By: Amy Schilling Issue: Vision Section: Academia
Industry’s Role For Transformation In Education And Workforce
Jamai Blivin, CEO of Innovate+Educate, turned 40 and decided it was time to follow her passion and become a teacher. She retired from a successful career as a portfolio manager in the investment industry, and began teaching. But, after working in North Carolina with one of the top industry associations, she soon realized that she had a bigger calling and in 2009 approached Intel and Lockheed Martin to form what is now Innovate+Educate.
Today, Innovate+Educate is one of the nation’s top industry-led Board of Directors working across and within states to advance STEM and workforce development. The Board of Directors includes major thought leaders from some of the top companies in the country, including but not exclusively Intel, Monster, Lockheed Martin, Apple, IBM, Cisco Systems, Rockwell Collins, and AT&T. The partnerships have grown beyond 100 in number with key collaborators including Business Roundtable, the Business Higher Education Forum, Battelle Memorial Institute, and top states’ Governors, Lt. Governors and state leadership. The organization has since expanded to key geographic regions including Dallas and El Paso, Texas; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Washington, DC.
Blivin’s work was spurred by her childhood as a preacher’s daughter in El Paso, Texas. Her father brought home his used pulpit and Blivin would preach to her dolls every Sunday. She also pretended to be a teacher, lecturing her dolls every afternoon and helping them with their homework assignments. Between teaching and preaching she was a very busy young girl. But somewhere along the way, between her parents’ divorce and her rapid transition from “country club life” to dire financial straits when she was 12, Blivin turned to survival mode, working full-time beginning at age 16 and then putting herself through college. She went on to graduate college in three years, magna cum laude, with a finance degree and was recognized by the University of Arkansas as the top finance major in 1983. She then received her MBA in 1988 and moved into investment banking. She describes turning 40 as a turning point in her life, deciding to leave her investment career behind and focus on her passion for teaching and working with the underserved.
After working closely with industry in her first career, moving into teaching for several years, she was then asked to serve as Director of the North Carolina Technology Association (NCTA) Education Foundation in Raleigh-Durham. Blivin’s first job with NCTA was under a U.S. Congressional appropriation to develop a rural education technology project in one of the most impoverished regions of the state. Working closely with industry partners including IBM, Cisco Systems, SAS and others, Blivin’s region was recognized as one of the leading technology demonstration projects under the appropriation, and more importantly, Blivin had found her passion—tangible results with industry as the driver. The ‘Business’ of Education: Why Industry Is The Answer
It was Blivin’s experience in industry and then education that created her vision for Innovate+Educate and the role the organization could play in addressing the critical challenges our country faces in remaining and/or regaining our global competitiveness. She believes that there must be a new paradigm for public-private partnerships (PPP), as the traditional model is antiquated and proven ineffective in advancing sustainable solutions to the issues of education and workforce facing the U.S. today. She believes that industry must be the driver of this paradigm shift because industry understands two very important business concepts that education never has—supply and demand and return on investment. Education is SUPPLYING a ‘product’ that industry DEMANDS—a skilled workforce. The problem is that there is a significant gap between what our industries need and what is coming out of the education pipeline. We have open jobs that are going unfilled because people lack the skills needed to do the jobs.
The education statistics speak for themselves—Hispanic dropout rates across the country are close to 50 percent, there are 10 million unemployed in the U.S. and 3 million job openings in which employers say they cannot find the skills needed to fill the jobs. In January, 2012 The Brookings Institute released a report from the final Jobs Council report with a statement from DuPont CEO & chairman, Ellen Kullman saying, "The U.S. economy has traditionally been an engine of innovation, fueled by a highly skilled workforce and generating technologies and products sold around the world. Today, that American innovation and competitiveness is at risk. As the skills required in the 21st Century workplace grow ever more technical and complex, our education and worker training systems are not keeping pace. In fact, in many areas we seem to be losing ground. Companies are struggling to fill available jobs with skilled workers even while Americans are unemployed. We can and must ensure we provide our citizens the education and skills to compete in the global economy and ensure U.S. companies have a skilled workforce.”
An Enormous Undertaking
Despite what seems to be a growing collective consciousness around STEM, education and workforce development, Blivin is the first to say that the work is just beginning. With Innovate+Educate now recognized as the voice for industry and education/workforce, Blivin believes that there must be a true national movement to address the change required. She believes that education itself is “broken” and references the 35 percent tipping point theory—that once anything reaches 35 percent, the statistical validation shows that change must occur. With high school dropout rates across the country already greater than 35 percent, Blivin believes education, in the way it exists today, can no longer be validated as effective. Nothing occurring today in policy, whether it is No Child Left Behind, Common Core initiatives for higher standards, or teacher pay for performance initiatives, will address the tipping point we now face. We must work collectively with the greatest urgency if we are to not fail our children, our economy and our nation as a whole over the next decade.
The only way we can address the situation our country faces now is looking at what education should look like. Innovate+Educate believes that we must look at the impact of when, how, and where young adults learn by expanding access through hybrid models of education. With 72 percent of all high school students graduating with the need to both work and attend higher education, we must expand opportunities for when and how learning occurs. Today, much of the U.S. population (with a rising Hispanic demographic) must begin work at age 16, so it is no coincidence that this is when we see dropout rates at the highest levels. She strongly believes industry involvement is critical and must be open to creating opportunities for our young adults to be able to stay in school while also working.
Blivin understands this need intimately, as she worked full-time while putting herself through college with no financial support from her family. If industry can adopt this kind of flexibility in their hiring and training strategies, it allows students to continue their education at a financial pace they can keep up with so they do not have to dropout. And with poverty on the rise in our country, this problem will not be going away; it is a fundamental shift in our nation and cannot be ignored. Blivin believes that if the current models of education reform do not address or factor in our growing issues with poverty, then dropout rates will continue to rise. It is not education’s responsibility to solve poverty, but at the same time if the models of reform do not address this fundamental variable, the reform will never work.
So, what will address these overwhelming issues and where does Blivin believe Innovate+Educate fits into the big picture? The theory she has built her organization on is that industry must be the driver in re-thinking both their investments in education (which is in the billions of dollars), as well as the pathway to employment and education for our young adults in the United States. As I sat with her at Starbucks, she described her own children’s pathway through education first in Little Rock, Arkansas, then Durham, North Carolina, and finally in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She made a compelling statement, “Public education is really only working for about one-third of the U.S. population. The wealthy attend private school as soon as possible, the middle class work the system to get their students in the best public schools within the best neighborhoods, and the rest are left behind.” Given the demographic trend of our becoming a majority/minority (Hispanic) nation, we can no longer ignore this reality, nor should we want to. Blivin believes that it is our responsibility as a society to provide opportunity and access to every individual in this nation.
The Vision Going Forward
Innovate+Educate continues its work in advancing STEM education and workforce development and placing industry at the forefront of the conversation with states and policymakers. Blivin continues to put her vision and personal experiences at the forefront of the work. She will always give full credit to her board of directors, who themselves have a passion and vision not just as representatives of their companies but also as individuals believing they are part of the solution.
Innovate+Educate (http://www.innovate-educate.org) has partnered with U.S. News & World Report and STEMconnector (http://www.stemconnector.org) on what is expected to be the largest Summit held in the U.S.to address our STEM and workforce crisis in June, 2012. Join the conversation and get involved at http://usnewsstemsummit.com.
Amy Schilling is the Editor of The Innovation Intake the first nationally distributed digital publication dedicated to producing and driving high level conversation around critical STEM issues. With contributions from the nation's thought leaders in the areas of policy, industry, education, media and philanthropy, The Innovation Intake aims to turn conversation into action and take the idea of information sharing to a whole new level. Subscribe today to firstname.lastname@example.org.