet of Things (IoT), a connected world of smart sensors, objects and devices that has the potential to completely transform our cities, roads, vehicles and how we live, work and play.

Digital infrastructure will be absolutely fundamental to realising and exploiting the full potential of all these new technologies. If the UK is to compete globally in this digital age then investment – both public and private – will need to increase as we start to look towards faster fixed broadband and 5G mobile connectivity.

The other issue that needs to be addressed, in the UK and many other countries, is the shortage of technology skills. That starts in schools where there is still a worrying shortfall of students doing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Forecasts suggest the UK needs some 100,000 STEM graduates per year to keep UK industry fully resourced. To put that into perspective, there are currently only 90,000 per year - and a quarter of those go on to non-STEM careers.

There are some positive signs such as coding lessons in schools and a raft of new A-Level equivalent tech and engineering qualifications, but much more needs to be done if we are to produce a generation of children that will enter the workforce with the technical skills needed to help UK businesses create a leading digital economy.

Businesses also need to be more creative when it comes to up-skilling existing employees within their organisations and finding new talent. One approach I like is that taken by the British Intelligence agency GCHQ, which is using Minecraft to recruit talent for the cybersecurity industry. They have created a skyscraper called Cyphinx in that environment that contains games to test research skills, logic challenges, cipher decryptions and other tasks.

Apprenticeships, something I'm passionate about, also have an important role to play in plugging these skills gaps - not only in technology but other important sectors such as construction and manufacturing.

The next wave of technological disruption and innovation is coming, make no mistake. The big question is, are you ready for it?
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