Between the university and the labor market, what is sometimes drawn is not a bridge, but a true abyss. The one that separates young graduates who are facing a labor environment that changes at a dizzying speed of companies that do not find profiles formed in increasingly specific and complex skills: big data, nanotechnology, cybersecurity … In an attempt to shorten distances between both sides of the precipice, several universities and business schools rehearse a new formula: to design masters tailored to the needs of a company or a specific sector.
In the dictionary of challenges for the future of universities – innovation, digitalization, continuous learning … – one word has burst in force in recent years: employability. The figures encourage this effort of the centers to get as many students as possible to find work after going through their classrooms. The unemployment rate among Spanish university graduates is 8.67%, a percentage that, although lower than that of the general population (15.28%), rises to almost 15% if only young people between the ages of 25 are analyzed. and 29 years old, the recent graduates. Students look at the labor market with uncertainty. 53% of university students believe that they are not ready to work when they finish their studies, according to a study by the educational consultancy Círculo Formación. The reason? Their training, they say, has been too theoretical and they need a practical specialization.
That perception, linked to the redesign of the university system that introduced the Bologna plan, has fired the supply and demand of master's degrees. In the 2016-2017 academic year, 184,745 students enrolled in postgraduate studies at public and private universities in Spain, 8% more than the previous year, according to data from the Ministry of Education. The creation of master's degrees ad hoc, to form profiles that specific companies or sectors can not find, intends to tackle this specialization requirement with a proposal that unites two worlds: that of the university, with its students and its research capacity; and that of companies, with their day-to-day vision and knowledge of their needs. "The university is the natural training partner of any company, and the need is mutual", summarizes Àngels Fitó, director of Economics and Business Studies at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). "This type of program is the future of specialized training, and we are light years away from what should be already", adds the expert, who gives as an example the dual training systems of Germany and France.
The Master in 5G technology that the Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) has launched this course in collaboration with Ericsson is an example of this trend, still a minority in the university sphere, but growing. It is not that a company simply sponsors a master's degree, but that it defines training needs and participates in the design of the program. In the case of UC3M, the idea came from the public center, which wanted to launch a specialized program in this technology. "If we had designed it alone in the university, it is possible that we were wrong," says Marcelo Bagnulo, program director.
His initiative found a place in Ericsson, unable to find enough specialized profiles in this technology, which is not yet available but which is expected massive in the coming years. The program is designed for both employees of the company itself and for students outside the company. "For us it is essential that our employees develop in these new areas, but we thought we could also define training plans with the universities so that the students could leave with the competencies demanded by the companies, it is not easy to find the profiles we are looking for". explains Luisa Muñoz, head of Ericsson's R & D center in Spain.
The active search for connection points between the university and the company is by no means new, although it is now intensifying. It is increasingly common, for example, for centers to conduct surveys when designing their training programs to ensure that they are in tune with what the labor market demands. "Before, the tendency in the university was to design programs where the university was able to give, instead of what the market wanted, that is changing little by little," says Àngels Fitó, from the UOC .
Although these masters are initially designed for young graduates who need to specialize in order to take their first steps in the world of work, it is also possible to find professionals with several years of experience among their students. It is the case of the Connected Industry Chair, created two years ago by Universidad Pontificia Comillas as a meeting place for industrial and technological companies to share experiences and needs around the 4.0 industry.
The university has used this information to define the profiles required by companies and has launched two training itineraries: a master's degree, aimed at newly graduated engineers, and a specialization program, designed to update existing professionals. Both have been designed in collaboration with the 10 companies that participate in the chair (among them, Endesa, IBM and Indra). "The two programs feed back on the vector of sharing information within the chair," explains Bernardo Villazán, his co-director. "In this process we get to know what the state of the companies is and update the programs."
At the same time that changes the method to design masters and degrees, the formulas of collaboration between academic and business are multiplied in other areas: internships in companies, sponsorships, research chairs, professors who come from the business world … " a few years, collaboration was not usual for students to do internships in companies ", explains Alberto González, partner-director of Círculo Formación. "Today and these masters are a step further in this evolution, which is that those who have information about what they need (companies and public administrations) reach agreements with universities to train new talents." It is a natural evolution that goes to go to more. " Fitó adds one more factor: "It is an upward trend because, in a context in which the offer of the master's degree has increased exponentially and the competition is increasing, the degree of occupability of the degrees will be what determines their survival".
Digital is the ideal terrain for these tailored masters. The urgency of the companies to start up their processes of digital transformation runs aground with the difficulty of finding profiles capable of executing and leading this revolution. That is the reason that has led Accenture to collaborate with several educational centers: with the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) they have underway a master of business transformation, while with the ISDI business school they just launched a digital MBA oriented to recent graduates. "Accenture has a problem in hiring because it does not find young talent to incorporate in the digital area," exemplifies Cristina Chacón, director of business development B2C of ISDI. "And the young people have another problem: there are many digital jobs for which they are not trained and they do not even know they exist, the idea is to develop a program so that students can develop all those practical skills they do not acquire in the career" .
But the changing needs of companies and the accelerated pace with which new technologies emerge that will mark the labor market in the coming years do not understand bureaucracy, nor the deadlines and procedures required to start a new degree or a new master. Therefore, these tailored programs move, at least for the moment, in the field of own titles and not in that of the officers. "The process must be normalized, and this dichotomy between official and own degrees generates a lot of confusion," says Àngels Fitó, of the UOC. "The academic offer is hyper-regulated and the professional and academic careers follow parallel paths that have few opportunities to meet, the regulatory framework must be made more flexible".
Is there any risk to the university or its students in going so hand in hand with what a specific company needs? The market moves fast, for good and for bad. To demand what you do not find and to discard what is no longer worth it. And if today you need professionals trained in big dataFor example, tomorrow will these profiles become obsolete when the next revolutionary technology has emerged?
Those responsible for these tailored masters defend that they are designed with a broad vision. At UC3M, for example, they offer another program in collaboration with Airbus to train professionals specialized in airframe, a very specific technology that the company uses in its aircraft design processes. "It is a very specific master to get professionals who work directly with what Airbus wants," says its director, Pablo Fajardo. "But it is a sector in which there is a large company, Airbus, and a lot of satellite companies that work on the same projects as Airbus, and we prepare them very well also to work in other companies in the sector."
"The risk exists," admits Alberto González, from Círculo Formación. "But the companies themselves are the least interested in forming talent that is going to be obsolete." Albert Corominas, professor emeritus of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), warns that the university can not lose its autonomy or renounce its responsibility in this process. The expert believes that this type of initiatives ad hoc they should be reserved for another type of lesser training, such as specialization courses. "The university can not cover the infinite spectrum of needs of companies, nor should it do so." Her work is to train people in a broad sense so that they are able to practice a profession throughout their lives, with fundamentals so that can adapt to the changes that are emerging. "