Panel Discussion: Educating America's Workers for Tomorrow's Jobs

How is the global workforce changing and what do America’s employers need from today’s universities to address and leverage those changes?

The following is from the blog of this panel discussion, "Educating America’s Workers for Tomorrow’s Jobs," which was part of SMU's Centennial Academic Symposium on Nobember 11, 2011. The entries were posted in brief increments as the discussion progressed and have not been edited. The times indicate when the entries were made.

The panel was asked to discuss "How is the global workforce changing and what do America’s employers need from today’s universities to address and leverage those changes? "

The panel was moderated by Albert W. Niemi Jr., dean of SMU's Edwin L. Cox School of Business; and included William A. Blase Jr., senior executive vice president of Human Resources at AT&T; W. Michael Cox, director of the William J. O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom in SMU's Edwin L. Cox School of Business; Philip D. Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University; and Duy-Loan Le, senior fellow at Texas Instruments, Board of Directors, National Instruments.


A. Niemi: Thank you. It's great to have you all on campus today.


Dean Niemi is introducing the panelists, who will take their seats at the panel momentarily.


W. Blase: Hello. I'm the guy from the corporate side.


W. Blase: We are constantly in the market for hiring individuals. I'm going to tell you what our challenges are.


Blase: AT&T has more than 256,000 employees in 60 countries. About 160,000 of those are union employees. We are the largest union employer in the world.


Blase: We have 100 million wireless subscribers.


Blase: We are heavy on innovation. We have 40,000 technical jobs, whether IT, engineers, supervisors.


Blase: Here's the issue that we've got. Demand for skilled workers is increasing; at the same time, availability of US workers with required skills is dropping.

There is a big shortage of key skilled folks.


Blase: AT&T has high employment demand in areas with predicted talent shortages -- the STEM skills.


BLase: We have multiple generations of workers in our workforce.


Blase: We as leaders at AT&T have to make sure the new generations coming in have avenues for growth.


Blase: We've got $110 million dollars into programs aimed at getting students graduating from high school.


Blase: Recruiting. We've got leading edge recruiting. We have a bunch of new hire programs, such as internships.


Blase: We're reaching out. We've got about a million people out there who are potential applicants who we stay in contact with via social networking. So when jobs open up we have access to that talent.


Blase: Once they're at AT&T, how to get them from potentially leaving. We spend $500 million a year on training. We have close to 18 million hours a year we do on training. We developed a leadership academy designed here at SMU. Fortune magazine just recognized us among the top companies for leadership. We're amping up mentoring.


Blase: We hire 30,000 people from the street. We're using our own social networking tool so employees can populate it with their own skills and talents, so that people aren't lost in the system. Hopefully that will cut down on churn.


Blase: For our extraordinary leadership:

Character is the large pole in the tent. Yes, you've got to get results, but you've got to do it in an appropriate manner.

We need people who can see around corners and spot trends.

And personal accountability -- people who can fundamentally do their job.


Blase: What we need from SMU:

The Gen Y'ers and Millennials are much more demanding. They want the university to get them prepared.


Blase: We've got to get kids moving into STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.


BLase: Also, teaming skills. It doesn't matter if you're a rocket scientist if you can't work collaboratively. That is very fundamental. So educators should make sure they have kids working in a teaming environment.


Blase: Presentation skills. Teach them eye contact.

Critical thinking. How to solve problems. I want the folks who come into the company to anticipate and know when there's an issue coming up.


Blase: Project Management Skills. Emotional maturity and good citizens. Show them by example how to behave.


Blase: Opportunities to learn businesses. Bring us into the classroom. Get them into internships. It makes a world of difference to them. And a diverse student body. Our customer base is increasingly diverse. Our diverse body has to reflect the diverse body of cultures that our in the country.


Blase: Thank you. I'll be ready for questions later.


Niemi: Thank you Bill.

Next is Michael Cox.


Cox: I'm going to give the perspective from the labor market as an economist. I'm going to talk about education, which I see as the key to sustaining the American Dream.


Cox: This is a subject of much consternation in America.


Cox: Data show our Middle Class in the agrarian age was poor. The true Middle Class in America was born of the Industrial Age.


Cox: Today, 82% of Americans work in services.


Cox: So what about the American Middle Class?

Let's think about capital, productivity and wages.

For Industrial Worker, the key was physical capital to raise productivity and wages. Now it's knowledge capital, delivering knowledge services.


Cox: Intellectual capital is the key to the service worker's productivity.


Cox: Looking at the date, we see that education is the key to upper income, upper middle income and middle income as well.


Cox: Looking at trends in the value of education, we see that something's going on to lower wages for Bachelor's Wages.

Corporations aren't valuing what we're producing. The incremental value of a Bachelor's Degree over a high school education is shrinking.


Cox. One of the things we have to face is why this is happening. Degrees in hard sciences, one of the STEM sciences, are the higher paid degrees.

Why do liberal arts degrees earn less? I don't think they have to.


Cox: If you look at the salaries, yes some of the variations in income can be explained by the school you went to, and some individuals are going to work harder than others, but there's still something else going on with the relative value of degrees.

You can barely get into the middle class with some of the degrees people graduate with.


Cox: Equipping today's youth with knowledge that's valuable in the marketplace -- that's our job.


Niemi: Our next panelist is Philip Gardner


Gardner: My institute studies the transition from college to work.


Gardner: In previous decades, just had to stretch from the university to the workplace. We didn't have to have a lot of knowledge of the workplace. Our first job was 5-7 years on average. So we learned about the job before our career took off.


Gardner: For young people today, they are essentially in free fall. The jump from the university while the other side is moving away from them at an accelerating rate. Currently with the economy it's like landing on shale. They can't get any traction. It's also a superhuman feat because they have to jump up, given the employer's expectations.


Gardner: Because of workplace demographics, it has really realigned labor. Traditional starting jobs are gone. They have to start from the get go as star performers. They have no choice. I don't care what major you are in.


Gardner: Here's what's happening, some skills have been pulled out as the most critical:

Build and sustain professional relationships

Plan and manage a project

Analyze, evaluate and interpret data

Engaging in continuous learning

Communicate through persuasion and justification

Create new knowledge

Seek global understanding

Mentor and develop others

Build a team

And the Holy Grail: Initiative


Gardner: So there are two choices here. You can be a technically trained liberal arts graduate or a liberally educated technical graduate.

Technical means:

Quantitative literacy

Scientific literacy

Computer literacy

Systems/engineering literacy


Gardner: Big companies are all working in systems concepts. You don't work in a job you work in a system. This economy is all about crossing boundaries, cultural boundaries, communication boundaries, teamwork, and and knowing who you are. What values you have, what's my rudder, you have to have a spiritual dimension. The company is not taking care of you much anymore.


Gardner: You have to extend learning into different contexts. Internships and experiences in the business world are required. This has to be validated as a legitimate exercise. The faculty have a critical role in endorsing contextual learning.


Gardner: Students must be able to tell their story to an employer in words that make sense to them. Kids have wonderful experiences in civic engagement and study abroad but they don't know how to tell it in a meaningful way, in a way that adds value to the employers.


Gardner: Being a professional has to be embodied in the curriculum. This has been very difficult. Faculty are really scared of that.


Gardner: We need to have evangelists. We need someone out there to articulate what the value of a liberal arts education is, combined with technical skills. We don't have any evangelists on the liberal arts side who speak to who we are and what these kids can do.

That's all I have to say.


Dean Niemi is introducing Duy-Loan Le from Texas Instruments.


Le: I'm going to speak to you from the perspective of a technologist, a practicing engineer, and as a mother, who wants to raise her children to be decent people, and from the perspective of someone who has traveled the world.


Le: Developed country populations are shrinking, while the developing nation population is expanding. That is going to create expanding diversity.


Le: People are also living longer. They will be working longer. So there will be a more multi-generational workforce.


Le: That will create its own challenges. We're going to have to learn to co-exist more.


Le: Technology has redefined jobs. Jobs are being off-shored. Even simple surgery can be performed remotely. It's also forcing us to work longer. That creates a different kind of global competiton.


Le: Finally, education in America, Masters and PhDs, are highly prized by people in other countries. That's why parents send their children to America. But after Sept. 11, it's a lot harder to come and a lot harder to stay. Those countries are also becoming more developed, and they are trying to attract their educated children back.


Le: The focus of education in developed nations is very highly focused.


Le: I worry that innovation is going to come more and more from those countries.


Le: Just look at what China doing: working on forming its own Ivy League school so they don't have to depend on America.


Le: Without people in STEM, I worry what America is going to become 20 years from now.


Le: So as an executive at TI, what do I want to see in the employees who come in:

Subject matter knowledge -- whatever that you need to do your job technically, whether marketing or civil or engineering. And that's easily assessed with a test, or printed on a diploma.


Le: The second is Live Skill Knowledge. It's harder to teach:

Critical thinking -- handling complex problems and thinking creatively. Writing and effective listening. Collaboration and working with people with different views. Working with different cultures and backgrounds. Relationship building -- working in a team. Ethics and integrity and accountability. Handling a crisis. Time and stress management. Those are the skills.

If I have two candidates equally good, and one is good in the soft skill knowledge also, and I'm forced to choose one, guess which one I would choose? The Soft Skill knowledge requires years of development.


Le: Thank you.


Dr. Niemi invies the panelists to the stage.


Dr. Niemi: Competition in the marketplace is intense. What business is wanting today is a very focused skill set.


Niemi: Our market has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.

Bill, you mentioned that half the kids, especially minority, only about half finish high school in Texas. If you don't have a Bachelor's Degree you're basically going to have a life of poverty in America today.


Blase: We're trying to get more kids through high school graduation and interested in technical fields. This is a long term issue over the next 30 years. I do agree that we can train people that come to AT&T, but it's very difficult to do that. It's important that we have more and more folks in technology.


Cox: Answer is privatizing education. We're really seeing the success of private schools. They've gone into tough areas. I think that's the solution to getting the minorities educated and excited.


Gardner: Wow. I think we need to back up this whole process of what young people can do. The transition into college is a major one. We get a lot of minority students, they come with very high expectations that they're going to be engineers, and they run into math right away. You can't get into medicine if you can't get past organic chemistry. And they get frustrated. We've got to rethink that. They flunk calculus twice. We're throwing lots of resources at it, but they're not very effective. Maybe we need to get them into college in a different environment earlier. Everything in their world is a pressure to not graduate. It's a struggle everyday.


Gardner: I had one student, young African American, was missing classes on a sporadic basis. I called him in, and he said he's taking care of individuals in his family. A lot of these young minority students are trying to take care of a lot of different people.


Niemi: What if we educate all these students in the STEM fields and the jobs aren't there. E.G. Apple employs 46,000 people in the US and more than a million in China. So are the jobs going to be there?


Le: Dean, this is really unfair. That is a question that is being asked by people 10 times smarter than me. Read recently about a Vietnamese girl who wakes up at 3 am every morning to take care of younger siblings and when she comes home from school she cooks supper. A 14 year old girl is that driven, because she's been taught since birth that she will be an educated person. The first 12 years of a person's life are extremely important. They must be taught they will get an education.


Le; You know about the Asian mom's. I'm very strict and very disciplined. Both of these boys will not be engineers. But they must take advanced math. I pulled them out of private school and put them into public school to prepare them for the global competition. My son is competing in a diverse environment. That is what we must do for our children.


Blase: I just wanted to make a comment about off-shoring. It's primarily a function of talent. To the extent we can have more people better qualified, you'll see fewer and fewer of these jobs shipped overseas.


Le: I would like to add, survival of the fittest. But there are also lots of jobs that can't be offshored. So let's prepare our kids for those jobs.


The moderator thanks the panelists for their time as the session adjourns.


The SMU Centennial Symposium is breaking for lunch. Join us again for the next panel discussion, "The 21st-Century Multicultural City," at 1:30 p.m.



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