Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Creating Qualified Talent - Where Does the Responsibility Derive?

There is a pretty hot and heavy discussion that I have been following on ERE (Electronic Recruiting Exchange) that is focused on the issue surrounding the creation of talent and where the responsibility lies for our collective success or failure. The discussion was initiated by Yvonne LaRose, who has a consulting firm in California called Executive Recruiting Entrances.

I have to admit it is a hot button for me. I am not even sure exactly why. I am not even sure if my feelings are driven by fear, anger, or both; I just know they are there. If you have read Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat then you might be able to relate to from whence some of the "fear" part comes.

The anger piece, and I think I have to stay with anger because I am beyond the frustration stage, I think comes from the fact that as a nation we seem to be doing so little about it. The "it" meaning our failing education system.

Most of us have seen the stats in terms of how poorly our education system ranks vs. Europe and Asia. Any company of any size that has done any serious hiring over the past decade has experienced the mind-numbing task of interviewing "kids" who can barely read or write and who have graduated from colleges and universities whose names most would recognize.

I have two quick points-of-view:

1. In terms of where the responsibility derives for the creation of talent, I think it rests with "us." The Feds are not going to fix this. If and when the majority of “us” in the country feel that fixing the educational system is important enough, those we elect will start doing the enabling, but we are going to have to want it badly enough to invest both the time and money to make it happen.

2. Since the Feds can't and won't fix it, I think the leadership needs to influence and persuade the country that it is in our collective best interest to make the investment. This must come from those who have one of the biggest stakes in the outcome -- namely Corporate America.

If you think there is a War for Talent now based on all the hoopla around demographics, etc., try thinking about what it will be like trying to find all the domestic knowledge workers when those who are the products of our crumbling educational system simply can't compete because they simply don't have the "know how." If you think outsourcing is an issue now, hurry up and wait, it could get far, far worse.

There is an old saying that information is power. I think that's true. Information comes from the knowledge that is acquired over time. Certainly one can learn a great deal through practical experience, but for the information age, education is the key.

You can say what you want to about Bill Gates, but I think he "gets it." Look at where he is spending his personal money. There are probably, I hope, many others of our corporate leadership who are doing the same. I happen to be aware of at least one other only because I was once privileged to have worked for the company he headed and knew him, and that's Dave Kearns, former CEO at Xerox. Ever since he left Xerox he has been on the "education case," and not as a recent convert, as the article in BusinessWeek in 1999 demonstrated. It was entitled: The Mission: David Kearns's Crusade to Fix America's Schools and it still rings as true today as it did then, maybe even more so.

I still very much believe that there is no challenge that this country can't meet when and if it sets its collective mind to the task, but it takes commitment before that can be done, and we are a long way from showing that commitment.

If you were interested in following the discussion on ERE, here's the link:

Creating Qualified Talent - Where Does the Responsibility Derive?

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