A glance at my 2012 travel schedule might suggest I’m running for President (like Katz MBA alum Rick Santorum). I’m not. But through mid-February, I’ve met with people and hosted events in Chicago, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Francisco, San Jose, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Naples. The visits have been productive and I am pleased to see the excitement that has developed regarding Katz/CBA.
Another positive aspect of my travel time has been the chance to read and reflect, which brings me to the topic for my inaugural blog entry – impressions of a new book by Jim Clifton, Chairman of Gallup, titled The Coming Jobs War.
Based on substantial polling by Gallup, Clifton argues that the creation of good jobs will be the most important issue for many years to come. He writes: “Humans used to desire love, money, food, shelter, safety, peace, and freedom more than anything else. The last 30 years have changed us. Now people want to have a good job, and they want their children to have a good job. This changes everything for world leaders. Everything they do – from waging war to building societies – will need to be carried out within the new context of the need for a good job.”
Clifton suggests that places that create good jobs will thrive and those that don’t will suffer. Many people around the world are miserable and hopeless because they do not have good jobs or the hope of getting one. This situation generates unrest and anger and has undermined governments and promoted incivility. Moreover, the situation is growing worse because communications technologies allow people across the world to see life in other places. Technology also allows people to compete across national borders.
If Clifton is correct, his ideas have many lessons for the United States, Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh. I focus on one issue here. Specifically, to win the jobs war will require governments, private, and nonprofit organizations to collaborate in ways that promote workforce skills, create, and retain good jobs. This has interesting immediate implications.
First, government decisions to reduce investment in education (at any level) represent the equivalent of raising a white flag in the war for jobs. While the immediate implications of surrender seem minor, over time such disinvestment increases the likelihood of an unprepared workforce and encourages job migration to other places. It is equivalent to politically expedient decisions many years ago offering public employees unsupportable pension benefits in order to promote labor peace. We see the results today as underfunded pension plans threaten to bankrupt some states and municipalities. In the future analog, we’ll see economic winners and losers correlated directly with the educational investments being made today.
Second, to the extent we are in a war for good jobs, educational institutions, including universities, should expect increasing public attention to their record of preparing students for and placing them in good jobs. As the cost of college increases, the expectation of a positive vocational outcome rises – perhaps at a higher rate than tuition inflation. Parents and students will pay a large sum if they are confident the investment has a high probability of generating good career and future opportunities. They will, however, demand more assurance and expect results as costs increase.
Third, the need for assurance will require adoption of clear metrics that allow objective evaluation of job outcomes for educational institutions, especially those supported by government funding. If good jobs are the critical outcome needed, we must identify measures of “good jobs” and require evidence on how our schools (at all levels) collaborate with other public, private, and nonprofit organizations to create jobs and prepare students for those jobs. The measures must be solid and objective. For example, there are two ways to improve job placement rates: (1) a school can help secure jobs for more of its students (i.e., increase the numerator); or (2) it can reduce the denominator by excluding students from the placement calculation. Note that judgment is necessary because some individuals are legitimately not looking for a job. Recall that unemployment rates are calculated using samples of people actively seeking work and excluding those who have given up. There must be concerted efforts to identify solid jobs metrics, audit self-reported metrics, and publicize the results. And metrics must apply universally, meaning that nonprofit, traditional, and for-profit schools are judged by the same yardstick.
Fourth, if Clifton is correct, governments have a greater chance of creating a well-prepared workforce and generating good jobs through investments in institutions than through investments in individuals. This is because it is possible to measure and influence the outcomes of institutions over time. Because the pool of students receiving payments would change over time, it will not be possible – or will be doubly costly – to address poor outcomes. This in essence is the problem exposed when our soldiers use their GI benefits to fund an education from schools unable to provide job opportunities. Moreover, when money follows students the influence of academic recruiters and advertising will grow. Better policy is to invest in institutions that are subject and accountable to the people.
I was intrigued by Clifton’s arguments because my experience managing business school programs has made it clear that placement is critical to a school’s success or failure. That is one reason why we have made fundamental changes to and placed major emphasis on placement outcomes for our students at Katz and CBA. Placement outcomes are the ultimate indicator we use in our continuous improvement process – just as firms focus on revenue or net income. Students expect to get good jobs after graduation. Recruiters expect exposure to highly qualified students when they meet job candidates. Parents expect their children to have excellent opportunities when they graduate.
A focus on placement is multifaceted because good placement outcomes have many underlying requirements. A good placement provides a match between a student and employer. Students must be qualified and well trained. They must possess skills that employers value and are willing to reward. The jobs should draw on students’ skills. If employers are unwilling to reward renaissance men and women, an education aimed at producing such individuals will yield disappointing outcomes. There must be regular and clear communication between employers and schools to ensure that educational programs impart skills employers desire in graduates.
Universities will be on the front lines in the war for good jobs. That’s why we are determined to help Katz/CBA students succeed at a time when our biggest problems are economic, the economy is global, and talent can migrate more easily than ever before. People and regions will have no timeouts when they fall behind in this global economic contest. Thus, I am disappointed to see the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania embrace a budget that disinvests in public higher education – especially at a time when Katz/CBA is positioned to win the jobs war.