Category: Skills for Innovation.
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I first understood the importance of collaboration to solve problems back in 2004. I was volunteering on a project in Nigeria. And together we, the British volunteers, and students at local colleges and Universities pooled our experiences, to produce and develop ideas to improve education in rural areas.
In a similar way engineers and scientists often innovate by collaboration in multi-cultural groups that cross various disciplines.
Since my time in Nigeria the use of the Internet and online forums has really taken off. A similar collaboration environment to the Nigerian one could be developed online to drive innovation and skills development. But, it could be done on a much larger scale.
This online platform could be used to address two key challenges for the sector: shortages of STEM graduates with experience and good communication skills, and the impending retirement of skilled personnel with 15-20 years’ experience. It would be a platform incorporating the 3Cs: ‘An Online Community; Where Groups Collaborate; To Solve Energy Challenges’.
Initially I envisage that target participants would be University and pre-University students from different countries, cultures and educational backgrounds. They would be placed in groups to work on energy challenges developed by industry. These challenges could be cross-sector, such as ‘how could you reduce the costs to produce this wind turbine model?’ or ‘how could you explain the use of this piece of equipment to people who can’t write or read?’. So the participants are exposed to a wide range of real-life applications of STEM skills, and potential jobs.
Assigned to these groups would be energy sector professionals acting as mentors. These professionals, ranging from new hires to experienced staff, would guide the groups and offer advice.
When the participants graduate, placements would be offered to promising individuals. So, that the graduates gain practical experience and get the opportunity to collaborate on projects ‘in-person’ not just online.
This programme would start with a small pilot group and expand in both scale and the diversity of participants recruited. It could also be expanded to post-University participants and incorporate the use of webcams and wearable technology to solve problems in real-time.
The advantages of this programme, in relation to the skills shortage, are:
1. Students gain practical experience and improve their communication skills, especially English skills as English would be the lingua franca;
2. Pre-university students would see the practical application of STEM subjects;
3. The knowledge of experienced professionals would be passed onto the ‘next generation’.
Ideally, I see this being funded by a range of stakeholders in and related to the energy sector, as skill shortages and energy challenges cross the entire energy spectrum and individually many stakeholders may not have a budget for this project in its entirety, but collectively they will have the funding needed.
So in conclusion, an answer to the skills shortage is the 3Cs:
An Online Community; Where Groups Collaborate; To Solve Energy Challenges.