How to be Successful in “The Future of Work”

Last week a symposium was held at Stanford University titled “The Future of Work.” Collaborators from Silicon Valley, higher education institutions across the country, and other industry leaders gathered to discuss the impact of advancements in technology, including how higher education will need to react to changing economic needs. Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX and professor at MIT set the stage with his remarks, “by 2030 fifty-percent of jobs will be replaced by robots or some other form of technology. Half the workforce will need to upscale their skills to stay employed.” What skills will be needed and how will students/workers acquire them?

“People skills will be the most durable in our new economy” stated Guy Berger, Chief Economist at LinkedIn. These skills consist of critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to be agile in your career, allowing you to take on new job opportunities that match your increasing skills set. College majors increasing in demand include computer programming, data science, and engineering.

Anant believes that the quickening pace of technological creation and innovation will support the development of a culture of life-long learning. Schooling will not end with college graduation with a 4-year degree. Anant believes colleges could move toward a subscription model. Like a magazine, each person would subscribe to it, paying a monthly payment, but having the ability to take any courses needed to stay updated in knowledge relevant to their careers.

Farouk Dey, Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Career Education at Stanford University shared Stanford’s 2025 vision for the future of higher education. Termed “Open Loop Education”, students would take a few courses related to their chosen career, then go to work applying what they have learned, returning to school when they need additional knowledge in a never ending cycle. Dey also noted the rise of “Skill Boot Camps”. These 3 to 5 day intense downloads of information is another way for workers to upscale their skills.

These new developments in technology, changes in educational models, and values of the Millennial and Gen Z generations have combined to create the Gig Economy. This is one characterized by short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. To continue to qualify for these short-term assignments, workers will need to be “experts” in their specialized fields, further endorsing these new education models.

The rise of robots and advancements in areas of artificial intelligence will cause a loss of many current jobs. This shift will also create new careers in a transformed economy. The degree each of us will be successful in this economy will depend on how quickly we become active life-long learners.


Making the Case for Student Loan Repayment Benefits

With continued declining support from the states, it’s unlikely anyone would be surprised by the rising costs of higher education.  Colleges can and do point to declining state support, rising operational costs, etc., and while that may make sense with students and families, it doesn’t solve their ultimate concern of overwhelming student debt and how it will impact them after graduation.

In a 2017 survey from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), 98% of families indicated that they are looking for ways to lower the cost of college.  This shouldn’t be surprising, but the more impactful result of this survey was that 69% of students ruled out a particular college due to costs.  This number rose gradually from 58% when the survey was first distributed in 2008.  At the same time, federal aid applications (via the FAFSA) have risen this year to 86% on average.  The bottom line is that college is costing more and students and their families are struggling to find methods to pay.

According to studentloanhero.com, on average the class of 2016 graduates had $37,172 in student loan debt.  This was an increase of 6% from 2015.  Furthermore, the average monthly student loan payment that borrowers ages 20 to 30 years old must make are $351.  (Again, that’s just the average, so while some are lower, some are also significantly higher too.)

Colleges have to balance their budgets and can only make so many cuts.  Federal aid continues to be a controversial subject, and no drastic increases in aid or loan forgiveness are on the horizon.  Additionally, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is limited in who qualifies and the entire program is in question currently.  The statistics shared above make the case for new approaches and creative solutions, but not where you might expect them.  In a 2017 survey conducted by IonTuition, data shows that student borrowers are increasingly supporting the concept of employers offering student loan repayment assistance programs and benefits.  The survey found that 81% of more than 1,000 borrowers surveyed said they would like to work for an employer that offers student loan repayment plans.  While 87% of respondents noted that they are currently employed, the majority indicated that paying off their student loan balances remains a persistent problem.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for employers to try some new and innovative approaches to recruit graduates.  Of the respondents, 51% indicated that they would prefer a student loan repayment benefit over health care benefits.  Similarly, 49% said they would prefer the same over a 401(k) package.  According to NASFAA, these findings demonstrate that the concerns of young employees are vastly different from past generations, with a focus on paying down debt as opposed to planning for retirement or saving for other milestones.

IonTuition’s findings support the concept that companies can stay current by adding benefits that are more desirable to their workforce.  Offering student loan benefits to employees could be a creative way to recruit and retain talented college graduates.  Might this just be trading one financial problem for another?  Potentially, but that doesn’t change the data and the fact that young college graduates are looking for something new and different from their employers’ benefits packages


Dear Mr. Barone,

Michael Barone reheats and serves up a plate-full of stale pizza cliché in his June 8 Washington Examiner column claiming people who choose not to go to college might be better off than those who do. (This article was rerun in my local paper, the Daily Mining Gazette on June 10, and this letter is in response to that edition.)

The fact of the matter is, the economy has created 11.6 million jobs since the recovery of the great recession. Ninety-nine percent of those jobs have gone to people with some education, 72 percent have gone to people with a four year degree or better. The Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives recently found that of the top 50 good paying, growing occupations in the state through 2024, 43 require some college, and 36 require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Mr. Barone points to rising tuition and administration bloat as two more reasons students should not attend college. Michigan’s House Fiscal Agency found in 2013 that since fiscal year 2001, 80% of tuition price increases are attributable to state funding reductions, and nearly 100 percent when factoring in institutional financial aid. When accounting for inflation, Michigan Tech’s state appropriations are 30 percent lower than they were in 2002, but yet, Michigan Tech is educating 10 percent more students than it was in 2002. Doing 10 percent more with 30 percent less does not suggest Michigan Tech is on a path towards bloat.

Yet still at $63,300 a year, Michigan Tech grads are earning the highest average starting salary of any of the public 15 universities and 10th highest in the nation. Our graduates spend about 3.5 percent of their take home paycheck paying off their student loan, less than Michigan’s state income tax rate of 4.25 percent. And yes, our graduates do pay back as well. Last year, an estimated 1,000 Michigan Tech graduates started their careers in Michigan; earning the average starting salary they will collectively earn over $60 million dollars and pay 2.8 million in state income taxes – in just one year. We suspect that the 23,000 Michigan Tech grads of working age in the state are doing at least as well as this one class.

Michigan Tech is feeding a talent-starved industry sector with the graduates who can develop, understand, apply, manage, and communicate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As much as Mr. Barone wants to paint all higher education institutions as bastions of leftist idolatry, it’s clear he forgets to assert that the engine of a knowledge-based economy is education.

I wonder if Mr. Barone thinks he would have been better off declining his secondary education at the elite Michigan private high school of Cranbrook (with a current endowment of over $300 million) and as well his college at Harvard ($37 billion endowment) and his law degree from Yale ($1.2 billion endowment). My guess? Probably not.


Will Company Conformist Cultures Limit the Impending Supercycle of Innovation?

In the 1930’s when the world was in a great depression, innovation creation excelled in the form or jet engines, televisions, synthetic materials, and even early computers. John Michaelson’s goes on in his Wall Street Journal article, “Prepare for a New Supercycle of Innovation”, to document how historically economic downturns are followed by intense periods of industrial growth led by inventions and increased productivity. This can only occur in corporate cultures that question the status quo, encouraging outside-the-box thinking. But are we encouraging this non-conformist attitude?

Francesca Gino of the Harvard Business School notes that “across industries and jobs, employees are feeling pressured to follow established norms and practices in their own organizations. They tell of being frustrated by the lack of opportunities to speak their minds, to be the best versions of themselves, to bring their ideas to the table or suggest ideas for changing the status quo for the better.”  Are companies truly encouraging a culture of conformity, thus stifling a culture of advancement and invention needed for a strong post-recession super-cycle of innovation?

Michigan Technological University graduates over 80% of its students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) related fields, a majority being in engineering disciplines. Eager to take their newly acquired knowledge for a test-drive, many engage in co-op’s or internships before graduation, starting as early as the summer after their freshmen year. So are they experiencing this conformist atmosphere during these corporate experiences?

A young Mechanical Engineering student who worked spring semester at Polaris was tasked with realigning instructions and illustrations being used in their productions processes with the goal of improving quality and efficiencies of the processes. He found that “quick thinking and innovative approaches from my side ensured he could find solutions” that were vetted, endorsed, and then implemented by his supervisors.

Another Mechanical Engineering student worked at Expera Specialty Solutions. He was tasked with reviewing their chemical delivery system used for their specialty paper orders and discover what was causing defects in their customized orders. The culture encourages innovation and understands that trial-and-error is accompanied by mistakes which he addressed in his comments “although I know I have made mistakes along the way, everyone easily dismisses the mistakes and focuses on what you have done to resolve the problem.”

Finally, a Chemical Engineering student was assigned to a team at Bemis that is developing a food-packaging product with high barrier properties. This innovation would be used to keep certain chemicals, flavors, and nutrients inside a package, opening up vast new markets for the company. She was encouraged to communicate her ideas, no matter how far outside-the-box which were welcomed and considered by all on the team. She did realize that “there is monotonous work that comes along with the job, but it needs to be completed in order to get to the exciting innovative tasks.”

Michaelson’s is predicting an upcoming Supercycle of Innovation, while Gino’s observations indicated an existing corporate culture of conformation will stifle this creative cycle. I argue that cultures of non-conformity still exist in companies like Polaris, Expera, and Bemis. If indeed this culture of conformity exists, it is not comprehensive. It is also possible that STEM focused graduates are being hired in greater numbers into these non-conformist cultures, for they have the tools to make innovation occur. The number of STEM graduates could be the ultimate limiting factor on the degree of economic success associated with the coming Supercycle of Innovation!


The Value of STEM Education in an AltFact Word

The Value of STEM Education in an AltFact World: At its very core the scientific method is a market economy, where the currency is truth.

In his book, The Death of Expertise published earlier this year, US Naval War College Professor Tom Nichols laments, “Americans no longer distinguish the phrase ‘you’re wrong’ from the phrase ‘you’re stupid.’ To disagree is to disrespect. To correct is to insult. And to refuse to acknowledge all view as worthy of consideration, no matter how fantastic or inane they are, is to be closed minded.”

For all of the bluster about political correctness, free speech, SJW snowflakes, etc…neither side of the political spectrum has gotten any better hearing the words, “you’re wrong.” In fact, our communication bubbles have become so insular that we rarely take the opportunity to challenge the veracity of that which we are presented. Much has been made about this post-factual world, and post-truth politics. This worldview is one framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.

Psychologists are discovering how we, as humans, come to access, construct and evaluate beliefs. Most of us assume that our sets of beliefs and fundamental knowledge of the world comes to us as a set of constructs grounded in facts. We assemble these facts into structures upon which we build our beliefs. Psychologists are finding something different. Rather than building our beliefs assembled around a set of facts about our world, most of us tend to build our facts around a set of beliefs.

This is not a new concept. Researchers have studied the phenomena of confirmation bias for sometime. Confirmation bias is often defined as “the tendency to seek out information that supports and seemingly validates one’s own viewpoint” One famous example is the “lunar effect.” There are numerous studies that center on emergency room visits correlated with full moon nights. Systematic reviews of this research consistently demonstrate that there is simply no evidence for that the full moon causes an increase in emergency room visits. Why, then, do people continue to believe this? Data show that belief in the lunar effect remains at about 40-45%, even among those highly educated. The answer is simply, confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is found when we notice, accept, and remember information that confirms beliefs we already have, while ignoring, forgetting, or explaining away contradictory data. Belief in a lunar effect, therefore, feeds on itself. Cue the old saw, “the plural of anecdote is not ‘data”

There is probably not a single more visible example of confirmation bias in today’s news than in politics. In a desperate attempt to validate everything about our preferred candidate and discredit all about our opponent’s candidacy, we gather facts that align with our beliefs and tend to discredit the facts that are counter-productive to those thoughts. This has gotten to be so prolific that this year we’ve begun to hear about living in a post-factual world.

So what does this have to do with a STEM based education? Fundamental to a STEM-based education is deep understanding of the scientific method. The scientific method demands that one must suspend belief until data can show that that belief can be embraced.

To be sure, this doesn’t mean that beliefs not supported by fact have no use. Actually, the opposite is true. Those are called hypotheses are as important to the scientific process as the facts themselves. But central to the scientific process is that our beliefs are wrapped around the facts. And what happens when the opposite happens? Sometimes disaster. The space shuttle Challenger for one. In that example, the desire to send up the shuttle loaded with the first teacher in space, was so great, beliefs that the colder temperatures the night before the launch would have no effect on the safety on the launch were bended around the facts.

And this is where STEM education becomes incredibly valuable. Much has been written about the doors STEM education opens, the jobs available to STEM college degree holders, the importance to the country’s global competitiveness that STEM education means. But to a lesser extent do we talk about what the scientific process can teach us within this post-factual world.

The entire exercise of science is figuring out what is true. The scientific method requires one to form a hypothesis, test it, get a result. And then one presents this work to a community of peers whose duty it is to attempt to poke holes in those results, to double check the work. STEM education, the scientific method itself, teaches critical thinking. And, most importantly, STEM education teaches one that the words, “you’re wrong” don’t convey disrespect. They don’t communicate intolerance or close mindedness. They don’t shut down a conversation or open up a flood of superficial anonymous insults in the comments section. In science, “you’re wrong” means progress! Even Jules Verne knew this, “Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.”


The Importance of Recruiting Efforts, Don’t “Poison the Well”!

Career services departments on college campuses across America answer student inquiries on topics from resumes to where to find a job. A growing area of student frustration that has risen is communications with companies during the hiring process. Questions such as; how do I know if they got my on line application; when should I hear back from them after the interview; how often should I contact them before I become annoying; and why don’t they let me know if I received the job? With the labor market tightening this lack of corporate follow up is now producing a backlash from this young workforce.

Future Workplace LLC and human resource software company CareerArc Group LLC surveyed job candidates on this topic. Nearly two thirds of these candidate stated they were less likely to purchase goods and services from an employer who treated them poorly during the recruiting process. This trend is also impacting recruiting efforts.

Recently, a panel of engineering and information technology students were questioned by Michigan Tech’s Career Services Corporate Advisory Board members. Company representatives inquired what made a positive recruiting experience, their answers included:

  • Don’t make me fill out long on-line applications
  • Make us feel like you want us
  • Be sincere in your interest
  • Acknowledge receipt of our application
  • We place a high value on positive experience(s) with recruiters

Students went on to explain the type of work they expected in co-ops and internships work opportunities (and we would add full-time opportunities). They want meaningful assignments, hands-on focused work, and projects where they could see a start and a finish. There must be evidence of progress and impact to company operations.

Where did students get most of their information about a company and its culture? Number one source was their peers that had worked/do work at that company or had interactions with their recruiters (including what they had heard from other students). Take note companies interested in recruiting highly sought after candidates in STEM related careers, lack of follow up in recruiting or unstructured co-op/internship opportunities will not only poison your bucket of recruits, but potentially the whole well in both the short and long term

 


Defining Boundaries

If you’re a fan of the sitcom Seinfeld, you likely remember the close talker episode. Google it if you have no idea what I’m talking about—it’s a good time and well worth 2.5 minutes of your day.

As professionals, most of us have a good understanding of personal space and social awareness. If you work in admissions and have ever done a college fair, you have your table to thank for a built-in boundary.

But how do you define virtual boundaries? Every year there seems to be that one parent who just won’t leave you alone. The emails keep coming with question after question. If you’re good at your job and love what you do, you probably write back without thinking a thing about it.

Our role in higher education, especially in recruitment, is to help students (and parents) grow and develop skills they need to succeed in life. If you’re continually feeding them the answers they need, why should they do any research or (heaven forbid) read the material you send in the mail, when they can whip off an email or text to you and get an instant reply?

If you realize a parent or student may be taking advantage of your strong work ethic and good upbringing, it may be time to disengage. Try these ideas to help foster independence

  • Refer to the appropriate office or staff member who can provide the best and most accurate information
  • Shorten communications and cover only the essentials—don’t ask about their day, or the outcome of the recent vet visit they shared with you last week
  • Reply to email, voicemail, or texts only when a question is asked that you can help with—forward messages to colleagues to assist with other issues
  • Close emails without the offer of being able to “help with any other questions you have!”

Unsure what to do next? Talk to your supervisor or mentor for other suggestions or encouragement. Breaking up is hard to do, but you can do it!


Next Generation of University Career Services Annual Reports

Habit number two of Stephen Covey’s successful book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “begin with the end in mind.” This is the mantra of incoming college freshmen and their parents across the country. Some refer to it as the return on investment, but the bottom line is what are the job prospects and what will be their starting salary for careers in the major they are considering. Like a person who reads the end of the book to find out what happens, they forget to pay attention to the most important aspect of their education, the importance of engagement in their collegiate journey, the heart of each book that defines the value at the finish.

Members of the National Association of Colleges and Employers collaboratively worked together to identify key career competencies that have been identified as necessary tools for personal and professional success. The competencies include: critical thinking/problem solving, oral/written communication, teamwork/collaboration, information technology, leadership, professionalism/work ethic, and career management. But how do students acquire these in their collegiate experience. Acquiring each one is not a pill they can take or one class they can participate in. Each student acquires them through a unique series of experiences that they choose to engage in, that matches their interests and aptitudes. One size does not fit all, and it shouldn’t.

Career Services annual reports at higher education institutions across the country focus on “the end” or results which include placement rates and annual salaries. They fail to tell the story of the student’s journey in relation to the outcomes they earn at the end of their collegiate experience. Michigan Tech’s Career Services 2015-16 annual report takes you on the journey of our students from their first campus visit to graduation. Career Services works with partners across campus to help create and execute many of these experiences, while working with students to help them communicate the career skills they have acquired from them. We encourage you to visit www.mtu.edu/career/ on January 31 to view the next generation of Career Services Annual Report.


In Praise of Maintenance

The greatest thing about listening to podcasts on a smartphone with earbuds in is that I can walk my dog on a fall Sunday evening on campus and geek out with no one being any the wiser.  A few nights ago I was listening to a Freakanomics episode called, “In Praise of Maintenance.”

The basic premise of the episode asks, “Has our culture’s obsession with innovation led us to neglect the fact that things also need to be taken care of?”  One just needs to look at our country’s roads, bridges, airports, and other infrastructure for evidence that the answer is “Yep, pretty much.”

For all of the glory we give new programs and initiatives, it seems to me might also be well served if we remembered to praise those that keep those new things running; those that make sure the metaphorical zerks are greased, the batteries are charged, and the arteries stay clear. Maintenance here at Michigan Tech comes in all sorts of forms.  It preserves what has been built, whether that be programming, processes, office culture, or websites.

So in this season of thanks, I want to say thank you to those who maintain and keep our new things sustainable.  In particular I’m thinking of the departmental coordinators, front line staff, anyone working with financial aid or immigration compliance, those great folks in the mailroom and print shop, and the SAIS warriors.  These are the people who are focused on taking care of the world we’ve already built here at Tech.  While others are zeroed-in (rightfully) on the new and nifty little thing, the maintainers are the people with the patience, the care, and the compassion for the institution (and for the innovators) who ensure that yesterday’s new and nifty thing stays new and nifty.

I visited with my four year old nephew a few weeks ago and we watched a They Might Be Giants show called Here Comes Science.  They’ve got this song about how important blood cells are to the human body.  The song tells how blood cells bring the oxygen, nutrients, and antibodies to every part of our body and how they even keep our insides clean by helping to haul out the trash.  Blood cells are our body’s maintainers.  And those who help us maintain here at Tech are our life-blood.  They are a life-giving force.  Thank you to those who perform those roles.  We need to give you all more praise and credit.


Brand Versus Campaign

Brand Versus Campaign

All too often marketing professionals blur the lines between brand and campaigns. It’s easy to do. Buzzwords like “brand campaign” muddy the waters even more. It is important to note that a brand and a campaign are different. Understanding this concept is key to successful brand management.

A campaign is for a targeted cause or initiative. Brand is enduring.

Campaigns should align with the brand, and target a specific goal. Sometimes a business or institution will have several campaigns concurrently, and that’s okay. However the one enduring theme that unites multiple campaigns together is brand.

I’ve seen businesses operate without a brand. These businesses churn out campaign after campaign–sometimes successfully. This approach certainly gets attention. However, this model is not sustainable. Usually the goal of a business is to be around for many years to come. This means succeeding in business objectives (campaigns serve as support), while solidifying and nurturing the relationship a company has with its intended audience (branding is pivotal). Campaigns can build on one another via the brand, and use the success of the previous campaign to help launch and empower the next one. This builds equity. And over time, equity is a business’s greatest asset for future growth.

Spilling Water is a Missed Opportunity
Imagine a brand as being like a potted plant. And every drop of water is a campaign. With every drop the plant receives, the plant grows. The more water, the more growth. When a drop misses the plant, it isn’t helping the plant grow. Continually misfire the water droplets and the plant dies.

A brand needs strong campaigns to strengthen it. This means the campaigns must align with the brand. Of course campaigns can be successful without brand alignment, but they will not help your business or institution grow.

Re-potting the Plant
When a plant grows too big for its pot, it’s time to replant. This kind of growth doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time. Doing it too early can disrupt the plant’s roots–doing it too often, prevents the roots from establishing themselves.

The same logic applies to branding. One shouldn’t meddle all too often. Of course if the target audience changes, or the business’s mission changes, then it makes sense. The biggest mistake one can make is changing a brand too frequently. It takes time to build a relationship with a brand. When changes to the brand are being considered, one must first question whether or not the change should be within the current campaign (or campaigns) instead. A general rule of thumb is that brand adjustments should be considered every 5-10 years, while campaign adjustments can happen yearly.

At Michigan Tech, it is important understand how brand and campaigns connect. This relationship positively affects the success of the short- and long-term goals of our University. So the next time a campaign is being discussed, ask yourself this question: “Are we spilling water?”