All posts by Stephen Patchin

Co-op experiences produce graduates desired by industry

Rich Wells, Vice President of Michigan Operations for Dow Chemical, walked into a room of talented students from top Universities across the U.S.. These students were working as employees at Dow’s diverse chemical production facility in Midland, Michigan. Each student’s job is not to sweep floors but to take part in a wide variety of meaningful projects that will significantly impact the company financially, while allowing each student to develop meaningful career skills.

The first question for Rich from these student co-ops was what skills did he see entry level engineers lacking? He quickly listed off five areas. 1) Decision making – being comfortable making decisions with limited data. 2) Trusting the knowledge you have gained in school and build on it. 3) Problem-solving skills that allow you to break down complex challenges and develop an array of solutions. 4) Interpersonal skills ranging from working effectively in diverse groups to constructing a clear and concise e-mail. 5) Producing results where he notes that answering e-mails does not qualify as a result. Dow Chemical structures student co-op assignments to develop and foster these skills in young engineers.

Caleb, a chemical engineering student at Michigan Tech from Leelanau, Michigan, was assigned to the pesticide production division. His process engineering duties included working with a diverse workgroup in both age and experience. Caleb’s communication strategy followed the saying “two eyes, two ears, one mouth”, meaning we were all meant to spend more time observing & listening and less time talking. Caleb learned volumes of information from his mentor Dave and the hourly operators like Scott who had been working there for over 20 years. In the process he gained their respect, allowing him to lead by influence as he successfully completed his projects.

Holly, a third-year chemical engineering student at Michigan Tech from Essexville, Michigan, was assigned the role of process safety engineer. Her job was to ensure all chemical storage and shipping containers were labeled with appropriate hazardous material signage. If these containers were involved in an accident, a labeling mistake can cost lives along with millions of dollars in fines. Holly developed the ability to build a network of ‘expert’ resources as well as a process to accomplish the task for the diverse number of chemicals and storage units.

Andrew, a third year Mechanical Engineering student at Michigan Tech from Reece, Michigan, was tasked to assess and recommend new water pumps to be purchased for the manufacturing complex. These pumps supplied water for steam generators vital for successful operations of chemical production throughout the facility. Andrew’s recommendation must satisfy needed flow rates at an acceptable cost.

Each of these students was given work meaningful to operations of one of Dow’s largest productions facilities. These students were provided mentors, needed resources, and the support of their superiors. They brought the knowledge they gained from their educational experiences, combined it with the practical knowledge they gained from their peers, and developed multidisciplinary teams to successfully solve the challenges they were assigned.

Dow Chemical’s co-op/internship program allows students to put their acquired knowledge to work in a real world setting. Caleb, Holly, and Andrew will leave this experience having not only provided Dow with valued contributions, but also having developed the skills that Rich Wells and industry covenant in their new college recruits.


Messages from Commencement – Pursue your Passion!

Commencement ceremonies are occurring in high schools, colleges, and universities across the country. For graduates, it is a time of anxiety, relief, hope, and choices. A key component of each ceremony is the keynote address by an honored guest whose job it is to capture the magnitude of the moment. They are also asked to provide some insight or pearls of wisdom that can aid you in the journey you are about to embark on with your newly acquired knowledge.

Many commencement speakers focus on the importance of discovering your passion and pursuing it relentlessly. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, stated “I hope you find yourself on one path but longing for something else, you’ll find a way to get there. And if that isn’t right, try again. Try until you find something that stirs your passion, a job that matters to you and matters to others. It’s a luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a clear path to happiness.”

JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, acknowledges the role that failure will play in your future “You might never fail on the scale I did. But some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case, you fail by default.”

Others like Larry Page, founder of Google, express the value of dreaming big. “I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams. I know that sounds completely nuts. But, since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition. There are so few people this crazy that I feel like I know them all by first name. They all travel as if they are pack dogs and stick to each other like glue. The best people want to work the big challenges.”

Apple founder Steve Jobs spoke of the value of following your own wants and desires in his address. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it in living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Success in life is a journey not a destination. Each of these commencement speakers has faced obstacles, failures, and immense challenges throughout their lives. They each communicate the value of discovering their passion because that propelled them to overcome each of these challenges and achieve their goals. Commencement is a time to reflect on your accomplishments and begin your next journey. Pursue a career and goals you are passionate about, and the best is yet to come!


STEMconnector searches for ways to develop talent needed by industry

Recently a group of over 300 industry and educational leaders meet in Washington D.C. to share and explore ways to fill the pipeline of human talent in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The group, called STEMconnector, is facing a growing crisis due to lack of qualified intellectual talent to meet company hiring needs. A series of industry leadership panels identified the challenges, then explored solutions that would not only improve individual lives, but support developing economies and governments across the globe.

STEM jobs, those careers focused on use of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, are growing 1.7 times faster than that of non-STEM jobs. Surya Kant, President of North America, UK and Europe for Tata Consulting Services (TCS), a worldwide contractor for information technology talent, estimated that by 2030 they will need to hire 430,000 more STEM employees, a majority of which will be in the area of computer science and engineering. They have developed a new program called Go IT which is now being rolled out in 32 major cities across the world. The program engages students and their parents by introducing them to the basics of programming and exposing them to the many well-compensated careers in this area.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2013 – 2023 there will be two jobs available for every computer science graduate in the U.S. Currently only 2.4% of college graduates earn their degree in computer science. TCS notes that 30 of 50 states do not require computer science courses in their graduation requirements, hindering efforts to get students engaged in programming early in their education.

Allyson Knox, Director of Education Policy & Programs at Microsoft, echoed concerns at TCS. She noted that 1 in 4 U.S. high schools offer advanced placement courses in computer science. She noted that research has found young women taking this course were 4 times more likely to complete a degree in computer science, while African-American and Hispanic students taking the course were 7 times more likely to achieve academic success in the degree.  Microsoft has created the website code.org to encourage students and their parents to explore computer programming. Filled with interactive games that increase in complexity, the site illuminates lucrative career paths in computer programming.

Dr. Mehmood Khan, Vice Chairmen and Chief Scientific Officer at Pepsico, shared the humanitarian opportunity associated with filling these talent needs. He noted that 40 percent of the food we grow is wasted. The main contributor of pollution in the world is agriculture. Dr. Khan shared that each day 1 billion people go to bed hungry.  He notes if we can cut our food waste in half, we can feed the world and not increase pollution. Yet he also highlighted that in the next 10 years 50 percent of our scientists working on this efficiency problem will be retiring.

Industry leaders created STEMconnector to help them address the looming talent shortage. They all recognize the solution does not lie in just higher education or exclusively in our K-12 school system. It is a societal challenge whose solutions lie in multiple initiatives and they are each taking individual and collaborative steps to fill the STEM pipeline. The quality of our lives in the future is directly correlated to the success of filling this STEM pipeline, as does the economic prosperity of our children.


The value of knowledge lies in application

 In 1982 a young man named Jim headed off to college. He knew he was good in math and science, but had no idea what career that would lead to. Like his fellow freshmen, he found college courses far more challenging than high school. Lacking a defined use for the knowledge he was acquiring and the mounting challenge to acquire it, he was headed for trouble.

Jim’s grades suffered and he was put on academic probation by the university. Finally, at the end of his sophomore year, he received a letter from the Dean of Students that he had been kicked out of school. Jim was crushed as he shared the devastating news with his parents. He had a choice to make, speak with the Dean to be reinstated or choose a different path. Jim choose to reach out to the Dean for reinstatement and give it another try.

As Jim returned to school his grades improved marginally, for he still had not figured out a use for his knowledge, only that he needed to acquire it to graduate. He failed to take his knowledge for a test drive by participating in different co-ops or internships, allowing him to explore different career options. Jim ended up graduating with a “C” average, which limited his career choices after graduation.

Jim then began trying out careers beginning with the financial industries and leading to retail management, where he found his niche. He learned to lead others, execute creative merchandising, and manage expenses. He found an application for his knowledge and focus for the passion and work ethic he had developed. This combination of purpose and passion put him on the corporate ladder leading him to a position of training other managers to operate high volume retail operations producing sales of over $60 million annually.

Jim was experiencing professional and financial success, but still lacked personal gratification. In talking through his situation with his wife, he realized the most rewarding part of his job was helping others succeed. Jim, at 39 with the support of his family, decided to leave his job go back to school to be a middle/high school teacher.

Jim became a successful teacher in a small school. To improve his skills as an educator he completed his master’s degree, completing classes in the evenings and weekends. Soon he had an opportunity to work at a university, working with a team to create unique hands-on programs for K – 12 students that helped them discover their interests and talents.

Jim work at the university with freshmen began to bring back memories of his early challenges in college. He found students today suffered the same anxiety of how to apply their knowledge. This led him to return to school to pursue his doctorate in studying college freshmen and their experiences. Jim’s goal was to develop programs that would help freshmen understand how they were going to use the knowledge they were struggling so hard to acquire.

The moral of this story is that the true value of knowledge is decided upon by those that possess it. Successful educational institutions must focus not only on delivering knowledge to students, but ensuring each student explores ways to apply that information or skills that are valuable to each of them.


A Disability or a Gift – Dyslexia

John was creative and hard-working college student. His was majoring in computer engineering which is where he found his gift at coding. His interests spanned outside the classroom to rock climbing and other outdoor adventures. This well-rounded creative genius faced one daunting obstacle, the vast amounts of reading associated with demanding, tech-heavy majors. John visualized text differently than others, a situation he saw not as a disability but as another challenge to face.

Dyslexia is associated with difficulties in learning to read, having problems spelling words and some slowness in processing symbolic information. It is a source of anxiety and frustration for many whose learning is based heavily on acquiring knowledge through reading. Neuroscientists have found that the left hemisphere of your brain is the home of our language processing. The right hemisphere is known to be the home of our creativity. Recent research has tied problem-solving and creative thought processes used by engineers and scientists to this right hemisphere. Most adults will have a larger left hemisphere compared to the right. Researchers have found that dyslexic’s possess a larger right hemisphere, providing fertile ground for creativity and problem solving.

Some of our greatest leaders in industry and the arts were known to be dyslexic. John Lennon and Cher shared the gift of the musician. Each day we experience the creative genius of two other dyslexics, Steven Spielberg who brought us E.T. and Saving Private Ryan and Walt Disney who brought us on so many animated journeys starting with Mickey Mouse and then created Disney World theme parks to enjoy them in person. Great artists in history struggled with this disorder including Pablo Picasso and Leonardo Da Vinci leading up to present day Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams. Notables in American history with dyslexia include George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Henry Ford.

A disability is often described as a limitation. What is not discussed is the gift that is associated with it. A recent study found that over 35 percent of successful entrepreneurs were diagnosed with dyslexia. The study found they quickly developed perseverance and tenacity to overcome this reading challenge. We now also know that they had a gift of a larger right hemisphere of their brain, providing them with creative tools to see the world a bit differently, allowing them to solve problems in a unique way others could not.

Many employers classify those with dyslexia as possessing a disability. They should be viewing it as a gift. The grade point average of a student challenged with dyslexia is not an accurate measure of their gifts of persistence, tenacity, and creativity. If we use history as our teacher, these individuals are the hidden gems that see the world through a different lens and will bring unique and creative answers to the problems we will face in the future.


Student-Athletes – moving recruits from Good to Great!

If you were to ask recruiters what skills they need in each of their new good recruits the list would include: life-long learners, good communicators, able to work in diverse groups, and adaptable to new situations. If you were to ask what additional skills great recruits have they would include: perseverance, tenacious, resilient, passionate, and dedicated. The experiences of student athletes provides them the opportunity to move from good to great.

John Standeford played football and basketball for Monrovia High School, a town of 1,200 outside of Indianapolis. This 6’4’’, 168 lbs. wide-received was offered a chance to play for Purdue University by Coach Joe Tiller, going from playing for a team of 22 players to one of 105 with a much higher level of skill per player. He made the most of his experience through hard work, graduating in 2004 while holding the Big Ten’s all-time career receptions record with 266 catches. The skills he gained were put on display in his professional football career.

Drafted and signed by the Washington Redskins, he was soon traded to the Indianapolis Colts, playing for then Coach Tony Dungy. John played on the practice squad, focusing on outworking his peers. He took on his coaches mantra of ‘no excuses, no explanation’, a theme that can be associated with Nike’s Just Do It! During the 2007 season John was moved up to the active roster, a day he celebrated with dinner out with his wife. The next day Coach Dungy called him in to his office, telling him he needed to be sent back down to the practice squad due to injuries in other positions. John could have packed his bag and walked out, but he responded with an elevated effort.

With four remaining games in the 2007 regular season, John’s agent was contacted by the Detroit Lions with an offer to play for them. Coach Dungy could have responded by releasing John, but instead called him into his office. Dungy shared his thoughts of admiration he had for John, enduring when John was asked to play a role he didn’t enjoy, John chose to show up each day, putting forth his maximum effort while supporting his teammates in the process. This coach believed in integrity, faith, and hard work, then offering John a spot on the active roster for the remainder of the season. The Colts made the playoffs that year, with Peyton Manning having a career year at quarterback and John stayed on the active roster as the Indianapolis Colts went on to win the Super Bowl.

The next year, John Standeford, with a Super Bowl ring on his finger, moved on to play for the Detroit Lions. In the final game of the season, John went on to have a career high 6 receptions against all-pro defender Al Harris of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Unfortunately, he would be another name on the wall in the NFL Hall of Fame, this time being a member of a team that went winless on the season.

John Standeford was a small town boy who was carried to success in his career through his perseverance, tenacity, resilience, passion, and dedication. Today’s recruiters are looking for those with the determination to succeed, who are willing to show up and persevere whether they are on a team of 22 or 105. Recruiters should not overlook student-athletes as they fill their rosters to build their success-oriented corporate teams.


Developing Self-efficacy Is the Key to Student Success

In 1920, a little-known author Arnold Munk wrote a book titled The Little Engine That Could which then began being sold door to door through the My Book House series. The book’s story line centered on a little railroad steam engine who attempted to pull a long train over a high mountain. The little engine agrees to attempt this challenging feat using the mantra “I think I can, I think I can”. It eventually succeeds due to the faith in its abilities to achieve this goal.

Fast-forward to 1971 when a then obscure researcher named Albert Bandura began to study the role that a person’s belief in their ability to achieve any goal, known as self-efficacy. The question is how do we build this belief in our abilities? Bandura identified four significant sources of these efficacy expectations: performance accomplishments, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal. These are valuable lessons to use as students transition from college to career and beyond.

Vicarious experience is the idea that if you see someone else completing a job-related challenge, you gain the confidence that you can also accomplish such a challenge. It is the monkey see, monkey can do idea in its most basic form. Verbal persuasion often comes in the way of encouraging words or actions. This is the easiest to implement and as such is often thought to have the least value, but used correctly with sincerity is can play a key role in developing efficacy. Emotional arousal is often associated with anxiety which can debilitate performance. Developing coping skills to deal with stressful situations helps limit this performance detractor.

Bandura found that performance accomplishments were the most impactful in building an individual’s personal efficacy. In my doctoral research with freshmen college students I found this most often manifests itself in earning grades on tests or projects. Students also gained this sense of accomplishment in performing community service or in service learning programs where they aid others while achieving a personal or academic goal.

A student’s participation in internships and co-ops has been shown to have a significant impact on their self-efficacy. This career self-efficacy has been aided by structured company support during these employment opportunities. Companies use of mentors, self-produced seminars that help develop 21st century career skills, weekly performance review sessions, and assigned projects with a series of specific timely outcomes are just a few programs whose product is increased self-efficacy of those involved.

Arnold Monks story of this little engine that could symbolizes the importance that efficacy plays in creating an environment of possibility and a can do attitude in each current and future employee. The belief that a goal can be achieved is the most vital component necessary for achieving success in ones endeavors. As colleges and universities look to retool their curriculums to produce a prepared and engaged intellectual product that can succeed in industry, they should ensure that this process focuses on increasing the level of self-efficacy of each future graduate. Each student must believe they can!


The Secret to Our Success – Developing and Acquiring Talent

In his book America Needs Talent, Jamie Merisotis defines talent as a skill which is the ability to use knowledge to learn more or to solve problems. It is not born or bought, but is made. Jim Compton noted in his book The Coming Jobs War that intellectual talent was the one renewable resource that when increased in a country could build an empire, but when it is not fostered it could topple governments and societies. Developing domestic talent and acquiring global talent will be the key to the prosperity of our society.

A recent study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that there will be 55 million jobs created in the next decade. Over 70 percent (40 million) of these jobs will require a college level certificate or degree. The challenge is that less than 40 percent of Americans have earned at least an associate’s degree while another 5 percent have earned some type of professional certificate. Intellectual talent attracts business and America is in short supply of this valuable resource.

Currently our education system is largely based on seat time.States define the number of hours each student must be in school each year from kindergarten through high school graduation. In college, you must earn a specific number of credits to achieve an associate degree and masters degree. Yes, you must pass course requirements but often these requirements center around the regurgitation of knowledge, not the demonstration of the application of this knowledge. Merisotis suggests creating a competency-based education system, designed for students to be awarded mastery of application of defined skills. Institutions would need to define the expected learning outcomes and the criteria that must be demonstrated by each student to show mastery of these skills.

The value of global talent to America can be found in the success of immigrants such as Jan Vilcek who came to the U.S. in the 1960’s from Czechoslovakia. After becoming a professor at New York University his research led to the development of the drug Remicade which helps treat patients suffering from Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases. He also uses a portion of his wealth to support other scientists migrating to the U.S.

Australia has developed an immigration system that matches the needs of industry with the talents of immigrants. This talent-based system gives preference to those that possess the unique skills the needed by their society. Though Australia has a population of only 23 million people, fewer than the population of Texas, immigrants have added $3.4 billion to their government budgets from taxes they pay. The U.S. has experienced similar prosperity from American companies founded by immigrants which include: Google, AT&T, Ebay, Kohl’s, Big Lot’s, Pfizer, and Kraft.

Since 1983 the demand for college educated workers has grown 3 percent annually, while the supply of these graduates increased at a 2 percent rate. Companies are looking for a workforce with a depth of specific content knowledge, critical thinking skills, creativity, and ability to embrace change. It is estimated that our economy is losing in excess of $500 billion a year in Gross Domestic Product due to this lack of talent. Our investment in the development and acquisition of talent domestically and globally offers a proven opportunity to improve the lives of us all.


Passion + Purpose = An Engaged Workforce

Gallup conducted a workplace poll 2014 and found less than a third of employees were engaged in their jobs. Gallup defined an engaged employee as one who is enthusiastic about performing their job and committed to being successful at it.

Imperative inc. sought to identify those in the workforces that approached their job as a source of personal fulfillment and a way for them to help others. The Imperative survey found 28 percent of the workforce qualified as these purpose-oriented workers, and these individuals produced a highly positive impact on their organizations.

Purpose oriented workers in comparison to their peers are:

  • 50 percent more likely to be in leadership positions
  • 47 percent more likely to be promoted by their employers
  • Expected to stick with their jobs 20 percent longer
  • 64 percent more likely to have higher levels of fulfillment from their work

The value of purpose-oriented workers are they are self-motivated role models who see their work as making a difference in the world. They want to grow both personally and professionally to support this goal. These workers are often described as dynamic and curious, embracing changing dynamics in the workplace as an opportunity for improvement.

I have had the honor to work with purpose-oriented workers on Michigan Tech’s campus, which include: Mike Meyer, Ed Laitila, Glen Archer, and Susan Liebau, just to name a few. Mike heads up the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning. A successful high school teacher and Physics lab supervisor and instructor, he now leads a team whose mission is to work with faculty to develop transformational learning experiences in the classrooms and labs across campus. Ed brings his contagious passion for learning to each materials science lab he enters. Glen develops and executes lessons in electrical engineering that bring clarity and understanding to complex engineering concepts. Susan leads a team at the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success that helps students discover their talents and interests, in the midst of personal and academic challenges. Each of these purpose-oriented workers also share another trait, modesty and gratitude for the support of their teams and peers.

The Imperative study found the workforce of each industry contains at least 16 percent purpose-oriented workers. These workers tend to be educated beyond high school and increase in numbers with age. Researchers have also found that these unique workers had parents that spoke favorably about their careers.

The millennial generation is filling the workforce. Known for being confident, self-expressive, liberal, open to change and upbeat, they also have the nickname of Generation Me! As the begin having children of their own, a recent study found their top priorities are: being a good parent and having a successful marriage. This is an opportunity for them to develop themselves as purpose-oriented workers through their actions as a parent. Generation Z is the next to enter college and the workforce. Known for being conscientious, hard-working and concerned about the future, this digital generation has the foundation to become the first purpose-oriented generation.

Corporate America and American society at large will benefit from developing more purpose-oriented workers. The cited role models illustrate that passion and purpose can help students build their careers around the three sources of fulfillment: developing meaningful relationships, impacting the lives of others, and personal and professional growth. The opportunity lies in the other 72 percent!


The Keys to Mid-Career Success

Michigan Technological University just hosted a record 360+ recruiting organizations at its recent Fall Career Fair. Michigan Tech students engaged with 1,300 corporate recruiters that were looking for unique qualities such as the ability to work in diverse teams, possessing the resilience to learn from failures, and having the ability to clearly communicate their ideas. But what are the skills you need to be successful in your mid-career?
Susan Keihl, Vice President of Product Development at Lockheed Martin offers four cornerstones to live by to advance your career. They include: deliver value, drive innovation, increase efficiency, and develop the talents of others. You need to learn to make decisions and take ownership of those choices. You and you alone are responsible for the quality of each decision, so be thoughtful in choosing each action you take. As you make decisions, follow the process of execute, monitor, and course correct, then begin the process again.
As you build your career you need to continue to add ‘tools’ to your tool box. Lisa Genslak, a leader in Ford’s IT Strategic Services Division, notes that these tools will vary by individual, based on your personal needs and career path. Developing the ability to be emotionally resilient will be of great value. Don’t take criticism personally, but learn from it. A byproduct of this lesson is to make sure you consider the feelings of others in your everyday interactions with peers. This is a process of continuous learning. Each situation offers a learning opportunity so make sure you take time to reflect on them and capture the lesson learned.
If you wish to advance your career, push yourself outside your comfort zone. Take on projects that challenge you both personally and professionally. Gone are the days where you can expect to work at the same job you started when you graduated from school. Today corporate America encourages cross-discipline experiences. Each of us sees the world differently, has been involved in a unique set of experiences, and possesses a unique skill set. Diverse teams are able to visualize a broader set of possible challenges, while identifying a wider set of possible solutions to consider.
Networking is becoming a vital tool for career success. A recent Forbes survey found that over 70 percent of mid-career jobs are fill before they are ever posted publicly. Building this network starts as soon as you hit your college campus. Building relationships with you professors, with recruiters at career fairs and other networking events on campus, and in your industry experience from co-op experiences as a student to full-time jobs are all part of the process. These people become not only friends but resources for you personally and professionally, providing you access to these mid-career job opportunities.
Mid-career success is determined by actions you have taken to increase your value to others. That value must be communicated using the personal and professional network you have built. It is sustained through your efforts as a life-long learner, constantly achieving the challenges you have set for yourself and adding new tools to your tool box!