Students = future employees Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
The wave of baby boomers that hit the American work force pool with an intensity in the 1960s is starting to recede as the forerunners of this generation pull back from full-time employment.

“Demographers are forecasting a change in work force composition as the first of the baby boomers begin retiring this year,” says Dr. Linda Devine, vice president for operations and planning at the University of Tampa. “Since this generation of workers is very large, this information suggests that there are going to be many opportunities for younger workers and challenges for all employment sectors as they compete for talent. In the future, the pool of available workers will be smaller than at present and our needs will be greater than ever before in this global climate.

“This is an exciting time to be working with young professionals. They are technologically savvy, community-minded and they bring an infectious creative energy to the workplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Devine about how to equip and attract future business leaders.

How can companies help prepare future employees?

The best way to ensure a competent future work force is to be where that work force is now — in our schools. As business leaders invest in students, learning will occur in both directions. Not only will students’ lives be enriched and enhanced by increased knowledge of career possibilities, but companies will also be strengthened by an increased understanding of their consumers (and future consumers) and a sense of investment in the communities in which they reside.

How can businesses use their financial resources to benefit the future work force?

Companies can use their charitable donations to make a huge impact in the lives of students. Their funds can go toward college scholarships. They can also invest in programs that give students opportunities to go to leadership training or to participate in educational programs on a state or national level.

Donations to schools can also help equip students with items such as books, computers, laboratory equipment, or new and improved campus facilities, so they can get a quality education, regardless of grade level.

How can companies share their people assets to develop the future work force?

One of the easiest ways businesses can share their human resources is to partner with educational institutions from pre-schools to colleges. Alignment between business and education is becoming increasingly important, given the changing demographics. It is never too early to expose students to the world of possibilities in business.

I recently participated in the Tampa Chamber of Commerce initiative ‘Diploma-See,’ a joint venture with Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance and Junior Achievement. More than 300 eighth-graders had a half-day experience focused on the economics of education. It was a marvelous experience for all involved.

At my institution, we partner in hundreds of ways with the community through companies, agencies, governmental entities and other institutions. Whether it’s working on a case study, listening to a guest lecturer, conducting site visits or volunteering in the community, students need to be engaged with the world and learn by doing and observing real-world activities.

How can businesses prepare future employees through job experiences?

Experiences like internships are a window for students to see into those professions they aspire to join. For businesses that don’t offer internships, job-shadowing for shorter periods of time is effective.

The most obvious benefits are exposure to specific skill sets and knowledge used within a particular enterprise. But the shared goal of both business and education is to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will help employees transcend a position or duty. We want to educate students to reason, to discern, to work in groups and teams, and to conduct their lives professionally and ethically.

It is important to note that many of today’s jobs did not exist 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. We are now preparing a generation for jobs that do not yet exist. We need to think [how] that preparation, in terms of knowledge and skills, will carry our future employees from position to position.

What are some of the benefits and incentives that most appeal to young professionals?

What I hear from young professionals — both male and female — is that they are searching for positions that offer flexibility, creativity and work-life balance. They want to become experts in their fields, contribute to the society at large and enjoy life outside the workplace. And while I know those descriptions sound trite in some respects, I think that this new generation of workers really does mean them.

DR. LINDA DEVINE is vice president for operations and planning at The University of Tampa. For more information about the university, visit www.ut.edu. Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance helps prepare the future work force by investing in college scholarships, which prepares high school students for an increasing demand of a higher educated work force. For more information, visit www.workforcetampa.com.