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BBA Economic Digest: Rethinking the Sheepskin


Rethinking the College Sheep

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The best thing employers can do to improve their business, their workforce and their community is to stop hiring based on four-year college degrees, says Ginni Rometty, former CEO at IBM. First, “value someone’s propensity to learn more than their skills,” Rometty said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit last week. Focusing on someone’s ability to learn, rather than what they’ve already learned, has “completely changed” how she looks at hiring. She said that 43 percent of IBM’s open job requisitions today don’t call for a traditional college diploma. (And yes, they were sometimes printed on actual sheepskins.) My take: We need to rethink hiring, particularly during a time when four-year college can be cost-prohibitive, while associate’s programs, vocational schools, certification courses, bootcamps and other skills-based training are generally more accessible and adaptable to the rapid speed of tech innovations. There is a gap when it comes to the skills students are learning in schools and the ones that are required by employers in the real world. It is for that reason that I want to see the curriculum of community colleges when I go into any given community.

I typically don't hold universities to the same standard because graduates typically leave the area upon graduation, unlike community colleges. Also, most four-year schools don't even think of vocational skills. 

Rometty forsees digital era “was not going to become an inclusive era, ironically. There was going to be haves and have-nots.” Without equal access to tech training and opportunities, “it would leave a lot of people behind.” The pandemic has only exposed and exacerbated this divide.

Apple and Google have been making some waves in the education space in recent months. Google recently launched a new selection of courses under its Google Career Certificates program, which only take about six months to complete and don't require any previous experience.

The courses are designed to prepare those who enroll for in-demand jobs that have median average annual salaries of more than $50,000. Google recently added new courses in tech-focused fields such as user experience design and data analytics.

Apple announced the launch of a new initiative in Alabama called "Ed Farm" back in February, which is aimed to help students, teachers, and adults learn how to code.

In addition to its "Everyone Can Code" curricula, a program it launched in 2016 for integrating more coding education into schools, Apple also announced a new course in July for helping teachers better understand coding to meet the demand for instructors in the field.  

Still, it should be noted that experts say a college degree is critical for most fields. But with more and more tech companies supporting alternative education, it is becoming apparent that high-paying jobs in the tech industry may be accessible to those without the college sheepskin.

Partisan Solutions Are Not Stable

In a world where intellectual property rules, it is human capital -- more so than financial or physical capital -- that drives value. In his book Prosperity, Colin Mayer writes, “Forty years ago, 80 percent of the market value of US corporations was attributable to tangible assets—plant, machinery, and buildings—as against intangibles—licenses, patents, and research and development. Today, intangibles account for 85 percent of the market value of U.S. corporations.” Climate change, relatively open labor markets, and racial and social justice will remain high on the agenda of companies that want to attract the best and the brightest. The best companies ignore the social aspirations of their employees at their peril. "One basic political principle that I’m hearing more CEOs articulate these days, however, is this: Partisan solutions—whether the Affordable Care Act or the Trump tax cut—are not stable," writes Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune. "And business needs certainty if it is going to deal effectively with long-term issues. Regardless of who wins next month, business should use its lobbying might to insist regulatory and tax efforts be bipartisan. Otherwise, the lurch from one political extreme to the other will continue."

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon recently wrote a piece for The Dialogue Project, calling for more “honest, open conversations” to strengthen communities and our nation. He said the U.S. “seems more divided than ever on how to approach everything from climate change to the economy.” Solving those problems will require seeing “past our differences” and listening “intently”; “engaging in a difficult, but respectful, dialogue”; and “hearing, and really thinking about, another opinion more than just thinking about how to refute what they said or just giving your own.” 

Amen to that.

A More Tangible, Meaningful Way

JPMorgan Chase is making a major —read $30 billion over five years—commitment to provide economic opportunity to underserved communities, especially Black and Latinx communities. It includes: • $8 billion to make an additional 40,000 mortgage loans for Black and Latinx households; • $4 billion to help 20,000 Black and Latinx households refinance and lower their mortgage payments; • $14 billion in new loans and equity investments to add 100,000 affordable rental units in underserved communities; • $2 billion in loans to 15,000 small businesses in majority Black and Latinx communities. This is business for the big bank, not charity. But that is the point of stakeholder capitalism, which JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon helped advance last year as head of the Business Roundtable. Says Dimon: “Systemic racism is a tragic part of America’s history. We can do more and do better to break down systems that have propagated racism and widespread economic inequality, especially for Black and Latinx people. It’s long past time that society addresses racial inequities in a more tangible, meaningful way.”

Killer Marketing

One basic precept to successful marketing is to distinguish yourself from the competition. People remember different. The Economic Development Corporation of Utah has been doing that of late with its electronic postcards. The simplicity -- a graphic and then two paragraphs telling of a project won -- is what makes them stand out.

Larry Lombardi with Currituck Economic Development in North Carolina takes a different tack. He tells off-the-wall, quirky stories. His newsletters read nothing like the typical marketing reads from most economic development organizations, which is precisely why I read them. In his latest missive -- entitled "Killer Business Opportunities " -- Larry speaks of "uncharted territories are full of huge opportunities. Opportunities you'll miss if you scare too easily. Take the Bates Motel for instance ... " I read Larry's newsletters because they're fun, interesting, and he takes chances. Oh yeah, and I also learn about Currituck County.

Writing Tips from Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Here are three worthy writing tips from the late Supreme Court justice: 1. Constraints will improve your writing. At 272 words, the Gettysburg Address took Abraham Lincoln just two or three minutes to deliver. Writing a short speech is always harder than writing a long one.

After delivering it and sitting down, Lincoln initially thought his speech was a dud. Historians now view it as one of the greatest ever given. 2. Edit ruthlessly. In 1914, British author Arthur Quiller-Couch used a phrase that almost every writer knows today: "murder your darlings." It means that good writing requires ruthless editing. Not easy, but essential. 3. Read it out loud. I have always written for the ear. If you run out of breath when reading your sentences, they're too long. As a former journalist, I can tell you that writing is hard and it takes practice. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.

Entrepreneurial Skills Can Be Taught

There was a time when I believed that entrepreneurship could not be taught -- that you either had an entrepreneurial mindset or you did not. But I now believe that the skills of successful entrepreneurship can be taught, although one size does not fit all. Teachers of entrepreurship should realize that they don't know everything. It seems we all need mentors. If your background is in academia, you should find an entrepreneur to mentor you in real-world realities. By the same token, if you’re an entrepreneur, you should find an academic mentor who can teach you about teaching and principles of business. Just as there are no “right” answers in art, there are often no right answers in entrepreneurship. Instead of focusing on teaching answers, we should focus on teaching skills. Finally, we all learn skills by practicing them. Experiences, not textbooks, are the best way to teach skills. It's how I learned how to play the guitar. In the end, you teach yourself by doing. I've also come to the conclusion that cultivating and growing entrepreneurship is a basic function of economic development, one that should be happening in all communities. Is it happening in your community to your liking?

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