Thursday, 06 September 2018 19:09

Preparing the Workforce For Jobs of the Future Featured

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IT WILL TAKE A COMBINED EFFORT FROM EDUCATIONAL AND BUSINESS INSTITUTIONS TO DRIVE THE AMERICAN ECONOMY IN THE HIGH-TECH YEARS TO COME.

BY JERRY ROCHE

Preparing future workers for success in the global marketplace is so important that President Donald Trump’s administration has aimed several new measures at the issue. “Workforce development is a critical part of our infrastructure proposal that the White House sent to Congress” First Daughter Ivanka Trump said recently, during a trip to Iowa to learn about one school district’s experiential learning program — where students work directly with local businesses.

Further proof of the importance of a knowledgeable workforce was evident when Jennifer Taylor, vice president of U.S. Jobs at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), recently moderated a round table sponsored by her organization. Focus of the discussion was the problem created by sweeping industry and workforce changes, some of which are already here, some of which are coming.

“The U.S. labor force is experiencing radical disruption,” Taylor said. “The shift from low-skilled to high-skilled workers is happening right before our eyes.

She noted that the domestic unemployment level (3.9 percent at this writing) is the lowest in years. But many jobs remain open in the tech sector that require medium-or high-skilled backgrounds, certifications or education.

“Six million people still are not working — so companies, our education community and our policies all need to be involved,” Taylor continued. “If we take a holistic approach, we can prepare future workers as well as existing workers to meet these demands.

“And once someone has started to work, it is absolutely critical that both the worker and the employer continue to encourage the worker to learn new skills. They may be more technical skills or management and soft skills.

THE SKILLS GAP

David Lewis is president and CEO of Operations, Inc., a national human resources consulting firm. “The biggest issue right now is that there’s a disconnect that a lot of our clients are seeing between education and business,” he said.

He believes that it takes a joint effort by the employee and employer to make sure that people are suited for the new job market. Employees need to find state-supported apprenticeship programs and grants while employers need to find colleges, universities — and even high schools and middle schools like the one Trump visited in Iowa — that are feeding prospective employees to their businesses.

“We’re not turning out enough students that fill the tech sector by far in this country,” Lewis said. “There’s also a big problem in what the schools are actually teaching. That is, students are coming out ill-prepared to take on a lot of these roles.

“For anybody who’s my age or older, [the perception] of manufacturing is mostly men standing on an assembly line, doing manual work, and that’s not what it is. Manufacturing, as an industry, as a sector, needs a reboot, needs a rebrand, because parents are not sending their kids to college thinking, ‘I want them to have a manufacturing career,’ unless they truly understand that manufacturing at Toyota is a high-tech job, that manufacturing at Amazon is a high-tech job.

Operations, Inc., tells smaller companies to consider partnerships at the very basic level as a long-term plan. “You’re not going to out-spend bigger companies,” Lewis observed, “and you’re not going to out-brand them. Competing in markets like Silicon Valley or New York City is just not a fight that smaller companies can win. They have to look, longer term, at ways to feed their systems.”

Hilary Cain is director of Technology and Innovation Policy at Toyota, which has produced more than 1 million cars since 1988.

“As products and the processes for manufacturing them become more sophisticated and complicated, workforce needs in the high-skilled space are expanding,” Cain began, citing domestic companies involved in artificial intelligence (A.I.) and data science. On top of those high-skilled professions, there is a new demand for cybersecurity professionals. “[Because] we are competing for a workforce with folks like Amazon, Google and sexy Silicon Valley companies, we have to try to convince people that there’s also a lot of sexiness in working in the auto industry.”

One of the steps Toyota has taken to attract and keep people is instituting an Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) degree.

“Along with our 8,000 employees who work on the line, we have robots,” said Cain. “The AMTs maintain the robots. These are high-skilled positions, and colleges and high schools were not graduating people with skillsets that we needed.

The two-year AMT graduates get an associate’s degree in Applied Science. It consists of two eight-hour classroom days per week and three days working on the production line as an apprentice. The “classroom” is a mock manufacturing floor. The program has expanded to 22 community colleges in nine states. About 800 students participate, and 95 percent of them find employment with Toyota or a company with similar positions available.

“Some folks even choose to go on to a four-year degree and become engineers,” Cain pointed out.

Meanwhile, Walmart is taking its own path toward pairing candidates with available jobs.

“We have partnered with the Walmart Foundation to invest about $100 million over five years into the retail workforce specifically,” said Sara Decker, who is in the Federal Government Affairs Department at Walmart.

“This past year, we opened 200 ‘academies’ that train associates in customer service, including how to use technology to interface with the customer in a positive way.”

Walmart is the largest employer in the country whose current CEO started at the company as a teenager — so workers are near and dear to his heart.

“A big challenge is figuring out how you train somebody for a job that doesn’t even exist yet,” observed Decker. “So lifelong learning will have to become our reality in the future. We’re excited about where the workforce is going, and where technology is taking it.

Likewise, Amazon has instituted a Career Choice Program.

“After a year of working for the company,” said Steve Hartell, director of Amazon’s U.S. Public Policy, “employees can go back to school, and we will pay 95 percent of the tuition, up front, and books. Now we’re building glass classrooms inside our fulfillment centers. We did it in glass so that everybody who walks by sees and is inspired by those employees taking classes.”

Amazon has open-sourced the program, too.

“The White House asked us to come talk to them about it ” Hartell continued. “We’re also talking about this program in state capitals around the country."

” What if Career Choice Program employees choose to leave Amazon after having their continuing education paid for?

“We’re okay with that. That’s the idea. It’s an enlightened kind of self-interest. We want to facilitate the [perception] that it’s a career pathway.”

FOCUS ON YOUNGSTERS

Getting youngsters involved in science,technology, engineering and/or mathematics (STEM) careers is not an easy task. According to Amazon’s Hartell, 60 percent of high schools don’t have a computer-science department, and only 14 percent of them offer an advance placement test in computer science.

“The challenge is how you provide problem-solving, hands-on information about computer science or STEM in a way that’s approachable,” said Hartell. “Children are concerned about how it’s perceived. Is it cool?”

His company has a boot camp that ushers youngsters (K through 3) into an inside tour to talk about invention. “That’s inspirational,” Hartell said. “We also give them craft projects where their experience is creative and fun and is giving those kids the building blocks of a career.”

Another Amazon program is Coder Dojo, a weekend 140-country program that opens up office space to seek mentors for students up to middle school. It’s free.

“It’s really important to get kids at an early age interested, in a way that’s not off-putting but engaging,” Hartell concluded. Wynn Coggins is deputy chief administrative officer at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). She, too, believes in promoting occupations in the high-skilled STEM fields. For example, her office partners with the National Inventors Hall of Fame on two projects.

“One is Camp Invention,” Coggins said. “These are summer camps that elementary- school kids can go to. They use household products where they get their hands dirty, and they get to put things together. It really focuses on STEM and intellectual property (I.P.). And it brings to them this awareness of how important it is to be able to protect those ideas,” which is what the USPTO is all about.

The office also partners with the Inventors Hall of Fame on an annual competition among college undergraduates and graduates, “just to bring awareness to I.P.”

Other USPTO projects are a Summer Teacher’s Institute; the establishment of an I.P. Patch for the Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital organization; and famous inventor (Steve Wozniak, Thomas Edison, etc.) collectible cards.

“All those show how we’ve moved the needle in the [STEM] awareness space,” Coggins said.

But having a career in the STEM disciplines does not guarantee success for any employee.

“Sometimes soft skills need a little bit of attention if a person is coming in with a science or an engineering background,” so the USPTO sends all its managers to a four- or five-day leadership forum and offers a robust mentorship program that pairs hundreds of mentors and protégés together. The latter is a nine-month formal annual program.

“People are put together who would never have a chance to converse otherwise,” Coggins said. “Top executives are paired with entry-level patent examiners, for instance, and they learn from each other. Remember, learning is not just from the top down, it’s from the bottom up, too.

“A lot of these partnerships last past nine months to become career-long connections. It’s a great employee engagement tool, as well as a knowledge transfer tool.”

Toyota has also implemented programs whereby it brings elementary and middle school kids into plants to get exposure to what it’s like to work on a manufacturing floor these days.

“There are lots of manufacturing opportunities, but we also have an incredible need at our dealerships for trained technicians to work on vehicles,” Cain further noted. “This is not grease monkey work anymore, either … because today’s vehicles are highly computerized.

“Not everything requires a four-year degree, but none of this works if you don’t have investment from the top: senior leaders, most-senior CEOs, senior executives.”

TRANSITIONING THE WORKFORCE

“Focusing on the technical pieces are really, really important, but to be a well-rounded employee capable of pulling off a lot of these jobs, you’ve got to have soft skills — communication, public speaking, problem-solving — too,” said Toyota’s Cain.

“It is absolutely critical that both the worker and the employer continue to encourage the worker to learn new skills,” added Taylor. “They may be more technical skills or management and soft skills.”

Operations, Inc. CEO Lewis chipped in: “Forget what it says on resumes. You have to take people [whose careers ended in one discipline] and retrain them, using state retraining credits, and then you re-deploy those individuals into new careers.”

It doesn’t help that the Millennial generation views job-hopping as entrepreneurship. Rather than be retrained by their employers, Millennials seek to pair their specialty at whatever company they can find.

“They know where the grass is greener, and they go to that grass far more often than their predecessors did,” observed Lewis. “But the other key point is they’re also incapable of disconnecting. And employers need to really emphasize this now, both by setting the example, but also by establishing policies around the idea that when you come to a meeting or when you’re sitting in a discussion with somebody else, you either have to turn the phone off or you actually have to put it away. And that’s really hindering the  Millennial in the workforce because their inability to do that — unless they’re working with other Millennials who are doing the same thing — is fostering a communication gap.”

Rotational-type training can help transition the workforce, according to Cain.

“At Toyota, people move within the company from one department to another unlinked department,” she said. “One day they’re in marketing, and the next day they’re in product planning, and then all of a sudden they’re working at the A.I. company.

“I thought it was strange at first, but now I’ve come to see that what it does is create employees that do two things. One, they’re well rounded, so as they move up the ranks they’ve had exposure from everything to H.R. to engineering to product planning to sales and marketing. But also it creates people who are more willing to jump in on something that’s not familiar to them, to take risks.

“It fits into the lifelong learning idea in that it challenges people and pushes them in new directions. It’s probably intended, but when I came into the company it seemed bizarre."

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