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Reaping What You Grow: How Leaders Are Building The Next Generation Of Talent

January 5, 2024

By Alexander Puutio, Forbes

The US is facing an employee skills gap with staggering macroeconomic consequences.

According to Korn Ferry’s estimates, 85 million jobs are at risk of going unfilled by 2030 due to a lack of sufficiently skilled employees, resulting in an $8.5 trillion loss of unrealized revenues.

Unsurprisingly, the culprit behind the widening skills gap is the rapid pace of technological development. By now, every single industry on this planet has been subjected to countless disruptions and technological paradigm shifts, making it difficult for even the youngest generations to keep up.

In fact, Gen Zers face a unique set of challenges in our modern digital context where skills transfer and tangible apprenticeship opportunities are rarer than ever before.

At the same time, our educational system is struggling to adapt to the constantly changing requirements of the workplace, leaving a growing number of fresh graduates desperately underskilled.

The challenges ahead are daunting, and the consequences of failing to bridge the skills gap are worth serious consideration by politicians and private sector leaders alike.

Some have already done more than that by springing into action.

Below, we’ll explore three industry-led examples where business leaders have boldly stepped up to foster the next generation of talent on their own.

Google's Certification Program: A Bold Approach to Upskilling
Google’s position at the forefront of technology means it is also among the first to suffer from the skills gap.

Acknowledging this, Google has created the Google Career Certificate program that equips current and future employees with the necessary skills to excel in areas of work that are of particular interest to the firm.

These certifications cover various areas, including IT support, data analytics, project management, user experience design and many other areas where traditional educational institutions are lagging. Each certification begins with a free trial and the flexible online formats allow learners to acquire practical and job-ready skills at their own pace.

Google's certifications have set a precedent in the industry, demonstrating how companies can directly contribute to closing the skills gap. These programs provide concrete competencies that are in high demand, not only within Google but across the tech industry.

This initiative has inspired other companies such as Amazon to develop similar programs, scaling the approach to create a more skilled and adaptable workforce.

Engineering Tomorrow: Fostering Future Engineers
Engineering Tomorrow is a non-profit established to address the skills gap in engineering by building the next generation of engineers. After decades of experience in an industry that stands to suffer directly from the future skills gap, including as a founding partner of Global Infrastructure Partners, Bill Woodburn started the charity in order to create a larger, more diverse engineering workforce that can solve the engineering challenges of the future.

With a goal of inspiring high school students to consider engineering and STEM careers, the program focuses on hands-on learning and real-world applications. "We started with teaching and running experiments in high school gyms," Bill recalled in our recent discussion, emphasizing the program’s practical approach.

From its humble beginnings in 2014, the initiative has scaled up rapidly and it will s surpass 400,000 participants in its virtual labs this school year, across all 50 states. In each virtual lab, engineers teach in-demand skills that address some of society’s most pressing challenges, providing instruction and materials at no cost to schools.

Engineering Tomorrow also places emphasis on bridging the diversity gap in engineering by encouraging more under-represented students to explore this field. "Part of our ecosystem approach is to foster diverse talent," Bill noted, highlighting the program’s inclusive philosophy.

Reflecting on Engineering Tomorrow being an early pioneer in bridging the skills gap and an ESG program with impact Bill added, "The concepts are there. It’s about rewarding people for helping on this journey. We’re not just engineers; we’re mentors guiding the next generation and we hope others are inspired to action by our example."

The Legal Mentor Network: Shaping The Future of The Legal Profession
The Legal Mentor Network is another beautiful example of industry experts coming together to foster the next generation.

This mentorship-focused group was founded by Brian Potts in 2020 after his Linkedin post about how he is a partner at a law firm that rejected him as a student went viral. Perseverance is indeed a virtue, and as the mentors in the Legal Mentor Network know, it is one that can be cultivated in others.

Guided by strong demand for legal career mentorship, particularly from underrepresented students, the group has grown rapidly, connecting legal experts from dozens of companies with mentees through one-on-one mentorship, skills building events and more.

By focusing on mentorship, the network makes real-world skills transfer and professional development happen in ways that the modern educational system and workplaces simply can’t.

As a valuable side effect, the network is also creating a more robustly networked generation of legal practitioners, ready to tackle the challenges of a dynamic legal environment which requires more collaboration by the day.

The success of programs like Engineering Tomorrow, Legal Mentor Network, and Google's certification exemplifies a new era of leadership – one that goes beyond business success to genuinely invest in growing the next generation.

These leaders are not only reaping what they grow. They are also sowing seeds for a more skilled, adaptable, and innovative future workforce that will benefit the entire economy.