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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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career talent gap

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

Too connected: FTC eyes Facebook antitrust lawsuit

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following other antitrust hearings, we’re expecting to hear more about the FTC’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, soon.

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Facebook being crossed out by a stylus on a mobile device.

Facebook might be wishing it had kept the “dislike” button.

On September 15, the Wall Street Journal announced that the Federal Trade Commission was preparing a possible antitrust lawsuit against the social media titan. Although the FTC has not made an official decision on whether to pursue the case, sources familiar with the situation expect a determination will be made on the matter sometime before the end of 2020. Facebook and the FTC both declined to comment when asked about the story.

The news comes following a year-long investigation by the FTC that has looked into anti-competitive practices by the Menlo Park-based company. This past July, the United States House of Representatives held hearings in which they grilled the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook regarding their business practices. In August, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also testified in front of the FTC as part of the department’s antitrust probe into the organization.

The FTC seems to be especially interested in Facebook’s past acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, which they believe may have been done to stifle competition. In internal emails sent between Zuckerberg and Facebook’s former CFO David Ebersman back in 2012, the 36-year-old seemed worried that the apps could eventually pose a threat to the social media conglomerate.

“These businesses are nascent but the networks established, the brands are already meaningful, and if they grow to a large scale the could be very disruptive to us,” Zuckerberg wrote to Ebersman, “Given that we think our own valuation is fairly aggressive and that we’re vulnerable in mobile, I’m curious if we should consider going after one or two of them.”

When Ebersman asked him to clarify the benefits of the acquisitions, Zuckerberg stated the purchases would neutralize a competitor while improving Facebook.

“One way of looking at this is that what we’re really buying is time. Even if some new competitors springs up, buying Instagram, Path, Foursquare, etc. now will give us a year or more to integrate their dynamics before anyone can get close to their scale again.” Zuckerberg said.

This isn’t the first time the FTC has investigated Facebook either. Last year the agency fined the company $5 billion for the mishandling of user’s personal information, the biggest penalty imposed by the federal government against a technology company. As a part of the settlement with the FTC in that case, Facebook also promised more comprehensive oversight of user data.

If the FTC does pursue an antitrust suit against Facebook, it could end up forcing the social media giant to spin off some of the companies it has acquired or place restrictions on how it does business. Considering how long it will take to file the litigation and prove the case in a courtroom, however, it seems that Zuckerberg will once again be “buying time.”

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Business News

What you need to know about the historic TikTok deal (for now)

(BUSINESS NEWS) No one really knows what’s happening, but the TikTok deal’s impact on business, US-China relations, and the open internet could be huge.

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Male black hands holding app opening TikTok app.

So, maybe you’ve heard that Oracle and Walmart are buying TikTok for national security!

Um, not exactly.

Also, Trump banned TikTok!

Sort of? Maybe?

But then he said he approved the Oracle-Walmart-TikTok deal!

We guess?

The terms of the proposal seem to shift daily, if not hourly. The sheer number of contradictory statements from every player suggests no one really knows what’s going on.

Just one example: Trump said the deal included a $5 billion donation to a fund for education for American youth. TikTok parent ByteDance, said, “Say what now?”

Here’s what we think we know (as of this writing):

Oracle and Walmart would get a combined 20 percent stake in a new U.S.-based company called TikTok Global. Combine that with current US investors in China’s ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, that would give American interests 53 percent. European and other investors would have 11 percent. China would retain 36 percent. (On Saturday Trump said China would have no interests at all. But that does not jibe with the reporting on the deal.)

Oracle would host all user data on its cloud, where it is promising “security will be 100 percent” to keep data safe from China’s prying eyes. But reporting has differed on whether Oracle will get full access to TikTok’s code and AI algorithms. Without full control, skeptics say, Oracle could be little more than a hosting service, and potential security issues would remain unaddressed.

Walmart says they’re excited about their “potential investment and commercial agreements,” suggesting they may be exploring e-commerce opportunities in the app.

The US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is overseen by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, still has to approve any deal.

As for the TikTok “ban” – which isn’t really a ban because current users can keep it – the Commerce Department postponed the deadline for kicking TikTok off U.S. app stores to September 27, to give time for the deal to be hammered out. Never mind that it’s still not clear whether the U.S. government has authority to do that. Unsurprisingly, ByteDance says it doesn’t in a lawsuit filed September 18.

Whatever happens with the whiplash of the deal’s particulars, there are bigger issues in play.

According to business news site Quartz, moving data storage to Oracle mirrors what companies like Apple have done in China: Appease the Chinese government by allowing all data hosting to be inside China. A similar move could “mark the US, too, shifting from a more laissez-faire approach to user data, to a more sovereign one,” says China tech reporter Jane Li.

More obvious: Corporate sales and mergers are now part of the parrying between the U.S. and China, which adds a whole new playing field for negotiations among businesses.

In the meantime, TikTokkers keep TikTokking. White suburban moms continue to lip sync to rap songs in their kitchens. Gen Z continues to make fun of the president – and pretty much everything else.

And downloads of the app have skyrocketed.

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Business News

Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?

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Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

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