Education to Employment: Make Your Voice Heard

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. June 12, 2022
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​Former Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala; Strayer University President Andréa Backman; and Rep. Troy Carter, D-La.

​Former Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala; Strayer University President Andréa Backman; and Rep. Troy Carter, D-La., spoke June 12 at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022 in New Orleans.

​It is no secret that jobs are tough to fill these days. A better education-to-employment ecosystem could help lessen that burden on employers generally and small businesses in particular.

Educators, congressional representatives, and federal, state and local government leaders are open to hearing from HR professionals on what needs to change so that more students are ready to join—and thrive in—the workforce. Three panelists spoke on the subject during "E-Squared: Education to Employment—Building a Talent Development Ecosystem That Works for All," a June 12 mega session during the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

"Don't be shy" about making your needs known, said former Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala.

Byrne has more than two decades of public service with firsthand experience in expanding the talent pipeline and shaping policy at all levels of government. He served as an elected member of the Alabama State Board of Education and the Alabama State Senate and was appointed chancellor of Alabama's two-year college system.

He spent four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. His background in education and as a labor and employment attorney made him a natural fit on the Education and Labor Committee, where he worked on significant issues with the U.S. Department of Education and advanced federal policy to support workforce training and apprenticeship programs.

Community colleges, in particular, listen to workforce councils, Byrne remarked. "Tell them the skills you need," he recommended, and employers just might wind up with students who have them.

University Reaches Out to Employers

At Strayer University, which has 60 campuses, university administrators saw a disconnect between education and the workforce. "Relevancy is not evergreen" but rather "constantly evolving," said Andréa Backman, Strayer's president.

After talking with employers about their needs, "we took the general curriculum and tore it up," she said. For example, history is no longer taught in isolation; instead, history and productivity are taught in tandem.

Backman previously served as chief employability officer for Strayer's parent company, Strategic Education Inc., where she focused on bridging the gap between graduates and employers and ensuring that students achieve a positive return on their educational investments. Strayer educates many working mothers, students who have returned to school after leaving the education system and people who were formerly incarcerated.

Backman said the university has a "massive talent pipeline" and would like to connect its students with employers to provide them with a "pathway to a better life."

Tell Congress What's Working and What's Broken

Rep. Troy Carter, D-La., urged attendees to tell their representatives "what's working and not working. We're there to assist."

Carter also urged employers to provide more paid internships, noting many students can't afford to take unpaid internships.

He added that "more people should be telling students what they do wrong instead of always what they do right." Carter elaborated that students need to know that the "road to success is riddled with failure, and that's OK."

Volunteer

Emily M. Dickens, J.D., the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) chief of staff, head of government affairs and corporate secretary, moderated the session. She noted that the SHRM Foundation has an apprenticeship program for HR professionals.

She urged attendees to make their voices heard, whether through joining workforce development boards or running for the school board, city council or other elected office.

Time volunteered this way—gaining a seat at the table—is critically important to give more of a voice to HR professionals' concerns, Dickens noted.

Shannon Gordon, CEO of River Edge Behavioral Health in Macon, Ga., is the chair of her community's workforce board. She told SHRM Conference Today that she thinks employers could do a better job of engaging people who have been unemployed for a long time.

Byrne said what is great about the U.S. "is our people. Pay attention at every level. There's no reason we can't become greater."

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