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  • 21st Century Workforce
    We Need New Approaches to Respond to 21st century workforce training Need

    Our globalized economy has fundamentally transformed all aspects of our world --from how we shop to how we bank and entertain ourselves --it is now knocking loudly on education’s door and asking that it also be transformed or risk obsolescence. Our old idea of preparing grade by grade a student for a stable factory based economy where there was almost a guarantee of lifetime employment went out of the window sometime in the early naughts. We are now in a gig knowledge based economy where your ability to work is connected fundamentally to your ability to continuously learn and apply new knowledge. School systems are not tuned into this yet nor are the governmental systems that support them--one clear example of this--our K-12 system exists inside its own particular bubble as does the workforce training system--some students who need the services the Department of Labor Employment and Training system provide never know that such a system exists. One of the reasons for this is that higher education that sits atop the K-12 system has detected that anyone who does not successfully compete for a  four year college placement is some kind of failure. As a result whether consciously or not career and technical (often referred to as “vocational”) programs are often stigmatized and many schools focused on that one metric-- how many students applied for four year colleges leave too many school leavers in the dust as far as preparing them for the world of employment in the 21st century. One metaphor for this situation comes to mind--imagine you live in the Arctic Circle and you handed out insulated winter coats and gloves for those fortunate enough to apply for four year college and gave raincoats to the rest. It would not be considered by any measure a good idea. Businesses are starting to wake up to the fact that there is a skills shortage and that we cannot any longer avoid the huge waste of talent that occurs because too many of these raincoated clad young people cannot find their way to jobs that can support anything approaching a  middle class lifestyle. AT&T has instituted  new “Future Ready” program. The company shows online what jobs are available and in high or low demand--salary and career path are also shown giving potential applicants a sense of what kind of future they can point their ship towards. The program has helped reduce the company’s hiring of external candidates. AT&T is a leader in recognizing what companies must do today to use talent wisely, efficiently and effectively and it is a message that the public sector should take seriously. Few high school juniors and seniors have any idea of the job market that excludes committing to a four year college degree. The lack of information and awareness that the choice is not between a guarantee of a middle class lifestyle by attending college at a cost of around a quarter of a million dollars in debt or a future of minimum wage jobs mirrors the failure of the federal government to invest the resources necessary. While the federal government subsidies the cost of higher education through Pell grants and funds to state college there is a paucity of programs designed to help the young non college goer find his or her feet. The programs that do exist connect only tangentially with schools--for example there is a provision in the Rehabilitation act that provides small grants for schools to assist mentally and physically challenged students with employment. There is of course the Career Technical Education program that the federal government funds but too many schools as this Edsurge report makes clear have no active business partnerships and limited capacity to understand the employment needs in their region. Too many are just focused on wood shop programs that were current since the post war period as the answer for the non college attending students.


    KP scholars, a company founded by Jim Smith is out to change the equation for the students who leave school without the weather proof educational foundations they need for today’s job market. Through partnerships with businesses and local chambers of commerce, Smith taps into the limited amount of funding that can help create programs that work for students. For example working with some charter schools in Prince George’s county he has established a program for seniors who have never written a resume or held a part time job and who have been left without any clear roadmap for their futures. The eight week program prepares these students for their first job by assisting them to understand their passions and skill levels. Once they understand for example that to be for example a sports coach might take more than simply wishing or knowing their favorite teams stats they begin to develop a more realistic idea of their futures. They begin to understand that the world is not about getting any  job and paying for the car that they have always wanted to drive but building a career one step at a time so that one position leads to experience that can be used to justify a pay increase and a step towards their goal. These may seem simple ideas but they are not easy for many students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They also need incentives that are short term enough to quickly grasp that is why Smith has connected the program with the Summer Youth employment program. The students that graduate successfully from the eight week course become automatically eligible to apply for a summer youth job related to their skill levels and goals.


    It is clear to Smith and other experts that schools cannot by themselves move us forward into the world of 21st century jobs. There needs to be a concerted effort by the private sector working hand in hand with the public and for intermediary organizations that know the pain points for both side to produce results. For two years running 95 percent of the graduates of the Prince George’s County program have been offered jobs and the program is constantly monitoring these students futures as they navigate their careers. KP scholars is currently in negotiations with Prince George’s county to expand the program county wide.

  • Talent Supply Chain
    Optimizing Talent Supply Chains: Stop the Leakage

    This post originally appeared on: Us Chamber of Commerce and re-posted on Forbes

    Increasingly human resource professionals are applying supply chain theory to the growing misalignment of talent available to meet 21st century workforce needs. There are a number of drivers at the root cause of this trend, one notable driver being the technological evolution that has dramatically changed the skillset required for workforce demand.

    To meet growing demand, organizations must take a strategic approach to increase both the quality and quantity of talent supply. The U.S. Chamber Foundation is providing employers and key stakeholders with the thought leadership, tools, and resources to improve the talent acquisition process—their Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative provides a strong foundation and step-by-step orientation for companies adopting this approach.


    What is leakage?

    As with any supply chain, partnership is crucial. One of the largest challenges in developing a successful supply chain is “leakage.” Leakage refers to any systemic event or activity that significantly reduces the final product available in a supply chain.

    Now, before we provide an analogy that compares a talent supply chain to a supply chain in the manufacturing industry, we have to acknowledge that a talent supply chain approach is a way of thinking so the comparison isn't quite literal. The Chamber Foundation says it well when they say that it "is an orientation toward education and workforce partnerships in which employers are much more than advisors or beneficiaries. Instead, they are end-customers of talent supply chains. This does not mean employers are the only customers that matter, nor does it mean schools are factories or learners are widgets. What TPM provides is a systematic framework for how employers can engage effectively in producing information, facilitating partnerships, managing performance, and improving outcomes in career pathways."

    So as we compare manufacturing firms leakage issues such as spoilage, theft, and poor quality—each of these concerns reducing throughput and increasing the overall cost to the organization—we want to be thoughtful when considering the analogous examples for talent supply chains. Where is talent falling out of the pipeline, increasing costs, and diminishing throughput? 

    Let’s explore the concept of leakage and the challenges it presents to employers in the context of cybersecurity opportunities in the D.C. Metropolitan area. 

    Globally, it is estimated that by the year 2021 there will be more than 3.5 million unfilled jobs with sizeable demand expected due to a growing focus on cybersecurity by the federal government and the private sector alike. To keep the analysis simple, let’s define a representative set of suppliers that includes the University of Maryland’s (UMD’s) computer science program and the local high schools in the surrounding area.  


    The employer’s goal is to increase the quality and quantity of talent produced by this simulated talent supply chain—to get more students through this network that have the skills required to fill available and forecasted cybersecurity positions. 

    To reach this goal, employers must ensure that UMD can meet forecasted demand and that the “raw material” provided to them by the K–12 partners meets quality expectations or stated differently, that the value created by the K–12 providers is sufficient for the entry criteria for UMD’s computer science program. 

    There should be clarity about the amount of output the K–12 system must produce to ensure adequate input into UMD’s computer science program. This target for the K–12 partner should be established based on empirical data on UMD’s ability to cultivate the talent though the computer science program.  

    How many students matriculate and complete the program? Let’s assume 65%. How many students transfer to other majors? Let’s assume 25%. By establishing thresholds based on these statistics you can now manage the suppliers to a baseline performance expectation incorporating expected leakage. 

    If we look at manufacturing supply chains, the level of integration and the sharing of data between partners is completely integrated from the very first step in the process to the very end. Each partner in the chain knows where the inventory is at each stage of development and can identify variances to expectations. Results are not happenstance but predictable with indicators that provide an ongoing mechanism to assess the overall performance of the system at any point in time. 

    This level of integration is the goal of talent supply chain initiatives like TPM. As we seek to optimize talent supply chains, it is critical to communicate the forecasted demand to all partners in the chain and gain their buy-in on their ability to deliver the requested results. When these expectations are not met you know you have leakage in the system and you must collaborate with your partners to identify how to plug the holes to maximize success for all involved.

  • Busing Programs
    Busing Programs...Are They Worth The Trip?

    In 1979, I was chosen to participate in Project Concern, one of many desegregation social experiments implemented during the sweeping idealism of the 1960s. Based in Connecticut, Project Concern was a program that bused minority students living in impoverished inner cities to wealthy communities in the suburbs. From the third to the 12th grade of my education, I was bused nearly 25 miles from the city of Bridgeport, CT to what seemed like a completely different world–the affluent town of Westport, CT. Even today, the disparity between Bridgeport and Westport remains the same; by 1991 Bridgeport was listed as 5th in the nation for cities with the highest homicide rate per capita while Westport remains one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. It was my experience in Project Concern that taught me the true meaning of "the other side of the tracks".

    Today, researchers and scholars’ evaluations of Project Concern suggest a number of positive outcomes. Program participants pursue higher education at higher rates, perceive less discrimination, and feel more comfortable in predominately white environments. (Check out the following links for more expected outcomes: “ Finding Niches: Desegregated Students Sixteen Years Later" and "School Desegregation and Black Occupational Attainments: Results from a Long-Term Experiment")

    In many ways, I am a living testament of these positive outcomes. Nearly 20 years after I was bused daily from Bridgeport to Westport, I am an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I certainly recognize the significant contributions Project Concern played in my ability to achieve key milestones in my life.

    With all the positive outcomes of Project Concern, you would think that I would be a fervent endorser of the program. Ironically, this is not the case. When asked whether programs like Project Concern should be replicated in urban cities across the country, my answer is always a hesitant "I’m not so sure?" Why? Simply put, with the benefits come the tradeoffs…and the unresolved question in my mind is always, "was it worth the trip?"

    In the example of Project Concern, the city of Bridgeport funded the buses to transport inner-city children to schools in Westport but did not monetarily contribute to the Westport school system. Despite the busing program, Westport schools remained financed solely by the taxpayers of Westport. Needless to say, Westport parents expressed a little more than frustration over having to spend their tax dollars to have their children socialize with inner-city kids. Let’s just say that they had strong views on the subject.

    Besides backlash from the "receiving" communities of busing programs, programs such as Project Concern have other problems as well:

    • Logistics: Imagine yourself as an 8 year old Project Concern kid catching the bus to go to school in Westport, CT. You arrive at the bus stop a little after 6 a.m. to catch the 6:15 school bus. Once on board, your bus then takes approximately 60 minutes to pick up the other Project Concern kids. At 7:15 a.m. you begin the 25-mile journey to Westport, which takes approximately 40 to 45 minutes in rush hour traffic. At 3:00 p.m., the process is reversed and you arrive back at the original bus stop around 4:30 p.m. (traffic’s a little bit better in the afternoon). Oh, and don’t ask what happens if you miss the bus because you arrived at the bus stop at 6:20 a.m.
    • Participation in extracurricular activities: Since there was no funding for a "late" bus to provide transportation back to Bridgeport, participating in extracurricular activities was nearly impossible for Project Concern kids. Limited extracurricular opportunities and lack of time to socialize with fellow classmates amplified the differences between Project Concern kids and the kids resident to Westport.
    • Lack of strong advisors: The presence of mentors or counselors to help Project Concern kids and Westport resident students deal with cultural differences was nearly nonexistent. While coordinators were available periodically, I personally do not recall a strong support structure to deal with adjustment issues. Survival skills were acquired over time, and the experience was more difficult for some than others.
    • Alienation from home community: Arriving home at 4:30 pm (best case scenario) didn’t facilitate the bond between the Project Concern kids and the Bridgeport community. There was always a sense of being between two communities but belonging to neither.
    • Being a desegregation pioneer: Very difficult stuff. Given.

    Regardless of these tradeoffs, my experience with Project Concern has shaped who I am. "Crossing the tracks" on a daily basis for 10 years provided me with a broad comfort zone socially, lead to excellent educational opportunities, and allowed me to navigate within different racial and socioeconomic worlds with ease—an invaluable skill that I am glad to possess.

    So the question I pose to this community is what’s your opinion of busing programs? Do the long-term outcomes of busing and similar social experiments outweigh the short-term sacrifices? Are busing programs really worth the trip? 

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