When we began the Global Workforce Initiative (GWI) at the Georgia Department of Education, we thought our biggest challenge would be convincing businesses to get involved with the K-12 education community. Although the “skills gap” in our workforce is universally acknowledged as one of the fundamental problems in 21st century education, we found the level of engagement between business leaders and educators to be shockingly low. Each side seemed to be pointing at the other saying, “they don’t understand what we need” – and blaming mind-numbing bureaucracy, historical apathy, and vitriolic politics for the lack of progress (heck, effort) towards bridging the gap. As a result, our mandate – to recruit business partners who would contribute training materials, classroom mentoring time, and executive advice & guidance – seemed daunting, even though we weren’t asking them for money!
Fortunately, we were given a head start by the German business community in Georgia – and Siemens in particular. It’s much easier for German businesses to put these types of partnerships into context – it’s part of their heritage – and their view of issues like workforce development tends to be much longer-term than that of their American counterparts. As a result, we moved relatively quickly (light speed for the education community) in getting their help revising the 10th-12th grade curriculum for our Manufacturing career pathway. The courses in this pathway will be piloted in schools in the communities where Siemens operates, giving students access to expertise and hands-on experiences that would not otherwise be available. Ultimately, these courses will be made available throughout Georgia, and our partnership with Siemens will become the template for similar collaborative efforts with other business partners.
So, the next step would be to recruit a Siemens-like business partner for every career pathway; again, a daunting challenge. However, along the way, we made a great discovery: businesses around our State, including privately-held American companies (traditionally the most nearsighted of all), have begun engaging directly with their local school districts on similar, home-grown programs. These business leaders have apparently found the same motivations that caused me to step over the divide between business and education: (1) helping to make your community better is just good business; (2) the best source of quality workers is your backyard; and (3) nothing shows your employees that you care about them like working to improve the schools attended by their kids.
As a result, our work in expanding the GWI and making it sustainable should be made easier: these local public-private partnerships have already proved the concept in their respective career pathways, so we can “cut to the chase” and begin broadcasting their business-approved skills-based curriculum across our State. The benefits to our students and to the Georgia economy are tremendous: the local districts are a force multiplier and their efforts will shave years off of the process of tailoring the high school curriculum to narrow the skills gap. Additionally, we can now redouble our efforts to put skills-based learning “in context” by building applied courses in traditional core subjects like reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies for delivery in middle school and even – in the case of world languages – as far back as elementary school. By capturing the attention and imagination of children at a young age, we can get them to recognize the value of skills-based learning, thereby greatly increasing their chances of long-term economic success while dramatically reducing the odds of their dropping out of high school.
In a sea of bad news about education, these public-private partnerships are a ray of hope – there is a New World out there on the horizon and, if we keep working together (instead of complaining), we will get there. So, get your business involved in education – locally, regionally, and nationally – at a minimum, your employees will thank you, their productivity will increase, and you’ll probably find some great prospects for future employment among the students with whom you interact. Now that’s a great ROI, no matter how short or long you measure the results.
Full disclosure: We probably won’t see the full benefits of our work in our lifetimes. Don’t forget, however, that we have all benefited greatly from the long-term societal investments of our forbears. Pay it forward.
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