When I graduated from college there wasn’t the abundance of MBA programs that exist today. Instead, post college I was fortunate to join a company that provided a “management training program.” I appreciated the program’s combination of seminars, workshops, and immersion management. I received notice several times a year to attend a one, three, or five-day seminar on a particular subject, either hosted by our in-house trainer or a traveling lecturer. Each seminar taught us different facets of the business and the logical dynamics associated with operating these facets successfully.
We were also encouraged to read books. Sorry, there was no Internet then, so it was a combination of library reference and going to the bookstore. We weren’t reimbursed for the books and there was never a book report or summary expected. They simply encouraged us to learn more about business, the history of doing business, the Art of War, and managing people. On occasion we would travel to New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles to attend national conferences. We would participate in each session, and over time I collected a series of three-ring binders full of my “just in case” knowledge.
Over the next ten years I ran a variety of divisions at the retail firm I worked at. I managed IT, trucking, warehousing, tailoring and alterations, retail stores and advertising. I only bought clothing for the retail chain for one season as I had determined I wanted to be on an operational management track. Ultimately I was the VP of Store Operations and on the Board of Directors. I got there through my own efforts, and the investment the company made in me.
I wasn’t alone. Several of my friends from college worked for utilities, oil companies, insurance firms, and aerospace. Each of them enjoyed similar programs. Our companies made the investment in us because they expected us to stay with them, and we wanted to stay with them because we felt like we were “on a track.”
Today’s young adults leave college with MBAs and other advanced degrees, or have chosen specific programs within their college or university they believe will help better prepare them for the workplace. Unfortunately, too often these graduates are not prepared to contribute to their employers at the level the organization hopes. I am a Councilor for the Engineering Technology Industry Council (ETIC); a group developed by the State of Oregon Legislature in 1997 to ensure the curriculum offered by the Oregon University System was aligned with the needs of Oregon employers. I see the gaps that exist and the difficulties employers face with today’s recent graduates. Fault lies with the degree choice or the higher education institution’s alignment. And, despite ETIC’s best efforts, skill and knowledge gaps also too often exist. Oregon is not alone.
Unlike when I graduated (no, dinosaurs didn’t still roam the Earth), these graduates do not have the benefit of employer sponsored ongoing education. There are a number of reasons why it no longer exists. First, the programs are expensive and margins have been very tight for the last ten years. Next, the return on investment (ROI) from these programs takes a few years to materialize and most graduates, more than 75% in fact, change jobs within the first two years of employment. According to a recent article in Forbes, “Even in a climate of business uncertainty and an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent, more than 2 million Americans are voluntarily leaving.”