This article suggests that partnering up with with the educational sector can be a solution to a company’s skill shortage.

 

Although it’s hard to pinpoint when skills shortages became the norm in the U.S., one widely acknowledged indicator of a crisis in the making appeared in 1983, with the release of « A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. » This groundbreaking report, commissioned by President Ronald Reagan, concluded that the U.S.’s « once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. »

« Our goal, » it stated, « must be to develop the talents of all to their fullest. »

Unfortunately, this goal hasn’t been met. The talents of all are not being developed to their fullest, and many U.S. industries face acute skills shortages.

Although unemployment is now lower than it’s been in more than 15 years, 6.7 million Americans remain unemployed and many more are underemployed in low-paying jobs. Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are currently 6.3 million job openings, which companies are struggling to find the right talent to fill.

While many of these jobs are low-paying, many are not, which begs the question: What can be done to better align the unemployed or underemployed with employers that offer good jobs? And how can companies help to address their own skills shortages to remain competitive in the future?

One approach that has proven to be successful in recent years consists of targeted partnerships between business and education. To facilitate these, companies typically begin by assessing their human capital needs and job requirements, and then collaborate with schools to produce workers with the needed skills.

A notable example of how this works can be found in eastern South Dakota, where the Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) has partnered with dozens of area businesses. LATI, winner of the most recent Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence (a highly coveted award from the Aspen Institute), offers approximately 30 two-year programs to its 2,000-plus students, which include those customized to a company’s specific parameters. For instance, a curriculum designed for a local manufacturer of medical supplies and food safety products includes several courses in electronics, welding, lean, torque certification, robotics/programmable logic controllers, precision machining, and management.

« Although we’re student-focused, we’re also a community/industry-facing organization, » Mike Cartney, the president of LATI, told us in an interview. « This means we take cues, set goals, and establish performance measures based upon our surrounding community’s needs. More than 300 businesses work with our program staff. These businesses consult on and oversee curriculum; provide internships, training aids, and equipment; and, most importantly, mentor and hire our students. Put simply, they are heavily invested in and involved with this pipeline. »

LATI’s success is further evidenced by the numbers: 74 percent of first-time, full-time students graduate or transfer to a four-year college or university within three years (compared with 39 percent of community college students nationally), and 99 percent are employed after graduation. LATI graduates also have higher average earnings when entering the workforce (27 percent more than other new hires in the region).

In addition to programs like LATI’s, there are many other types of business/education initiatives, which focus on everything from agriculture to cybersecurity. Google, for instance, provides funding, volunteer hours, and other resources to Khan Academy, which offers a vast assortment of online courses. Google spokesperson Amy Atlas told us that these courses, available to the public at no charge, have also been taken by many « Googlers » themselves.

AT&T, which has offices in Atlanta, has provided $1 million over the past year to help fund an online master’s program in analytics at Georgia Tech. [Disclosure: So has Accenture, the sponsor of this HBR Insight Center.] Nelson Baker, the school’s dean of professional education, told us that this is just one example of the many initiatives such companies have undertaken with the school.

« We actually have decades-old relationships with various companies, » he said. « In fact, Georgia Tech has been involved in business/education partnerships for over 100 years. We were founded in 1885, to work with industry, and that is still a core mission for Georgia Tech. »

Yet another example of a business/education partnership is Shire, a biotech company with U.S. operational headquarters in Lexington, Massachusetts, which has been working with nearby Quincy College for the past several years. In addition to providing financial support, it donates equipment and supplies.

« Together, in response to industry demand, we’re creating a dedicated pipeline of skilled biomanufacturing professionals, » said Bruce Van Dyke, chair of Quincy’s Biotechnology and Good Manufacturing Practice program, in a recent interview with us. « Our grads are not only being hired by Shire, which now has about 15 of them, but also other biotech companies in the region. Beyond this, we also provide specialized training to those already working in the field. »

In addition to initiatives like these, businesses can help close the skills gap in other ways: supporting legislation and policies that enable greater access to education, advising schools on management best practices, and serving on college and university advisory boards.

They can also provide more funding, for both faculty development and any equipment that students must be trained on, as Josh Wyner, a vice president at Aspen said to us. « This is particularly important in rapidly changing areas like IT, engineering, and health care, » he added. « Students need to understand tomorrow’s skills, not yesterday’s. »

As these and other such measures are implemented, all parties can ultimately benefit — not just individual employers and employees, but communities and the nation as a whole. If U.S. companies are going to be competitive in the future, they need to be more proactive about training tomorrow’s workforce today.

Vocabulary:

skills shortages

situations where an employer or a company finds it difficult to find employees with the required qualifications

The country is having a skills shortage in the technological and medical industries as fewer students take science and math courses.
norm

the behavior, appearance, method, etc., that is accepted by most people

Wearing scarves, boots and coats is the norm in countries with fall and winter seasons.
groundbreaking

new, original and very advanced

Craig was given an award by the scientific community for his groundbreaking research in renewable energy.
preeminence

the state of being superior or more powerful than others

The CEO has preeminence when it comes to making decisions that affect the company’s business.
human capital

the value of a person’s or group’s skills, experience and competence to a company or organization

Some construction companies invest a lot in human capital, as their business requires people who can run heavy equipment and machinery.
parameters

rules that control or limit how something should be done

One of the parameters of the department project is that it remains within the company budget.
curriculum

a list of all the lessons or courses that need to be studied for a particular learning program

One part of the curriculum for aspiring teachers is learning how to make lesson plans.
pipeline

the development and production of something

The tech company’s new laptop series is now going through the pipeline and will be launched in a few months.
undertaken

begun an impressive or difficult task

A group of geologists have undertaken a journey to an unexplored cave in the middle of the Amazon forest.
biotech

short for biotechnology; related to the use of living things or parts of living things in manufacturing or other industrial tasks

Scientists use biotech equipment to breed crops that can grow underwater to increase yield even during rainy seasons.
legislation

a set of proposed laws

The newest legislation will make it illegal for people to throw plastic in the river.

 

Question #1: Identify whether the statement is true or false. According to « A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, » the U.S. is no longer the superior innovator in commerce and technology compared to other countries.

Question #2: Based on the article, which of the following statements is NOT true?

Question #3: Choose the correct answer. When it comes to business-education partnerships, the Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) offers _____ to _____.

Question #4: Identify whether the statement is true or false. According to Mike Cartney, LATI’s president, the institute sets performance measures and goals based on community need.

Question #5: Identify whether the statement is true or false. According to Nelson Baker, one of the initiatives Georgia Tech has is to continue to be involved in partnerships with businesses.

Question #6: Choose the correct answer. According to the article, businesses can do the following to lessen skill shortage, EXCEPT for:

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