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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!

Business News

The best jobs in America, 2018 edition

(BUSINESS NEWS) Is your job on the list of the best jobs? Is this your year?

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Whether you love or hate your job, like any other human, you want to know how it ranks on the list of all occupations. And also like any other human, you know that the tech industry is going to dominate any ranked list of this nature.

And of course, you’re right.

Indeed’s 2018 list of The Best Jobs in the United States, the top 25 are mostly tech jobs.

The jobs themselves range wildly in terms of salary, required education level, field, and availability, though all fall above the $75,000 per year mark. As is to be expected, a large number of the jobs in question are located in the tech field, though you might be surprised to see several other fields holding prominent spots as well.

One such field is construction, though there are a couple of caveats in the field’s growth itself. As job persuasions such as construction management and construction estimator make their way onto the list of the top 25 jobs of 2018, the respective hiring departments are forced to contend with decreasing searches for construction jobs as the year has progressed.

While the results should speak for themselves, it’s clear that anyone looking to hire in the construction field will have a bit of pandering on their hands.

Tech jobs such as full stack developer and computer vision engineer are still at the top of the list – a position which hasn’t changed much from last year – and the actual number one spot, while not quite as tech-oriented as past years, is commercial project manager.

Indeed notes that the position of the role of machine learning engineer is especially surprising (spot number 4) given its number 17 spot on last year’s list.

Naturally, the rise in self-driving technology and the interest in AI has most likely influenced the sudden jump this year; if you’re someone with the proper education and skills in the machine learning department, this should be your year.

A couple of outliers on the list include plumbing engineer (spot number 14), registered nurse in the infusion field (spot number 24), and optometrist (spot number 7). As Indeed points out, healthcare roles in 2018 have made an unexpected appearance on this list; naturally, such positions fall on the “more education” side of the spectrum, but their involvement makes for a nice contrast with the normal tech backdrop.

The full top 25 list:

  1. Commercial project manager
  2. Full stack developer
  3. Computer vision engineer
  4. Machine learning engineer
  5. Preconstruction manager
  6. Construction superintendent
  7. Optometrist
  8. Data scientist
  9. Chief estimator
  10. Development operations engineer
  11. Agile coach
  12. Construction estimator
  13. Senior talent acquisition manager
  14. Plumbing engineer
  15. Project superintendent
  16. Staff pharmacist
  17. Head of sales
  18. Commercial real estate agent
  19. Construction manager
  20. Project architect
  21. Product owner
  22. Senior clinical specialist
  23. UX researcher
  24. Registered nurse – infusion
  25. Partnership manager

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Business News

How the Lean concept can have the biggest impact on your bottom line

(BUSINESS) Using the Lean business concept and asking the non-sexy question of “What’s dumb around here?” your business will outpace your competitors in no time.

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Entrepreneurs love solving problems. That’s what they’re good at doing. In fact, the more complex, difficult and messy the problem, the more the entrepreneur will enjoy the challenge. Entrepreneurs are especially good at solving problems that nobody knew were there. Think about Steve Jobs: He knew that we needed a pocket MP3 player before we even knew what it was.

While entrepreneurs are coming up with the next “big” thing, we need the non-entrepreneurs in our organizations focused on solving the small problems in our company with the same enthusiasm. Imagine if every one of your team members were consistently looking for opportunities to improve your systems, processes and service delivery. Those subtle changes made in the non-sexy parts of the business usually have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

This is a business concept called Lean, in which a company changes their processes to create the most benefit to the customer using the least amount of resources possible. Lean is commonly used in the manufacturing industry, but its principles can be used in any business to change the way of thinking and doing things.

I recently witnessed a great example of how Lean principles were used to improve one of my clients, LuminUltra – a leading provider of microbiological testing hardware, software and services. The company serves industries that need to know quickly and accurately what’s living in their water. At a recent quarterly planning session at the LuminUltra offices in Fredericton, Canada, COO Charlie Younger shared a powerful story about the company’s manufacturing facility and challenging the status quo.

During the expansion of the company’s manufacturing facility, one of the team members was lamenting to Charlie about how much time it took to complete a lengthy step of the manufacturing process – one specific quality check that was very time-consuming. He remarked that in the history of the company they never had a single machine fail the test. Charlie’s first thought was, do they even need to perform this specific test again?

After more discussion with colleagues, the team realized that the other quality checks performed earlier in the manufacturing process would always identify a defective unit. With this knowledge, the manufacturing team asked for permission to perform minimal testing to still provide assurance with less work. When presented with the information, the company leadership agreed that it was a great idea and would save time and money as well as improve the employee experience. But the bigger question was: Why hadn’t anyone ever questioned this lengthy step of the manufacturing process before?

Charlie, having run Lean programs in the past, has seen this issue before: People continue to do what they’ve always done even if they think there is a better way. He thought this would be a great opportunity to use a fun, simple but elegant technique to capture other status quo breakers – in other words, he decided to use the same principles for changing the company’s production process to make other company decisions.

With that, he posted a whiteboard in the manufacturing room with the title “What’s Dumb Around Here?” and encouraged team members to capture possible “dumb things” to add to it. These topics are discussed and vetted during their Lean process meetings to determine if they can be improved.

When I discussed the new process with Charlie, he noted, “First, you have to create an environment where people are willing to question the status quo. We have always been highly focused on quality and accuracy, so the team thought it was outrageous to openly question a quality check we had been performing for years.”

He continued, “You have to help your management team be open to receiving ideas that might seem crazy and not overreact to the suggestions. Instead, simply ask them to explain their logic. More often than not, the front line knows a better way to do things but does not know how to navigate the change. The beauty of using Lean techniques is that you now have an easy navigation path to discuss, approve and roll out changes. Suddenly, you have an energized front line solving problems with minimal involvement from management – how great is that?”

While LuminUltra continues to grow their product line and expand into new markets, it expects that its implementation of Lean principles will help it make subtle but important modifications to processes that will positively affect its bottom line. The CEO, Pat Whalen, remarked, “If we can produce our products faster and more cost effectively and get them into the hands of our customers faster, we can have an even bigger impact on the water sector with our microbiological monitoring products. I need all of our team members thinking how we can improve every single day. The water sector needs us.”

Every visionary, big-thinking entrepreneur needs a team that challenges the status quo. How are you encouraging your team members to identify, “What’s Dumb Around Here?”

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Business News

Verb develops your team’s talent while making a major social impact

(BUSINESS NEWS) Any sized team can improve their talent, but add in a dash of social good, and Verb has the platform to rule them all.

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More organizations are looking to offer training opportunities for their employees (but with an emphasis on more efficiency, cost effectiveness, and impact than traditional classroom instruction) – and there are a number of solutions. Organizations can seek to leverage those same on-demand resources that consumers are using (Like Lynda.com) or using their own internal corporate learning solutions to host content (like Cornerstone On-Demand, Accord, or other LMS (that’s uh – Learning Management System, non-talent TD folks)) providers, and hope by doing so they develop employees and solve the variety of skill gaps that are emerging for a millennial and post-millennial workforce.

Verb seeks to offer a flexible learning solution that also solves a secondary challenge: getting employees to be more engaged with work.

The product offers subscription style learning, offering focusing on the core skills like communication and leadership skills. Specific skill development is bestowed upon employees through four types of learning elements: articles, activities, courses, and impact programs. This suggests that the learning is focused not only on content and theoretical learning, but also activity based and impact styles of learning to help employees transfer those skills into the workplace.

The standout of this learning solutions it that it seeks to drive in something that a lot of young professions seek – purpose.

Verb connects with social impact organizations to facilitate learning opportunities and promote development. A great example from their blog is a Summer partnership with United Way for Greater Austin (check it out) where they conducted a five-week leadership program that taught local nonprofit professionals how to communicate their organizational strategy and mission more effectively with pitch decks.

Adding in purpose is an emphasis on mentoring, where social entrepreneurs can become impact partners and connect with brands to help improve their visibility, awareness, and credibility.

Social entrepreneurs have a real opportunity to generate their visibility and gain more attention, companies like Sproutel (which have this awesome story about Jerry the Bear – you’re gonna cry if you watch it!) or TOMS both have gained some attention via Verb.

The benefits here are pretty clear – organizations can get a learning solution that helps them develop their employees more effectively and can collect learning metrics that help justify their expense and demonstrate impact.

The most highly regarded quality is mentoring opportunities created to connect them with social impact organizations – and those social entrepreneurs benefit from their visibility. From a learning professional – the opportunity to have experience learning, mentoring, and an engagement opportunity seems like a rare bundle – and one that can be particularly valuable for large and small organizations.

Talent development is a significant investment, and Verb looks like a pretty awesome solution that can nestle in beside other talent development strategies.

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