by Bobbin Wages
The development of an educated workforce requires more than a simple interchange between universities and students. The J. Mack Robinson College of Business partners with businesses of all sizes and community organizations to ensure students graduate with modern skillsets that can fill companies’ gaps.
The Entrepreneurship & Innovation Institute, housed within the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, recently hosted the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s quarterly Innovation & Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee meeting. The committee comprises senior leaders in the metro Atlanta area who share the goal of nurturing an entrepreneurial ecosystem between major corporations, mid-size companies, start-ups and universities to drive innovation. Jim DiAndreth, vice president of innovation and technology at Georgia-Pacific, moderated a panel discussion on corporate and university partnerships. Speakers included Jason Aldrich, assistant dean for strategic partnerships and career advancement, Robinson College of Business; Benjamin Collier, vice president of corporate functions, SunTrust Banks; Jack Harris, president and CEO, Junior Achievement of Georgia; Lori Manning, community development director, State Farm Insurance; and Tom Sturdevant, senior human resources manager, Georgia-Pacific.
The breadth of organizations the panelists represented demonstrates the importance of collaboration across the business community in order for metro Atlanta not only to prosper locally but also to compete at a global level. “We are working on pinpointing where the gaps in education are versus where the jobs are,” said Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Atlanta Metro Chamber. “We can facilitate a direct line from universities to companies and vice versa by listening to what is needed in the workforce.”
That concept particularly clicks with Jason Aldrich, who leads Robinson’s Career Advancement Center and thoughtfully has deepened its externally focused offerings. “The Career Advancement Center has done so well at reaching out and tailoring a strategy for [Georgia-Pacific],” said Tom Sturdevant. “From an employer’s perspective, that’s what you want instead of a checklist of things you can do in exchange for ‘x’ amount of money.” Georgia-Pacific’s alliance with Robinson gained steam around eight months ago when company staff members started playing a role in students’ career development through mock interviews and guest speaker events. Because of Georgia-Pacific’s participation in students’ scholastic experience, the company is a natural consideration for top talent entering the professional world. Plus, Georgia-Pacific staff who attended Robinson can mentor new batches of students, continuing the mutually beneficial engagement cycle.
State Farm recently named Georgia State University a “priority school,” donating $25,000 for 10 scholarships specifically to Robinson. As part of the priority school program, the insurance firm also provides students with mentoring, workshops and networking opportunities. Plus, the company offers tuition remission for its employees who attend Perimeter College, which recently merged with Georgia State. Robinson’s alliance with State Farm was intentionally designed to adapt as each constituent’s needs change or new issues arise. “When you form these relationships, unforeseen opportunities bubble to the surface,” Lori Manning said.
One of the hottest capabilities that Robinson graduates bring to the table is big data analytics. Benjamin Collier noted that SunTrust strives to stay ahead of the curve in technology, especially data mining. “How do we create a partnership and attract staff who can slice and dice our data and improve our marketing stance moving forward?” he asked. For example, earlier this year, students from Robinson’s Institute for Insight worked side-by-side with SunTrust executives to help provide predictive insight analytics and modeling and to predict customer attrition. While the students benefited from applying their knowledge of analytics in an actual business setting, SunTrust will be able to use their models beyond the initial project. In fact, several Robinson students joined the SunTrust team to help implement the results.
These days, experiential projects like the above one with SunTrust as well as case competitions and business pitch challenges spark employers’ interest more than interacting with talent at conventional career fairs. While career fairs remain a critical component of the hiring process, they are only one item on what has become a more robust recruitment menu. “Georgia State is creating new vehicles for employers to see students in action and gauge where they fit into an organization,” Aldrich said.
Reciprocal relationships between universities and employers are an obvious start to building a more educated workforce. However, grooming an entrepreneurial mindset in young people starts before college, and is best approached as early as middle school, according to Jack Harris. Plus, the concepts of entrepreneurship and innovation should be embedded across all curricula regardless of academic discipline. “How do we re-engineer education to be more connected to entrepreneurship and create pipelines that lead to talent development?” he asked.
Richard Welke, interim director of the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Institute, hopes he has at least part of the answer. The recently approved institute offers a minor in entrepreneurship that is open to all students at Georgia State. “At the end of 2015, Inc. magazine reported that 27 million Americans were running new businesses, which is a record high and a trend we strongly believe will continue,” Welke said. “Consequently, we are excited to create an entity specifically charged to ensure all university graduates can be exposed to and develop entrepreneurial skills.”
Feeding college students solely with book learning no longer cuts it. Companies expect new hires to have tackled tough business problems before even entering the professional world. The most recent Metro Atlanta Chamber Innovation & Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee meeting illustrates how education, business and society are more interwoven than ever.