Entrepreneurship, Higher Education and Jobs

May 28, 2013 at 5:20 AM

When it comes to treating a topic that is highly charged for significant numbers in the national population, persuasive content might be the better choice than pontification.   

Such is the case with The Blog of Ryan Blair – College is the Next Bubble posting from February 21, 2013, where Blair asserts that the institution of college is failing us (our students and graduates) as an entre to gainful employment, and that the best anecdote for a first time job seeker to avoid the trenches of unemployment, is study and become an entrepreneur.      

I was harkened back to a recent conversation I had with Christian Carlson, the Director of State and Local Government Sales for Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute), who oversees the Esri government sales operation that employs over 200 people.  We were conversing about the issues around hiring talent, and Christian made a statement that captured far-reaching challenges for many big company leaders; “I can’t find the talent I need to hire.  Even if they have the skills and domain knowledge we seek, they seem to be missing the essential characteristic we have to hire for - an entrepreneurial mindset.  We can teach the skills and help the knowledge share where there are voids, but it is vital to our business innovation and growth to hire the entrepreneur mindset.”   

So, I sent this timely post over to Christian – “what do you think?” Below are edited excerpts from Christian’s responses.  

Ryan Blair states that “the institution of college is failing us.”  Do you agree?

Carlson:  This is not only timely but something that I have spent a lot of time on.  I see a number of subjects buried in the (Blair’s) blog post that warrant exploration and attention.

For example?

Carlson:  First and foremost, the public communication about this issue - about college education - is poor and leading too many young people (and those who advise them) to take positions that are wrong and damaging to their future.  I just sat with a guy on a plane who spent the better part of three hours telling me that college isn't worth it anymore and that he was advising his kids to save the money and take a different route.  He was playing off some of the ideas in this blog post, College is the Next Bubble – specifically, the debt incurred for a college degree is greater than the benefits in the professional world.  He used Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as examples that college doesn't matter.  Seriously, are we really using the unique backgrounds of two geniuses as the example the rest of us should follow.  

So what is the answer?

Carlson: I describe it this way:  There has never been more of a guarantee that, for the vast majority of us, failure to obtain an advanced degree will result in far fewer career opportunities, lower income and less control over your financial future/professional life – at the same time – their has never been less certainty that obtaining an advanced degree guarantees opportunity.

Does your thinking on this issue evolve from your professional observations and experience or is this more from personal observation?  

Carlson:  Both.  I have business experience as a hiring manager for many levels of talent.  We have as customers some of the largest entities in the world and this provides me with exposure to very diverse perspectives.   I spend a lot of time thinking about how the world is changing because my business is often at the vortex of this change.  

These are true statements and can't be argued.  The reality is that it’s not being socialized through the news media very well.  We need real truth telling to set a new standard for education and skills that are competitive. From my view this includes the following facts/ideas and perspectives:

Not all higher ed opportunities are equal.  The more elite the better.  This doesn't mean that you have to go to an Ivy League school, but it does mean that you need to perform well relative to your peers in the institution you are in.  Performance matters as do the skills and studies you choose to develop.

Going forward many of us will have skills jobs like nursing, IT support, etc.  The job functions that have historically required soft skills like organization, if/then answers and process are (have been) replaced or highly influenced by automation.  This means that trade/skill based education will have a higher ROI for many people in the future.  Not understanding this means that everyone goes to a four year college as the next step with not much waiting for them at the other end.  Painting by numbers is not effective anymore.  This is what is leading to the value proposition debate.  In reality we need to pivot this conversation from whether one should go to college to a conversation about the specific educational choices that are being made and the marketable skills that result from them.  It’s not that there aren’t jobs for college graduates.  It’s that there aren’t skills to fit todays opportunities.  I don’t see how the answer is less education.

What about Entrepreneurship?

Carlson:  Entrepreneurship needs to be a life skill taught early in the education life cycle – Blair gets this right.  
I am filtering recent college graduates by those who did internships, Co-ops, etc., with those who lived in Nantucket for the summer waiting tables.  So yes, get a meaningful job while in college even if it means volunteering.  

Why does this matter, really matter?  
Carlson:  My concern – which I think is being realized is – the message resonating is that higher education no longer matters.  This is dead wrong and dangerous.  What isn't being communicated effectively is that the realities of professional life have changed and the most effective pathways are no longer understood and applied at an individual level.  My sense is that there are many people failing to understand this and providing poor advice to their children and young adults.

Just my two cents.

- Marilyn Carpenter

About Marilyn

Marilyn Carpenter comes to Ventureprise with over twenty years of proven performance in business development, sales, and marketing for entrepreneurial organizations. Most notably, Marilyn was employed as the Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing for Source Technologies, Inc., managing a $65 million business unit with a team of twenty marketing and sales professionals.

In 2006, Marilyn achieved the Associate Certified Coaching certification from the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She created a coaching and content program – Sales Entrepreneur Institute - to engage entrepreneurial sales and marketing teams with go-to-market strategy shifts required for success through 

social media, personal branding, social networking and community building.

Most recently, Marilyn worked as the Director of Business Development for UNC Charlotte College of Computing and Informatics, to successfully launch the new NSF I/UCRC research site for Safety, Security, and Rescue.

Marilyn is also a published author and a speaker, with a focus on training and development.


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