As we have already commented in the Bilbao Next Lab project we are exploring the role of vocational training as a source of talent generation within Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS). Let's quickly contextualise the project. Bilbao in its economic development strategy has opted for KIBS as an opportunity area for smart specialisation. KIBS are companies whose business model is based on the creation, accumulation and dissemination of knowledge and include both professional services (financial and legal services, business management consultancy, advertising, marketing, etc.) and services based on new technologies (technology consultancy, programming, R&D, etc.). KIBSs generate quality employment which, in turn, generates indirect employment and have the capacity to make the economy more competitive by transmitting knowledge to the entire productive fabric, in the form of technological solutions, engineering products, tax and strategic consultancy, R&D, etc. KIBS are mainly fed by highly qualified people (tacitly assumed to be college graduates) and tend to grow in urban environments because they take advantage of the benefits of the agglomeration economy. KIBS are a kind of regional economic coral, they emerge in economically advanced territories that demand expert and specialised knowledge, and once they emerge, they are capable of generating an even richer ecosystem.
KIBS have been largely studied, but so far no one has posed the following questions: What is the role of VET in KIBS? To what extent are VET profiles (and will VET profiles be) relevant in KIBS?
Firstly, it is necessary to understand and size up the evolution that has been taking place in Basque vocational training for years. A commitment has been made to: innovative teaching methodologies such as project-based learning, hybridisation with university studies and between the vocational training cycles themselves, third years of specialisation in companies dual training, collaborative projects in innovation applied to companies, etc. Basque vocational training has become an innovative model of education capable of generating tools for adapting to business needs in a versatile and effective way, a model of excellence in the EU. From there, we have analysed a variety of sources (EPA, census, DIRAE, DIRCE, Lanbide, surveys and interviews with employers of KIBS and vocational training centres) and we have reached some conclusions that we set out below. The details of this analysis are also included in the working paper available on Orkestra’s website.
The occupation carried out by VET profiles most in-demand within the KIBS is that of Information and Communications Technology Technicians. This category brings together 29.2% of the total number of vocational training employees in KIBS. We refer to programmers, web technicians, etc. The second most relevant occupation is that of Science and Engineering Technicians with 10%; draughtsmen and occupations related to technical drawing. And the third is Other administrative employees without customer service tasks, such as accountants. The three of them bring together practically 50% of all the vocational training graduates working in KIBS.
But, as we all know, one thing is quantity and another is quality. Of the three previous occupations, Information and Communications Technology Technicians is the most in-demand and, at the same time, is the most highly valued by employers. This profile carries out fundamental tasks in companies (especially in the technological KIBS) with increasing levels of responsibility. Besides, this sort of VET technological profiles are very transversal in KIBS. This fact allows us to sense the growth in the demand for hybrid profiles that combine IT knowledge with other types of knowledge such as administrative (in fields such as CRM) or manufacturing related knowledge... Another noteworthy element is that the demand for technological VET profiles in KIBS offers other signs of growth because professional KIBS (consulting, financial services, marketing, etc.) are being digitised and, therefore, will need technological profiles to support, implement and develop the digitised products or services they offer.
All this makes us foresee an emerging trend in the labour market, and that is that technological profiles from VET could be, to a large extent, the implementing agents of the inexorable digital transformation. The potential of vocational training profiles in the digital transition is linked to the implementation and development of different areas such as: cybersecurity, UX design, CRM, process automation in industry 4.0, IoT, big data, virtualisation, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, among others. These cross-cutting technologies may depend, to a large extent, on technology VET profiles. VET, as well, will be directly connected to college studies. At this point, we should not forget that the acceleration of the digital transformation is one of the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. The need to tackle digitalisation in the medium to long term is becoming increasingly evident and having the personal skills to deal with it is, currently, a headache for many companies.
This is our pitch and that is why, after our research, we have taken action by inviting some VET centres and some technological KIBS to join the process. We will also be looking for partners in Europe who will allow us to go deeper into this subject. Together we will continue with the action research process to keep on digging in this potential relationship between KIBS and VET. We promise we will keep you abreast.
Mikel Albizu is a pre-doctoral researcher at Orkestra.
His current research area is employment and the factors that drive it at a regional and local level, although he has also studied and worked in the field of urban planning and territorial planning.