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Making the Grade

Missing Learning Development Link: Government

Chief learning officers are in the unique position to tell politicians and academics what is needed.

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All columnists should take their own advice regularly, if for no other reason than to show some empathy for their readers. In past columns, I’ve posited ideas for how business and higher education can work together to develop tomorrow’s workforce today. Those columns encouraged CLOs to reach out to their counterparts in higher education.

I decided to do some of this outreach myself recently, and I worked with Wayne Smutz, dean of continuing education and extension at UCLA, to put together an event to bring together businesses and academic leaders to discuss innovation and creating jobs. Smutz leads the academics, finances and operations for a $54.5 million enterprise; he receives no state or campus funding. He’s learned how to bring people together to get things done. He encourages as many high-ranking executives and their counterparts in higher education as possible to meet around a table because he said he finds one-on-one meetings move audacious agendas too slowly.

The conversations I was part of during our four-hour event focused on how best to build workforce skills. We looked at ways to bring high school students into higher education; these are students, some from low-income areas, who may never have considered science, technology, engineering or math careers. With business leaders around the table, we were able to start outlining what it would take to get these students qualified to fill jobs that California employers have openings for now and, in all likelihood, in the future.

According to Smutz, it’s easier to advance a cause if you’re solving problems in real-time. I saw the beginnings of that at our meeting. I also saw the group propel its conversation forward on the spot by creating a LinkedIn group for participants to use to keep formulating and exchanging ideas.

As excited as I am to say this sort of approach works, I learned there’s a missing link: Government leaders are part of the workforce conversation. In San Diego, for example, Dean Joe Shapiro of the San Diego State University College of Extended Studies recently brought together leaders from academia, business and government to spark conversations about workforce innovation. Like Smutz, Shapiro sees these roundtables as an important way to create a space for collaboration.

In San Diego, Mayor Kevin Faulconer noted the “growing chasm between good paying, middle-class job openings and workers with the skills to fill them.”

With the cooperation of businesses like Qualcomm and the San Diego Community College District, Faulconer launched his OpportunityWORKS task force to focus business and education on five careers that promise higher pay and growth for San Diegans. The task force also teamed up with business leaders to give students, especially in minority neighborhoods, a taste of STEM education and high-tech careers. One way they’re doing this is by opening labs inspired by the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab, which brings sixth- to eighth-grade students from all backgrounds into a facility to learn about programming, robotics, and how an office works.

The San Diego mayor’s aim is aligned with what business leaders want and higher education can provide: educated workers. For example, roundtable discussions between San Diego’s officials, business leaders and educators spurred Faulconer to create economic incentives for companies in advanced manufacturing, health care and information technology to open or expand operations in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. Educators see this as a way to expose students to available jobs, which in turn sparks an interest in studying. Businesses become visible to an entire pool of potential employees who, with the right instruction, can fill out the workforce rosters at these firms in the years ahead.

The catalyst for arranging these types of meetings can and should be the CLO. In the meeting I was part of with Smutz, CLOs were at the table. There’s no reason CLOs can’t orchestrate the meetings.

Any savvy government official understands the importance of keeping businesses on the tax rolls. Higher education sees each company as the punctuation mark for a student’s course of study. CLOs are uniquely qualified to tell both politicians and academics what’s needed in the way of support.

Lee Maxey is CEO of MindMax, a marketing and enrollment management services company. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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