This article is part of our campaign for helping students and graduates find a rewarding job as part of the association’s mission. In a series of publications, we analyze the importance of leadership and what aspects to consider when entering a leader’s role.
The Crisis in Education
In recent years, analysts, students and tutors alike have noticed a growing discrepancy between skills taught in college and university and real-life skills needed to excel at work. That has been a growing concern for most organizations as well. They have been increasingly worried that the young people they hire may not have all the skills they would need to perform well on the job. It has been a global problem, having been reported the world over.
Employers in Russia, for example, have been in talks with the Ministry of Education and Science in order to identify what they could do jointly in order to improve the quality of higher education in the country and to better align the educational programmes on offer with the requirements of the Russian economy. Official statistics from the capital Moscow indicate that half of the city’s unemployed youth have been graduates of higher education institutions, and the trend has remained in the past five years.
Unemployed graduates in Zimbabwe have been campaigning in protest of poor employment prospects. They have been called out as “having the wrong skills for the local economy” after having invested in higher education, with the hope of securing good jobs with their degrees and the acquired knowledge. Another example is India, where a 2015 analysis EY estimated that about 75% of higher education graduates in the country are not considered employable.
What Can Employers and Companies do to Help?
Suppose you are an employer and would like to develop and nurture talent as early as possible. In that case, you can help exceptional young people bridge the gap between education and employment while at the same time training and getting new talent for your team. It’s a solution to the staff shortage issues many organizations have and solves the problem of lack of employable people in today’s job market. Here are some ways you can help.
Funding universities and scholarships. Your commercial activity could provide fuel for education by way of sponsorships and scholarships. Such programs work especially well if you plan them well in advance and think strategically about which colleges and universities to support. If you decide to start a scholarship program, you can do that through an educational institution or by having students apply for financial aid directly with your organization. You can combine that with mentorship programs and other forms of support.
Innovating education. Education has been ripe for innovation for decades. In its current form, it better serves 19th century production lines rather than contemporary organizations with needs and interests way beyond the simple production of goods and services. Today’s big organizations have goals and aspirations which employees should recognise as their own and participate in. Therefore, any form of innovation that you could provide would be gladly accepted by students, as well as by many educational institutions. Think not only in terms of technological support but also whether you could add to the curriculum or the way it’s being taught.
Volunteer programs for your employees. What did you want to be as a kid? What did you dream of doing when you became a grown-up? If your answer is anything along the lines of “teacher”, you’re lucky. The same goes for your employees. There are many organizations that recruit high school and college educators from the ranks of all fields. You can research and encourage your employees to join such organizations, or you could start such an initiative of your own. Your local schools and colleges would very likely be happy to receive such a form of support from you and your team.
Apart from these somewhat innovative ways of helping young people succeed and creating jobs, there are two traditional forms of supporting the educational system and young graduates.
Internship programs have been a traditional way for many organisations to help young people develop the skills that would make them more employable, as well as to find great talent and recruit them early on. Such programs have many benefits for students and young graduates, such as:
Improved skills and knowledge. Young people get the chance to apply what they have learned in a real-life work environment and to develop their skills further. They get to see if they have any gaps in their knowledge and learn how to overcome them.
Better “soft skills”. People who become interns develop not only the skills directly related to their specific job and body of knowledge but also more general things, such as communication, presentation and teamwork.
Enhanced employment prospects. In today’s highly competitive labor market, hands-on work experience can make a big difference. Having had almost no previous work experience, young people highly appreciate the opportunity to gain some through an internship.
Employers also benefit from having interns. That is what they get out of a good internship program:
Additional resources. Having students on board brings a fresh perspective, and it gives an opportunity to employers to use the additional resources to help where there might be a shortage of people. Many students are skilled enough to be able to help you in your day-to-day assignments.
Good recruitment venue. Today’s market lacks talent, and good people are a rare find. If you find good candidates for your internship program, you might also find out you have found very suitable candidates for some of your currently open positions. The best interns would also be more than happy to receive employment opportunities.
Supporting students. Often, when supporting education is discussed, organizations think about it in terms of financial aid for colleges, universities or individual students who have shown to be exceptionally promising. However, simply helping students gain valuable skills may be something you will find to be very beneficial to them.
If you have never had an internship program before, but you have started considering it, here are some of the most important things you should know before you start and the best practices you should follow.
Get paid interns and give them actual work assignments. Internships can be paid and unpaid. When you don’t pay your interns, you are legally obligated to only give them tasks that would help them learn, but you are not allowed to give them any “real” work which would bring actual benefits to your company. On the other hand, unpaid work is less motivating, while learning on the job and seeing how your work gets applied in real life is very rewarding and stimulating for young people. Therefore, it is highly recommended to get paid interns and give them actual work assignments, alongside their mentors among your team members. That will help your interns make the most out of their time with you, as well as your company which will get the most out of its investment in the interns.
Hold orientation sessions for your interns and the rest of your team. Especially if this is the first time you have ever had interns, your team will need orientation in the new situation as much as your interns will. Therefore, make sure that what you plan to do and all rules are as clear as possible and that you provide enough time for everyone involved to get used to the new environment and situation. Orientation should be planned well in advance, and it would be best if some of your senior employees got involved. That would both motivate your interns to do their best and make sure that as much knowledge as possible is passed on and it’s done correctly.
Create a handbook or internal website for interns. Even if your orientation days are perfectly organized and you give all information to your new interns, they will need some type of reference to go back to during the rest of the time they spend at your organization. A handbook or its online version in the form of an internal website would be the perfect solution. If your interns have any questions before or after orientation, their handbook would be the first place they would refer to before asking any questions. That would save a lot of time and frustration for everyone involved, especially after your internship program develops further, and you need to welcome new interns while disseminating the same information to them every time.
Offer flexible hours of work. Interns usually need day-to-day flexibility because of their changing schedules. School hours and exams often require them to break up their day, and they rarely follow a typical schedule of a 9-to-5 worker. Therefore, they would greatly appreciate it if you allowed flexible working hours. That may be a challenge to fit the schedules of people mentoring interns, but interns will notice any effort you make. They often reward this type of attention with higher motivation. Also, this will allow you to take advantage of more time with your interns and give them more or bigger assignments.
Partnerships with Universities
In order to find suitable interns and prospective employees, you may benefit from becoming an education partner with a college or university of your choice. That means that you will agree on some rules and communication procedures that both organizations will adhere to, such as:
The university will inform you when you can recruit interns among their students. You will be able to contact or meet the ones you think would be suitable for your program and offer them to join.
You will inform the institution when you need interns. They will disseminate the information among students, thus making it easier for them to find out about your program and apply for it.
You will plan ahead together. The university may keep in touch with you when they have prospective students for your internship program, or they may even be willing to develop a curriculum commissioned by you.
Being partnered with a college or university is a win-win situation for both sides. The university will have the opportunity to provide real-life and applicable experience to its students, and these are only some of the benefits that an employer can expect from such a partnership:
Help with your training goals. Having an education partner will give you an up-to-date and realistic view of the current state of the education system, and your role in it. You will see what skills graduates are supposed to have and how your own internal training programs can complete and add to those.
Employee retention. Apart from sending you interns and trainees, your education partner can provide you with continuing education programs for your current and future employees. Such an investment in their education will increase their loyalty towards you, and you will make sure they develop the skills you need them to have.
Reduced tuition fees. Your partner would usually be willing to reduce their regular tuition fees for you and your employees. This may be a significant cost reduction in case you make the payments or a nice benefit for your employees if they are sharing the cost or funding their studies on their own.
As you can see, there are many ways your organization can support education and create jobs for young people, and many benefits to be had from that. You can also contact our team if you have any questions about such an initiative and benefit from our support and experience.
- Employment and Education Monitor Blog: Strengthening the Connection between Education and Employment.
- Fast Company: How Big Organizations are Helping to Solve the Education Crisis.
- National Centre for Universities and Business UK: What are the benefits of a quality placement?
- National Association of Colleges and Employers: 15 Best Practices for Internship Programs.
- Walden University: 5 Ways Companies Benefit by Having an Education Partner.