How can America best prepare students for a productive work life? How can we address the skills gap? In its’ Great Jobs, Great Lives study, Gallup found that 98 percent of chief academic officers at colleges and universities reported: “confidence that they were preparing students for success in the workplace.” Yet only 11 percent of business executives strongly agreed that college graduates had the skills they were looking for. This is an alarming disparity.
This research begs many questions: What can be done 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 corporations help to align with educators for better job preparation? What would that partnership look like?
Astro Teller, the “Captain of Moonshots” at Google X, an ideas factory, has thoughts on how cutting-edge corporations create a culture of innovation. Teller’s organization exemplifies the new employment standards facing our youth, which need to be considered as we prepare our students for the 21st Century.
At Google X, amidst an atmosphere of “raging optimism and scathing paranoia,” there’s a simple M.O.: Test the Idea. There’s a three-prong test for how to proceed with a problem and solution.
First, Big ideas – and only big ideas – can be considered. Google X wants only huge problems. The company believes that the only projects worth pursuing are those that have a global impact.
Second, Teller describes how Google X seeks a radical solution to these huge problems. No unique idea is unwelcome, no matter how far-fetched. Has this solution ever been implemented? If not, good. Let’s discuss how it can be.
Third, Google X seeks a technological breakthrough. This uniquely challenges his team; but it also pushes the envelope of technology in ways that have likely never been seen.
Introducing this type of innovation to the classroom can close the gap.
What are corporations and employers saying about education in the 21st century and what would their input be?
The most prevalent concern recurring over and over for executives: corporations cannot find qualified employees to build their company pipeline. Did you know that corporations are proactively looking to partner with educators? Did you know that companies are stepping up to help teach the skills they seek in the work place? Case in point: SAP.
In one program offering, SAP has committed 750 hours of employee time, and a seven-figure investment to teach students a new technology. Each student is charged with developing their own “app” concepts, while SAP technologists mentor them on skills for design integration, development and implementation.
Like Google X and SAP, Accenture is looking for similar skills. They have a nationwide Skills to Succeed Program, that works with 16 non-profits and dedicates employee time to help develop a myriad of extra-occupational skills. In one of those partnerships, with Kipp Schools, employees not only collaborate with educators, but students intern side-by-side with Accenture consultants.
All of this raises a question–What happens when students are exposed to these strains of corporate thought? There is no book that can inspire the same way 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 wholly new role – something that was previously an unknown and intangible concept, becomes possible.
How can schools integrate innovation, grit, and motivation into their curriculum? To find out, I talked to Scott Bess, Purdue Polytechnic’s Head of School. He told me that the school was founded on the premise that the most important skill they can instill in their students is to “learn how to learn.”
According to Bess, educators are simply not keeping up with rapidly changing technology. Corporations are asking for students who can jump in and adjust to a rapid pace of change, but schools are not delivering. Students need to know how to think differently. It’s no longer about right or wrong but now about how to live with ambiguity and adapt quickly. The goal in this fast-paced, ever-changing technological age is to learn how to learn, or maybe even re-learn how to learn.
Here’s an overlooked fact: Schools and educators have a natural partner in the business community. Who is better prepared to pave the road to this outcome than the employers themselves? And if you are a school or educator, I have great news for you: the business community is ready, willing, and able to help you. This could very well be the missing link between graduates of today and gainful employment of tomorrow.
Patty Alper is president of the Alper Portfolio Group, a marketing and consulting company, and is a board member of both the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and US2020, the White House initiative to build mentorship in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. She has also been appointed to the corporate committee for Million Women Mentors. Patty’s experiences have led her to roles as a prominent speaker and the author of Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America.