The value of a company is rooted in its people, and sustainable success depends on employees who have critical soft-skills along with required technical capabilities. Adaptability, creativity and innovation are more important than ever. Business has shifted due to years of technological advancement along with the impacts of a global pandemic. A long-simmering issue amidst this environment is how we continue to fill the talent pipeline.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce conducted a study about hiring in the modern marketplace, revealing that 74 percent of hiring managers agree there is a skills gap. Nearly half of those individuals say candidates are lacking the skills needed to fill their available jobs.
Companies that struggle to place the right people in the right positions incur redundant costs, loss of productivity and limit the organization’s potential. As the marketplace shifts in the 21st century, we also need to shift the way we think about the talent pipeline and recruiting employees. Business leaders across all industries need to invest in talent at an earlier stage, and strategic collaborations with higher education institutions are essential to make an impact both in your business and in the lives of the students. Merging what is taught in the classroom with career-relevant skills and practical experience can solve these needs through early, experiential connections to companies.
Our organizations, Systems & Methods Inc. (SMI) and the University of West Georgia (UWG) have a long history of connectivity. Prior to founding SMI, my father, Bob Stone, was a professor at the university. He was integral in launching the first internship program for business students in the 1970s, valuing practical, real-world experience. Through the years, our organizations have consistently collaborated, but we realized that what we are capable of being is beyond what we have been capable of in the past through a long-term strategic partnership.
Most recently, we came together to establish the Stone Center for Family Business, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation within UWG’s Richards College of Business. The center aims to instill a mindset of creative thinking and adaptability across generations of leaders. It is a hub for student programming, faculty engagement and community outreach. A key focus includes programs that engage students in entrepreneurial endeavors, including pitch competitions, seminars and workshops. Mentoring and resources are also available for promising student start-up businesses.
Mutually beneficial partnerships such as the Stone Center strengthen the value of an advanced degree and enable companies to set themselves up for success. In silos, higher education or business cannot fully address pipeline requirements, but working together creates creative opportunities for executives and educators.
Opportunities for Business:
Partnering with a higher education institution in a more significant way is an investment, but it offers great value through exposure to new student talent and academic expertise. Businesses should consider the following benefits:
• Informal Talent Recruitment: The partnership provides an informal process in recruitment. Companies have the opportunity to witness first-hand students’ abilities before they enter the marketplace, as well as have conversations with those students about in-demand skill sets. This informal recruitment can provide access to a more diverse group of candidates than those that traditionally might apply to an entry-level or internship position.
• New Perspectives: Companies gain valuable insight and perspective from the future workforce. The creative juices naturally flow out of hungry and eager business students.
• Research Capabilities: A business may take advantage of the results of high-level research and development accomplished by students and faculty through class projects and assignments.
• Practical Experience: Exposing students to real-world scenarios helps to shape expectations for students before they make commitments post-graduation. In the case of SMI, we are a family-owned and -operated business in its second and third generations of leadership, which provides some unique challenges as well as opportunities. Students who have an understanding of these nuances will be better-positioned for success. This benefit is specific to our company, yet about 90 percent of American businesses are family-owned or -controlled, so this can be realized widely throughout the marketplace.
Opportunities for Higher Education:
The landscape of higher education is undergoing transformative change, and universities must proactively respond to the needs and expectations of students and businesses. Students seek relevant knowledge, skills and abilities, and the modern institution must also be aligned with industry demands to best position these students for success in the marketplace.
Strategic partnerships that foster experiential learning at all stages of a university education are critical to addressing the talent pipeline. UWG grants its students a competitive advantage with the resources and mentorship available through the Stone Center.
Leaders in higher education must acknowledge that working with the business community is critical to staying relevant. Educators should consider the following when facilitating these partnerships:
• Be Honest: Higher education is not getting everything right for America, and business leaders can help with that. Be open and honest about the strengths and opportunities that exist. Candid conversations can unlock insights that benefit all involved.
• Leverage Resources: Collaboration can be key to making the student experience more valuable. A partnership with a private firm can add value that is not being created by the institution alone.
• Consider Long-term Planning: Keep working the problem. Strategic partnerships take time to cultivate and realize the outcomes. UWG and SMI have a 50-year history together, and the Stone Center was the culmination and maturation of that work.
• Take Ownership: It is incumbent on higher education leaders to foster relationships that lead to relevant and practical learning opportunities. Part of the success of the Stone Center will depend on current and future faculty whose individual areas of expertise will help drive the curriculum development and enhancement of courses, seminars, workshops and programs.
Establishing Partnerships Together
Forming a mutually beneficial partnership is not a quick-turn event and requires commitment on both sides. It is important to begin with the end goal in mind, stay close and make it an ongoing conversation. Business leaders must be aware of the skill gaps in their organization and communicate those, while educators need to be transparent about their resources available and where there are opportunities for increased community involvement. Success is achieved when all share ownership of the problem and are invested in the outcomes.
All types of companies, regardless of size or type of ownership, can take a step in this direction. Involvement can be unique and scalable. At the Stone Center, we invite other regional companies to participate in the programming and events. This exposes students to a diverse mix of organizations and business leaders. Strategic partnerships between businesses and higher education will equip the future workforce to best address the skills gap and be more prepared as they launch – or advance – their careers.