In its Great Jobs, Great Lives study, Gallup researched how America can best prepare students for a productive work life. It was the largest representative study of its kind, and included interviews with students, graduates, professors, administrators, parents, and employers. Gallup found that 98 percent of chief academic officers at colleges and universities report they are confident they are preparing students for success in the workplace. Yet only 11 percent of C-level business executives strongly agree that college graduates have the skills they are looking for. This is an alarming disparity.
Gallup’s findings are not unique. When General Electric interviewed three thousand senior business executives from twenty-five countries for GE’s Global Innovation Barometer, four out of five of them identified their top concern as a need to better align the education system with business needs.
What can entrepreneurs and small companies do to prepare our students for tomorrow’s jobs? Whose responsibility is it to take the initiative in bridging the tremendous skills gap we have today? Can your company help align education with businesses?
I regularly attend the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is happening as I write this from just outside Aspen. At the festival, the skills gap, or the preparation of students entering the workforce, has been front and center in many corporate conversations. Last year, Astro Teller, the Captain of Moonshots at X (a Google subsidiary), shared how he identified the historical impact of technology on society. To paraphrase him, in every decade where there has been advancement and institutional change, jobs have been lost. Change is inevitable. The goal needs to be to learn how to keep up, and find out how you can help.
Teller’s Moonshot organization exemplifies how cutting-edge corporations are doing business, and what employment standards are expected in this fast-paced technological environment. All of us can learn from this intriguing workplace dynamic as we prepare students for the 21stCentury.
In my numerous years running a business, and years leading a mentorship program that includes business participants as mentors, I have had a wealth of conversations with business executives about their perspectives on the employee pool and education. More recently, I’ve conducted formal corporate interviews.
The concerns shared by executives are remarkably similar: corporations cannot find qualified employees to build their company pipeline. Interestingly, however, I’ve observed a growing trend: corporations are proactively looking to partner with educators to help teach the skills they seek in the work place. Case in point: SAP.
I recently interviewed SAP’s Katie Morgan, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility in North America. Katie shared that as a company, SAP is proactively going into schools. In one program offering, SAP commits 750 hours of employee time, and a seven-figure investment to teach students new technology and the skills needed to design their own app. As Katie shared, SAP’s programs have benefitted their corporate culture and their corporate good will in the community. Perhaps even more important than that, SAP has built a pipeline of qualified future employees.
I also interviewed Accenture’s Senior Manager, Jennifer Heflin, on this subject. Jenny spearheads her company’s Skills to Succeed Program. In that program, Accenture partners with Kipp Schools (one example of many nonprofit partners), where employees not only collaborate with educators, but students actually intern side-by-side with Accenture consultants. I had the incredible opportunity to listen in as students described their eight-week experience at client offices of Fannie Mae or at DCPS (District of Columbia Public Schools). Students’ takeaways were declarations of spirit, such as: “I’ve now learned to always bring my best self to what I do.” Or “In school it’s always just about a grade, but in the work world, you really try to make people happy – I prefer the latter.”
If you need a few more examples, read how Rudy Lozano at JP Morgan Chase describes the monumental effect Chase is having in the community. Then learn how Milton Martinez went from mentee to mentor for the robotics program at GM.
In my 17 years of mentoring and heading programs that connect students with corporations, I have been fortunate to witness the magic that happens for corporations, corporate mentors, and students when students are exposed to corporate thinking, such as what these numerous companies have implemented. There is no book in a student’s locker that can inspire as much as a few hours spent with an experienced professional. Indeed, when students are offered a taste of what the corporate world will be like, they become more motivated to learn, and they begin to envision themselves in a corporate role – something that was previously an unknown and intangible concept. The students begin to ask questions about what it takes to enter the business world, and what it takes to succeed in business. Then, when the students are asked to come up with their own project, with guidance from the corporate employee, the resulting ideas are nothing short of brilliant. Not long after, these students are sending applications to work at your company.
So, what can we take away from these examples? I believe educators and business leaders need to work together to understand the trajectory of change. Schools and businesses can be natural partners if only the opportunity is harnessed, directed, and prepared. In addition to book learning, tests, and the core basics schools teach today, I suggest that by adding real-life practitioners as mentors to project based learning, students will take away skills that are useful in real life and ultimately it will help them begin to connect the dots. The goal in this fast-paced, ever-changing technological age is to learn how to learn, and to keep up. When our attuned corporations work with educators and our next generation of youth, everyone advances with technology and embraces change.
This post originally appeared in Businessing Magazine.