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Our education system is slowly but surely evolving to address the talent gaps

(BUSINESS NEWS) Companies struggle with a talent gap from time to time, and today we discuss how the education system is evolving to meet employers’ needs.

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Pride in your work

In Studs Terkel’s 1974 book, Working, he took a tape recorder out into the country, interviewing dozens of people about what they did at work all day, and how they felt about what they did. For many involved in what were considered blue collar professions,  there was a sense of accomplishment in creating new products and in repairing things when they break.

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“I think a laborer feels that he’s the low man. Not so much that he works with his hands…” said Carl Murray Bates, a stonemason, speaking to Terkel. “Many that works with his hands takes pride in his work.” Although they were often physically tired by the nature of their work and the long hours that they spent doing it, the work allowed people to have a better life.

Shifting from college-focus

In America, the education system vacillates between ends of the spectrum for any issue that one would care to name, returning to the center on occasion. This is evident in the recent emphasis on ensuring students have multiple pathways to post-graduate success, whether in a traditional college track, certification and training for career fields, or supports for joining the military.

This shift away from the promotion of the traditional college track to the near exclusion of any other alternatives, even for those students who expressed zero interest in doing such a thing, is a good thing indeed. One hopes that such a focus on ensuring school serves the needs of its students remains at the forefront.
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“Our school system doesn’t need to create kids who are good at school,” writes Shelley Wright at MindShift. “Instead, we need to create an environment that engages learners, fosters creativity, and puts responsibility for learning where it belongs — with our students.”

Part of the issue stemmed from cuts to education budgets across the nation. When funds are scarce, anything not directly and clearly tied to activities that will increase test scores tends to be fair game.

For decades, the forerunners of the modern career and technical education (CTE) courses, then known as “vocational education,” were tracked for the mechanically or technically gifted. But they were also perceived as courses of last resort for students identified as academic strugglers.

Disappearing act

So as funds tightened and the need for improved test scores in core academic subjects skyrocketed, many states cut back or completely eliminated CTE courses that had been a mainstay for decades. Wood and metal shop, automotive repair, cosmetology—all staple CTE courses that led to careers for the students who took those courses, enjoyed them, and realized that they could make a career out of doing what they loved–were eliminated or severely curtailed.

Students were pushed towards a more traditional academic track, with a traditional academic outcome to follow: the four-year college and a pathway to a white collar job. Which worked for spme, but left many excluded from the American dream.

Degree is no longer a guarantee

“The problem is, they’re trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past, and on the way they’re alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school. When we went to school, we were kept there with a story which is if you worked hard and did well, and got a college degree, you would have a job,” said Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on fostering creativity in schools, in his TED talk on the subject. “Our kids don’t believe that! And they’re right not to, by the way. You’re better having a degree than not, but it’s not a guarantee anymore, and particularly not if the route to it marginalizes most of the things that you think are important about yourself.”

So, as we approach 2017, we’re right to know that what we’ve been trying simply doesn’t work for a large number of our students, and that even with a college degree, success isn’t guaranteed.

Talent and skill shortages

For some labor fields, this lack of attention and support have led to critical staffing shortages now and in the near future, unless things continue to change. Take for example the average age of a master plumber in the state of Texas: 58. Understanding that it takes several years of work experience and additional training to obtain that status, it’s still not sustainable.
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So at a time in which thoughts of retirement may not be far off, that’s the average age. As with all averages, many are older and still working in the field. Finding qualified plumbers, electricians, and HVAC mechanics, especially in commercial fields, is a daunting and competitive task. The competition to hire and retain those candidates illustrates a central theme.

There are simply not enough employees with the right combination of skills, training, and experience to go around, and that’s a shame. Not only for the companies who desperately want to hire them, but for those individuals who could be a part of that hiring boom if they only had access to adequate and affordable training programs.

CTE courses paying back

The revitalized focus on ensuring students have access to CTE courses as a part of their high school curriculum is beginning to pay dividends. Research has shown that, nationwide, nearly 95 percent of high school students currently take CTE-oriented classes. An additional 30 percent are focusing on CTE certification fields rather than collegiate-prep curricula.

These courses are not only a pipeline to a better career opportunity for students, but also an opportunity to keep students in school and engaged in what they learn.

Many of these students, who all too often see no reality in connection between what they are interested in and what they are learning, are those at risk for dropping out, physically or mentally, and have a lesser high school experience as a result. The new CTE frameworks exceed what the public thinks of as “vocational education.” Students now have pathways in multiple avenues of career and technical education, and the classes teach much more than merely technical skills.
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“When not presented in a narrow way, CTE is about problem-solving and troubleshooting, not just dexterity,” says Mike Rose, an education professor at UCLA and the author of The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker, speaking to the New York Times. This approach on soft skills—the characteristics of quality cooperation, interaction, and communication in the workplace—is vital for students on CTE and college tracks alike.

Something we can all agree on

As the political climate changes, it’s refreshing to note that the value of CTE courses appears to be one area of agreement. On the campaign trail earlier this year, Hillary Clinton discussed the value that CTE adds to education. Her comments were echoed by vice president-elect Pence. As governor of Indiana, Mr. Pence said, “all students deserve the same opportunity for success, whether they want to go to college or start their career right out of high school. This is not about a Plan A and a Plan B. This is about two Plan A’s.

We all deserve to be what we want to be, in a career field that we find personally rewarding, both emotionally and fiscally.

It’s insensitive and imprudent to not offer students opportunities to achieve their definition of success as it works for them. Here’s to hoping that the pendulum of change continues to favor ensuring that students can identify their own pathways, in fields that they never may have had the opportunity to dream of.

#TwoPaths

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

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So the Labor Department is cool with unpaid internships again

(BUSINESS NEWS) Regulations on unpaid internships continue to wax and wane, and businesses that opt to use unpaid labor should be aware of new regulations.

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Unpaid internships are a deacreasingly common institution in the United States, with help from former regulatory attempts to make them more difficult to create.

That regulatory oversight might become more relaxed after the Department of Labor (DOL) issued new rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that governs the role of unpaid internships in the modern American workforce.

Last week, the United States’ labor governing body decided to revise its guidelines on unpaid internships using the concept of a “primary beneficiary test.”

The core principle behind the seven statements that comprise the primary beneficiary test revolves around the idea that the reason you are hiring unpaid interns is for work that provides the intern with the primary benefit (educational opportunities, hands on learning, and networking), not because the company isn’t paying someone else to perform the same activities.

So with these guidelines, there’d be no more call for jokes about interns fetching coffee or making copies. Sounds like a win for the intern, right?

Not exactly.

The guidelines stress, however, that there is no magic quota of yes or no answers that yields the unpaid intern in question has job duties that would require payment. That even includes answering “no” to the statement that reads: “the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation.”

Of course, if a company were in violation of these guidelines, especially the one regarding compensation, it would be easier for adjudication to be brought against the company into a court of law. These rules start as the groundwork for any legal action interns can bring against an organization.

The first set of six guidelines were developed in 2010. By 2011, a lawsuit brought by unpaid interns against Fox Searchlight while working Darren Aronofsky feature, Black Swan, claiming the interns were performing job duties in need of compensation (read: they weren’t already paying employees to do the same roles, rather using interns as free labor).

The ruling in 2013 was in favor of the interns, but a different federal court reversed that decision in 2015. It is interesting to note that the revised guidelines published by the DOL only a week ago were derived from the Court’s 2015 decision on this case.

The larger trend of lawsuits brought by unpaid interns may cause a company pause if they reverse decisions about payment of employees.

Despite the judicial onslaught, some organizations may still choose to pursue unpaid internships in light of the relaxation of the guidelines by the DOL.

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Starbucks’ Teavana chain finally settles lawsuit with Simon Property Group

(BUSINESS NEWS) A bitter battle over store closures concludes with private settlement – and Teavana stores are still closing.

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A months-long legal fight between Starbucks’ Teavana and Simon Property Group, the number one mall operator in the U.S., has come to an end with a private settlement that reportedly allows the tea chain to move forward with some of its store closures.

In July 2017, Starbucks unveiled plans to close all 379 retail locations of its floundering Teavana stores.

Shortly thereafter, Simon Property Group got a local judge to bar Starbucks from closing the 77 Teavana locations in its malls, a peculiar legal move for this situation. Starbucks would be breaking its lease agreement with Simon, and Simon wasn’t going to stand for it.

Simon Property Group cited the ongoing financial plights traditional malls have experienced for years as more and more retailers shut their doors as its primary reason for blocking Starbuck’s actions. The difference with Teavana is that Starbucks isn’t under great financial stress and can actually afford to keep the stores open, per court documents.

Starbucks disagreed, but in November, a judge sided with Simon and ordered Starbucks to keep its Teavana stores open and not break dozens of leases nationally. Starbucks fought back with a December appeal, but the case moved up to Indiana’s highest court, bypassing the intermediate Court of Appeals.

And now, before Starbucks’ appeal could be heard, the dueling companies have apparently reached an undisclosed settlement, according to New York Post reports. Exact settlement details have not been revealed, but the Post has found at least two Teavana locations that are closing in just a few days, indicating that settlement may play out in Starbucks’ favor.

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Zillow sued for concealing Zestimates on certain listings

(BUSINESS NEWS) Zillow being sued for Zestimates is nothing new, but they’re now being accused of concealing Zestimates on “Co-Conspirator Broker” listings, violating federal Antitrust laws.

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From our real estate section, The Real Daily:

The latest Zillow legal troubles again surround their Zestimates; this time they are being sued for their Zestimates violating federal Antitrust laws. The company has allegedly violated and continue to violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1 and the New Jersey Antitrust Act, N.J.S.A. 56:9-3.

Plaintiff, EJ MGT LLC, based in New Jersey, filed suit again Zillow Group Inc. and Zillow Inc. today. In a 21-point legal brief outlining their specific violations, two things become immediately clear (assuming of course there is truth in these allegations): Zillow is giving preferential treatment to preferred brokerages (labeled ‘co-conspirator Broker[s] in the lawsuit) and Zestimates are wildly inaccurate (as many have adamantly stated since Zestimates’ conception).

The first few points of the brief explain exactly what Zillow is being accused of doing: “this antitrust action arises from Zillow’s conspiracy with certain real-estate brokerage companies to selectively conceal ‘Zestimates.’” Zillow’s estimate of a residential property’s “fair market value” which the lawsuit states they know “to be inaccurate,” have allowed “only select brokers to conceal the display of Zestimates on their listings to the exclusion of the general public.”

The lawsuit goes on to state that “these agreements between Zillow and certain co-conspirator brokers of residential real estate restrain trade (read: the agents/brokers being allowed to conceal unwanted Zestimates, henceforth referred to as ‘Co-conspirator Brokers’) and deprive Plaintiff and the public in general of the benefits of open and robust competition in two markets: the residential real estate market and the residential real estate brokerage market.”

In essence, Zillow and the Co-conspirators Brokers have made an illegal agreement regarding the display of Zestimates on Zillow’s site.

Zillow has long touted their Zestimates as a “user-friendly format to promote transparent real-estate markets and allow people to make informed decisions;” except Zestimates are often believed to be inaccurate and now they’re being concealed at the request of a select group of Co-conspirator Brokers – a far cry from making real estate more transparent.

If the lawsuit’s claims have any validity behind them, it seems as though Zillow may be in for a bumpy ride. Item 10 in the suit states, “Zillow has acknowledged that it conceals Zestimates as a result of agreements with only ‘certain brokers’ who receive ‘certain treatment’” and uses a message screenshotted from Zillow’s Help Center as proof these words were in fact used to explain why some listings had prominent Zestimates while others did not:

You may be wondering what brought about this lawsuit; it seems Plaintiff, EJ MGT LLC, owns and is marketing a property located in Cresskill, New Jersey, through an agent unaffiliated with Zillow (not a Co-Conspirator Broker). Therefore, their listing contains a prominently displayed Zestimate, while a similar listing in nearby Alpine, New Jersey, which is listed through a “Co-conspirator Broker,” conceals the Zestimate:

The above example is not the only one outlined in the case, however. Item 12 of the lawsuit states that further evidence can be seen by comparing a residence page for a property while it was listed with a Co-conspirator Broker versus the same residence page once the property was off the market. One clearly conceals the Zestimate, while the latter displays it clearly underneath the listing price.

For reference, the Co-conspirator Broker listing was screenshot on December 26, 2017 and the screenshot after it was taken off the market with the Zestimate was taken on January 2, 2018. Merely a week in between images, and yet the difference of how the ad is displayed is quite apparent:

In essence, Zillow has violated the very transparency they claimed to create.

Zillow is allegedly promoting misleading and inaccurate information while using their marketing power to charge brokers to hide this information which could negatively impact a sale, and which Zillow itself has acknowledged is sometimes inaccurate.

Also, general members of the public have no way to prevent Zillow from obtaining and posting information in this way, and it cannot be altered without hiring a Co-conspirator Broker, as Zillow has explicitly refused to offer the option to hide information to individual home owners, further deepening the dependency on Co-conspirator Brokers.

Because of their alleged refusal to treat everyone equally and “empower homebuyers with information,” they have potentially restrained trade in connection with the exchange of information regarding home valuation and offered anti-competitive benefits to only those brokers chosen to purchase that ‘special’ service package from Zillow that removes Zestimates from listings.

Therefore, brokers are not on even footing: when a seller attempts to price check; the brokers without it could be losing out to those who have the ‘special’ package and removal of Zestimates alongside listing prices.

So far, each individual Co-conspirator Broker has not been named; they have been named as a group: Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc., Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC, Century 21 Real Estate LLC, The Corcoran Group ERA, and Weichert Realty, according to court documents. It is unlikely that any action would ever impact the brokerages, rather Zillow Group itself.

Zillow is being sued for five counts: two counts of conspiracy to restrain trade, one count of violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, one count of slander of title/product disparagement, and one count of interference with prospective economic advantage. A jury trial has been requested.

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