In the UK alone, there are around 173,000 unfilled jobs in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sector, as 89% of STEM businesses struggle to recruit. And it is estimated there will be around seven million STEM job openings in Europe by 2025.

At the same time, there are thousands of young people, both in the UK and abroad, who lack access to the kind of education and skills learning that could help fill that jobs gap.

It might be because they live in an underprivileged area, or because they lack the resources or support to further their school education. In either case, they are prevented by circumstance from getting their first foot on the jobs ladder.

A new partnership between established training provider The Training Room and the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) iON Digital Learning Hub aims to use digital technology to meet the needs of both employers and young people around the world.

The promise of EdTech

While industry is busy embracing digitalization and transforming the way we work, the education sector has been somewhat slower on the uptake. While blackboards and chalk might be a thing of the past in many countries, the way education is delivered hasn’t changed much in 100 years.

Students in further and higher education, on the other hand, have changed dramatically. Today’s young people are digital natives, reared on a diet of online discussion and cooperation.

“They don’t want to get up and get a bus at 8am to attend a college course,” says Andrew Powell, CEO of The Training Room. “They want to get up, maybe have a run or go to the gym, and then log on and do a couple of hours learning. Then they might want to meet their friends for lunch and log on afterwards to resume their learning well into the afternoon and evening.”

The point Powell is making is that millennials and post-millennial generations want to see the same flexibility in their education as they have in every other aspect of their lives.

That’s why Powell calls The Training Room the ‘Amazon of education’: “It’s about connecting the consumer to the product over a technology platform. You can order and complete courses online, just like you can buy a product through Amazon.”

Even younger students engage with their learning very differently from other generations. “They want peer-to-peer learning and benchmarking, they want to engage with each other and have a social feel to their learning journey,” Powell adds.

Reaching new talent pools

As well as fitting in with the digital native lifestyle, Powell’s core vision is to enable companies to reach young and unemployed people that traditional recruitment systems bypass – thereby filling the digital skills gap.

The Training Room is putting its existing technical training courses and careers support onto TCS’s digital platform. Around 4,000 young people a year use The Training Room’s existing e-learning courses to gain new qualifications, but this partnership will allow it to reach tens of thousands more.

It’s not just about making courses more accessible, they also need to be more affordable. The Training Room is fully authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority as a consumer credit provider and as such provides students with the option of spreading the cost of training over a longer period.

“Part of the solution to the massive STEM skills shortage is to start fishing in new talent pools,” explains Powell.

“My vision started because I wanted to figure out a way to connect jobs with predominantly inner-city, underprivileged talent, that has been almost written off by society. You don’t find many recruitment companies fishing in 10th-floor tenement blocks.”

AI-assisted recruitment

The platform will be open to individual learners pursuing industry-led and accredited courses in IT or health and fitness for example, but it’s also a way that companies can increase their pipeline of talent.

An IT company, for instance, can put out a digital assessment on the platform set for a certain time and date. That assessment is open to anyone who registers to do it.

Once they log on and complete the test, artificial intelligence instantly scores it and gives the human resources department the details of the highest performers. Within minutes, the successful first-stage applicants can be invited to upload a video statement and, from there, to a face-to-face meeting.

“You’re talking about whittling down what can be a six-month process to one that takes a few hours,” says Powell. “In addition, you’re reaching a much bigger slice of the population.”

It’s not just recruitment. The platform also allows employers to hire their own branded space to create an online training academy. It means those already in work can reskill according to the changing needs of their role, take CPD courses, and communicate in peer or project groups

Some employers might also choose to make their courses available publicly, enabling those that have an interest in working for the company to take a valuable first step.

“Recruiters all hunt in the same pools. But by changing the way companies look for and recruit talent, we can give opportunities to people and change their lives for the better,” concludes Powell.

“For corporates, this reflects their corporate, social and governance values, it also fills the gaps in their employment needs. Everybody wins.”