Industry academia collaboration: a pipeline for talent

14 Jun 2016

Research and development (R&D) centres are mushrooming across Asia, as large corporates embrace partnerships with academic institutions for collaborative innovation, as well as the opportunity to recruit fresh talent with the specific skills these companies need.


This is increasingly significant as the Asia-Pacific region grapples with unprecedented challenges in the human capital department: demographic shifts in countries like Japan are resulting in a manpower crunch; in other emerging markets, education and training are inadequate, resulting in a mismatch in skills and requirements; and, finally, a dearth of qualified managerial staff.


These challenges mean that large companies hoping to forge ahead in the region’s emerging markets need to be hyper-focused on their recruitment efforts – not just in terms of numbers, but in sourcing potential hires who are a good fit, and equipping them with the skills necessary for their careers.


As it turns out, R&D centres are an ideal setting for collaborations between industry and academia on talent pipeline development: researchers from institutions are able to work hand-in-hand with those already within the industry, providing a steady flow of innovative ideas that can quickly be turned into real-world solutions. Consequently, the innovative people behind the ideas can be swiftly recruited into the ranks of industry researchers.


Construction multinational Saint Gobain, for example, started Saint Gobain Research India (SGRI), an organisation which employs more than 100 scientists at India’s top engineering school, IIT-Madras Research Park. Its proximity to the technology institute facilitates close collaboration between the company’s scientists and those at the institute. The partnership helps cultivate a robust talent pipeline for the company: promising IIT-Madras researchers are given sponsorships for research-based doctoral programmes as well as short-term research grants, and later join SGRI as industrial researchers. The roles of such skilled personnel eventually evolve to those requiring greater responsibility.


Another platform for collaboration, used at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), has yielded similar benefits for its partner companies. Corporates can opt to work with the university on its students’ Capstone projects, undertaken by students in their senior year. Aside from owning the intellectual property generated during these projects, companies have eight months to evaluate potential hires based on their ability to carry out highly-involved real-world tasks.


Aside from functioning as a potential talent source, industry-academia partnerships can alleviate the problem caused by a disconnect between employers’ requirements and the sort of training and education available in the market.


IT consulting giant Infosys has had a measure of success with such a partnership – the company launched Campus Connect, an India-based programme with the goal of aligning education with the industry’s needs. Under the programme, faculty members at partner institutions attend seminars and courses to gain an “industry perspective” of the subject matter they teach. The company also works closely with the institutions to fine-tune their curriculum for greater industry relevance. The result: a larger pool of talent – equipped with the requisite skills – from which Infosys can recruit new employees.


Similarly, Bagosphere, a vocational school based in the Philippines, provides targeted, industry-specific training for Filipinos seeking employment in the region’s call centres. The school’s industry partners include Transcom, a multinational provider of customer care services, as well as US-headquartered Teletech, both of which run call centres in the Philippines.


The lack of qualified managerial employees in organisations has also presented myriad challenges for companies. This is especially pronounced in a labour market with a burgeoning supply of millennial employees, who move around often and have high demands of management. To address this, partnerships between industry and academia are even more crucial to help level-up existing employees to take on managerial challenges.


Logistics firm CEVA works with Australian business school S P Jain to prepare its employees for leadership roles in the organisation. In recent years, deserving students at S P Jain’s Singapore- and Dubai- based MBA honours programme have been offered tuition-free scholarships, giving them an incentive to continue working for the company. It is a reciprocal partnership, with CEVA granting S P Jain access to its top executives for a research study on supply chain disruptions.


Similarly, consumer goods giant Unilever established Four Acres Singapore, a training development facility aimed at grooming future leaders for the region and beyond. The campus boasts a curriculum developed in partnership with top global institutions, such as INSEAD, Harvard Business School and Singapore Management University, and will conduct over half of Unilever’s leadership development programmes. The company’s chief executive, Paul Polman, said an increasingly uncertain and volatile world called for “a new type of leader” – and that the campus was positioned to take leadership development to a whole new level.


In an increasingly challenging Asian labour market, companies across a broad spectrum of industries must do what they can to cultivate a resilient talent pipeline. Partnerships with academic institutions are one of the most effective, sustainable platforms for doing so – and corporates would do well to establish partnerships that will stand them in good stead for the future.