Ideas on stimulating the connections between industry and education
-March 17, 2022
By guest author L Roeg Williamson, JD, CCM, CLMP
Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege of working with educational entities for the majority of my professional experience and still do to this day. Listening to educators and helping them understand my industry when it intersected with theirs over time allowed me to become more effective in my specific communication when interacting with educational entities. This is nothing out of the ordinary. Experience dictated more successful communications as often is the case through repetition, trial, and error.
However, I also started to realize something else. To me, it appeared as there was a bit of a discord in the communications between industry and education on notable occasions. I noticed this the most when I started down my road with STEM advocacy.
Now, on the face of this, I am not saying that either entity is or was less attentive, or less intelligent, or even less interested. It was simply that often, even though both entities were searching for mutual beneficial relationships, all of which was evident and for certain, that educational professionals and business professional often struggled to find common ground in their communications. Specifically, the importance of context in their conversations. Both talked in context as if they were talking educator to educator or industry rep to industry rep.
For my own context, I grew up the son of a teacher. So, I had a leg up in my professional endeavors with the education sector. I understand how teachers tick, well at least better than most. There is a routine to most educators. There is in most instances a different way of thinking, communicating and processing information verses those rooted in industry. For example, it was not uncommon in my house, as I am sure it is with anyone who had a teacher as a parent or a friend who had a teacher as a parent, to have my mom correct grammar without hesitation. I can still hear my mom saying, “Marc, I don’t know, can you have more water?”
Now, for complete background, while my mother was a teacher, my father was a business owner. So, while I understood better than most the routine and communication of an educator, I also received the benefit of business acumen and routines as well. Problems were addressed and solved differently in business from my early experience and as I ascended into the working world too. Communication and processing information was different as well.
So, utilizing the grammar correction example above but as applied to industry, a typical business person would solve Marc’s problem with water by going through a series of rebuttal questions or observations to get him to his goal, that glass of water. They would never correct his grammar, waiting for him to make the request in a grammatically correct context before giving him the glass of water.
In sum, it’s a different understanding and communicative experience from both perspectives of education and industry, which is often driven by context. Be that as it may, both serve the same objective. To get Marc his water. However, the paths taken by the educator vs the business person to get to the same solution are somewhat in contrast to one another at times. This is important to take in and understand.
The business world often speaks through acronyms. Such as ROI, MBO, CSA, TIV, SOV, EOB, and so forth. Profit is most commonly the objective. Swift execution without errors is key. Customer satisfaction is a priority. Educators speak through driving the educational experience, lesson plans, meeting state standards, graduation rates, parent’s involvement, and so forth. Educating the student is the only objective. Now, these summations are not a criticism or belittlement of either, nor a disrespect of either’s craft. Each have their own priorities and methods to their craft. However in some instances, when business and education intersect over a specific issue, the communication and outcomes are stellar. But that is not always the case.
I have sat in meetings with business and education stakeholders, where each side have politely nodded their heads while listening to one another, but to each come away from the meeting without a clear understanding of the others objectives. Now, this is not the type of example that is really out of the ordinary. Meetings occur all the time and end without focused understandings by one or both sides.
With this all in mind, what can be done though when industry and education want to collaborate towards mutual beneficial interests, say over preparing students for the changing workplace of today? How can educators reach out and collaborate with industry effectively and visa versa? To start, we have to consider why both education and industry would want to collaborate in the first place.
From the industry prospective, now more than any time in history, there is a desire for more specific skill sets with incoming employees. Education in both the primary and post graduate world have challenges to keep pace and adapt with the new working world. The education perspective is equally key. All educators want their students to be successful, that is never a question. But education has largely been rooted from industrial aged thinking. Learning is primarily compartmentalized by age groups and grades, promoting the ultimate goal of degree completion and assentation into higher learning. Unfortunately, the needs of modern work is at odds with the structure of primary education practices.
Companies like Google and Facebook no longer scrub their incoming resumes for degree requirements. The four year degree now is not the norm or expectation. However, the ability of students to understand Facebook or Google-search marketing, by example, is important in today’s market in several sectors. Most schools, whether primary or post graduate, are not teaching this skill or are teaching antiquated marketing skills that are no longer relevant.
There is a long laundry list of other skills that industry looks for as well, many of which that will not impede with state standards for curriculum. Things like soft skills and working in a team. The most frequent comment I hear from industry representatives is that the younger generation(s) greatest strength also is to blame for their biggest weakness. Being so reliant and proficient with technology, most have not worked on others skills apart from their digital devices.
They can all jump on Minecraft or fortnight and successfully complete a task as a team in the digital world, but collaborating in person over a similar objective is sometimes difficult and resembles a middle school dance. Everyone standing on different sides and no one talking to one another.
The reality is that industry desires that their modern workforce to have a much different skill set. Tapping into and understanding that is obviously key to the successful workforce of the future. Collaboration, problem solving, adaptation, project management, rapid prototyping, and higher-order thinking on a multidisciplinary level are just some of boxes industry looks to check when considering employees.
Industry can arm the education sector with the information to adapt students to the new working world. Creating collaborative opportunities between education and industry opens the floodgates to help create a better-rounded work force to keep up with the demands and changes of a modern workforce.
Taking all this in mind, how can educators reach out to industry, and vice a versa, to stimulate some of these changes and in an effective manner? The low hanging fruit is obviously the internet, but is that ultimately effective? It is easy to search out and find companies willing to provide opportunities to education.
The problem is, do these companies deliver on those opportunities and are they asking for something in return to benefit their profit line or their future workforce needs. One thing is for certain, education is all about the student and how to better prepare them to be successful. When education reaches out, it is rarely in a selfish manner when it comes to student empowerment. Therefore, for lack of a better term, do all business have the right DNA? Do they have an altruistic desire to interact with education in an impactful way through any opportunities they might offer? Finding these businesses is key.
I have experienced many of these business or organizations first hand, at times in bulk and individually. For example, I helped organize a “business to school” speed dating event. We brought in interested business, those with the right DNA of prioritizing the future of work over profits, and school officials interested in connecting with these types of business sources. We put them in a room with a suggested list of questions and gave them a 4-5 minutes to speak to one another about their mutual needs and rotated them around so everyone could speak to all the parties on each side. In total, there were about 20 representatives on each side.
At the end of the day, the feedback spoke for itself. Most of it, without going into great detail though, came in the form of “I didn’t know they would do that ” or “ I had a misunderstanding of this ”. Without getting into specifics, the collaboration clearly opened eyes to each side in a very meaningful way and corrected prior assumptions and understandings of what each side was expecting from the other and what they were willing to do to accomplish goals that aligned mutually.
In some instances, these interactions are a bit more intimate. Corbett is an industry standard in classrooms. They supply furniture to many school districts, mostly here in PA, as they are headquartered in Norristown, PA. So why are they so different? As I noted above, they have the right DNA.
Corbett has taken upon themselves to reach out to education community and invite them to interact with them. They have a maker space on steroids, called Flux, that showcases the abilities for school districts to make interactive learning spaces. But it does not end there. Districts are encouraged to come to Flux and experience training modules and other various events and activities. It is not all about STEM and most importantly, making a sale for the business. The approach at Corbett surrounds fostering collaborative opportunities between education and industry to remove the standardized educational experience and create connections with the community and workforce of the future as well.
However many opportunities offered through industry, unlike the examples above, are often random acts of kindness, rarely getting to the heart of the issue by failing to clearly understand what is being asked. This reverts back to the contextual messaging. Business need to know specifically how they can help. Is it support for early childhood education, internship programs, teacher in the workforce, or just information on what soft skills employers are looking for. Each side needs ensure their messaging is clear, otherwise a school ends up with a donated piece of machinery verses learning what job skills are important to that specific business to help enrich students for their future in the workforce.
While this may seem like it should not be a hard task, it is sometimes the hardest to overcome. How then, can you qualify the opportunities available? Taking a local grassroots approach is often the best first step. While not ultimately a goal of education, industry loves to have local talent, the ability to help mold that local talent, and to keep that talent local. Community Colleges, by example, generally curtail their curriculum to local industries and are often a good source to connect with. Any local chamber of business and industry is another great resource. Whereas something that was rarely found in the past, now mostly all chambers have a dedicated team handling workforce development and can provide educators with input on what the job force is looking for.
Additionally, there are several local and nationwide associations that can offer insight into the needs of of industry. In PA, The Pennsylvania workforce development is one such association. Another source is any STEM Ecosystem that a school district might sit in. Most ecosystems not only focus on shining a light on STEM in the classroom and providing resources and connections to workforce development. Business and industries often work with ecosystems on workforce needs and initiatives. Lastly, local governmental representatives often hear from local industry on some of the pitfalls they are experiencing, so contacting your local state representative may bear fruit as well.
One thing is for certain, when education and industry work together with a mutual understanding of each other’s goals and objective, the outcomes are stellar. Both industry and education are interdependent on one another for a host a different reasons. Those primarily are that industry needs workers that are trained for new technology and skill sets. They depend on schools to provide or encourage certain skills and education basics of the modern working world needed to allow students to be successful in the workplace of the future. Conversely, education requires the support of industry to provide training opportunities, input on workforce needs, and to spark the interest of the future workforce.
When both sides are willing and have the correct understanding of the other’s needs, much can be accomplished to secure a meaningful relationship between education and industry to supply the diverse needs to support the objectives of each. Connecting the dots with the right interested parties on both sides is all it takes to make an improvement for the work force of tomorrow.
L Roeg Williamson, JD, CCM, CLMP is an industry representative on the executive team for the ENGINE of Central PA, which is a collaborative network evaluating and cultivating cross-sector partnerships between industry and education. He has over 20 years’ experience in the insurance industry and is also an adjunct professor for the Sigmund Wise School of Business at his alma matter, Susquehanna University. He can be reached through LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/lrewilliamson/ or firstname.lastname@example.org