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Business leaders need classroom time

Are the college and university graduates you’re hiring equipped with the skills to do the job from day one?
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By Todd Humber

Post-secondary education should be preparing students for the so-called real world, with the in-demand and cutting-edge knowledge employers need. Otherwise, what’s the point of all those ivy-covered buildings and well-manicured quads?

But I’m willing to wager your child’s tuition that, odds are, a solid majority of the recent grads you hire need quite a bit of on-the-job training. 

The Ontario government seems to agree. Deb Matthews, the province’s post-secondary education minister, spoke at the Canadian Club in Toronto on Nov. 28. And she called out a “wide gulf between the perceptions of companies and post-secondary institutions on graduates’ qualifications,” according to the Globe & Mail.

In her speech, Matthews cited a survey that found 83 per cent of educators think they’re developing high-performing graduates. Yet barely one-third of employers agreed. 
“That is a massive gap,” said Matthews.

That understatement may surprise the ivory towers, but not the folks in the HR department. So why the disconnect? It’s not like deliberate attempts aren’t being made. 

I sit on the Journalism Program Advisory Committee at Durham College in Oshawa, Ont. This is a group of working professionals, educators and students who meet regularly to review the curriculum. A lot goes on at the meetings, but it can be boiled down thusly — the goal is to ensure students who graduate from the program have the skills employers actually want and need.

It’s not a nice-to-have. Toronto’s Seneca College outlines the role of advisory committees this way: “The (Ontario) Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities requires an advisory committee for each college program… to ensure curriculum quality, student and graduate success. Committee members are an external selection of exceptional leaders in their fields with a diversity of program-related experience and expertise.”

The meetings I attend are more than just lip service — they strictly follow parliamentary procedure and things like quorums are a must. Advice is sought and adopted, and the teachers genuinely care about the quality of education students are receiving and how many are finding jobs post-graduation.

Returning to Matthews’ point, should employers have a role to play in training and developing new hires? The view from this chair is a hearty yes.

While we can deride the gap between what educators think they’re doing and the reality of the new hire, it’s completely unreasonable to expect new grads to have every skill the profession or your organization needs. 

Some things are organization-specific. Some skills can only be developed over time, with a lot of mentoring. And this is where employers can play a huge role in ensuring colleges and universities are closer to that goal. 

This isn’t a new call, but it bears repeating: More employers need to get involved in education, and there’s little reason not to heed the call. 

Encourage your leaders to sit on advisory committees for programs in their respective fields. Reach out to educators, offer to buy them a coffee, and talk frankly about the types of skills you need workers to have — most will gladly accept the advice. 

Participate in intern programs — not the unpaid internship quagmire, but actual co-op placements that are part of programs that can be unpaid placements, both legally and ethically. 
Many employers are already doing this — some do it for altruistic reasons and others take a more reasoned, business case approach. Getting involved not only helps steer the curriculum, but gives you insight into the next generation of talent, and a potential leg up when it comes time to hire the best and brightest.

Happy Holidays from Canadian HR Reporter
This is the last issue for 2016 — where did the year go? It’s been a memorable one, and you can look forward to our next issue in January which includes the always fascinating Year in Review.

It’s been another great year covering the human resources profession and it’s a privilege to write for our loyal readers.

We thank you for turning to Canadian HR Reporter to help you stay on top of news and trends on the employment scene. The team here, including journalists, editors, art directors, account executives, production co-ordinators, marketers and circulation professionals, works hard throughout the year to bring you the best content.

On behalf of them, I wish you and your families the best over this holiday season and into the New Year. You can continue to check our website, www.hrreporter.com, for news and information over the holidays. We’ll see you in 2017.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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