In October 2017

Appeared as a sponsored section in the October 2017 issue of Business North Carolina.

From left, Jason Sage, Colleen Venters, Steven Pearson, Angela Quick, Leslie Boney, Teresa Pierrie, Caroline Sullivan and Albert Eckel. Photography by Bryan Regan

Bryan Regan

Teachers do important work, but they can’t do it alone. Businesses need to play a role. Beyond the traditional financial support, they can provide the real-life experiences that reinforce and shape lesson plans. Business North Carolina magazine recently gathered a panel of education experts to discuss how businesses can help and where their impact is felt most.

The discussion, hosted by Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University’s James B. Hunt Jr. Library, was moderated by Ben Kinney, Business North Carolina publisher. Support was provided by IBM, RTI International and Caterpillar. Transcript was edited for brevity and clarity.


How can businesses reach students?  

SULLIVAN: North Carolina Business Committee for Education’s focus has been work-based learning for almost 10 years. Its Students at Work program hosted about 34,000 middle-schoolers in March. They shadowed jobs at local businesses and learned about careers from businesses that visited their schools. Career technical education needs rebranding and promotion. Students are missing its great courses because they don’t know about them. CTE is different than it was 30 years ago. Its teachers have relationships with local businesses. It would be great to have IBM, for example, work with traditional and CTE teachers, blending classrooms and opening the eyes of college-track students to CTE offerings. You have to keep learning. That doesn’t mean you return to college or high school but continue gathering skills and experiences.

SAGE: Caterpillar works with schools in many ways. Sometimes students are shown the equipment we manufacture, such as a mining truck that can carry 97 Ford Explorer SUVs. That brings STEM alive. Everybody thinks we’re welders and machinists, but we hire technology folks, too. We’ve built autonomous mining machines for years. We’re returning jobs to the U.S., but assembly and machining labor is in short supply. Those jobs require computer skills, too.

BONEY: More businesses statewide are repeating what I first heard a decade ago: Educators must prepare people for jobs, technology and problems that don’t exist yet. We used to have an idea of where the economy would be in five years. Now, a two-year prediction is tough. I was recently talking to Jud Bowman, entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Durham-based Sift Media Inc., and he doesn’t want to hire coders or accountants. He wants people who will solve the problems he doesn’t know about yet.

PIERRIE: We run Summer STEM, which immerses teachers in STEM businesses. They learn about project-based learning, which emphasizes critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. Employers want workers who can do all those. That means classrooms must support that learning, so students can rehearse problem-solving skills with teacher support.

PEARSON: IBM has helped create an early college model that is transforming education worldwide. PTECH — Pathways in Technology Early College High School — allows students to earn a high-school diploma and associate degree in applied sciences at no cost. There are 61 schools globally. We expect to be at 100 within two years. I’m working to bring it to North Carolina. It’s a partnership of K-12 educators, community colleges and 250 industry partners, which provide one-to-one mentoring and internships. Skills mapping — identifying the skills, and how to learn them, required for a specific job — is a big part of it. Graduates can matriculate at a four-year school or even work for IBM, earning more than $50,000. This model can help rural and urban students.

ECKEL: Businesses must engage with their communities. How many times does a business go into a classroom? It’s not hard; most principals and superintendents are receptive. The challenge is encouraging others. That comes with a cultural change. The jobs you create and taxes you pay are great. But you also have a responsibility to impact students and educators. IBM, Corning, Caterpillar and others believe that. Others need to do the same.

How can they help teachers?

PEARSON: IBM is applying its Watson technology, which uses sophisticated software to answer questions, to all industries. Watson Teacher Advisor helps educators with professional development and curriculum creation from one student to a whole class. We have an advisory board that includes the head of American Federation of Teachers. It vets and creates content. Watson learns through interaction, so we want thousands of teachers using it by year’s end. It’s free.

VENTERS: Educators need better ways to promote technology literacy in the classroom. Education budgets are tight, which makes technology updates rare. More business grants and collaborations are welcome. Businesses should help create curriculums that use current materials, so educators aren’t necessarily asking for more but making better use of what’s on hand. Businesses can help educators decide which skills we need to teach. My students always ask why they need to know something; businesses can show them.

PIERRIE: Principals are a school’s gatekeeper. They understand good instruction but not always what to ask for when a business comes knocking. Their default is a materials request. When businesses help teachers, for example, most principals aren’t active participants. Businesses need to help them understand all of what businesses can provide. It’s difficult to get non-STEM teachers to participate in our Summer STEM program. They believe it’s only science, technology, engineering and math. But we teach project-based learning. When you say college prep or CTE, you suggest a certain scenario. What we want are students ready, equipped and prepared to be productive.

SULLIVAN: NCBCE and N.C. Department of Public Instruction host Teachers at Work, which places teachers in businesses for one week. There they identify workforce skills to be taught in classrooms. It helps businesses understand teachers’ and students’ needs, too. We’re doing a Classroom to Career conference on STEM education at [England-based] GlaxoSmithKline PLC’s U.S. headquarters at Research Triangle Park in March. Every superintendent has been asked to nominate one middle school STEM teacher to attend. Work-based learning projects will be delivered by member companies, and each teacher will receive information about certified career pathways and jobs in their counties. DPI will provide a career pathway curriculum, so teachers, starting in eighth grade, can help students work toward those jobs.

BONEY: Historically businesses have helped schools by writing checks. That’s changing. [Cary-based] SAS Institute Inc., for example, is developing a student data tracking system. DPI probably couldn’t do that by itself. Businesses are making a link between volunteerism and philanthropy. Volunteering by employees can introduce the business to a school, opening the door to philanthropy that can target identified needs.

QUICK: At one time, NCBCE helped review math and science curricula, providing feedback through a structured means. Give businesses a task. It will open the door to more engagements.

What roles can their employees play?

ECKEL: Corning Inc. has six North Carolina plants. Volunteers from each spend time in their respective communities. Corning does it because it’s right and supports its core values. There also is an economic-development benefit. The more time spent with teachers, students, principals and superintendents, the better they’ll understand which skills students need. Better teachers and students mean better workers down the road.

SULLIVAN: Many students are working hard to get to college but don’t have a post-graduation plan. And those not planning on college may not understand the education or training — such as community-college degree or certification — that they’ll need to land a job. Interaction with businesses can help both groups develop plans. Businesses should participate in career days, host job shadows and interns and spend time in classrooms.

PEARSON: IBM employees volunteered more than 20,000 hours last year. Educators and nonprofits submit help requests through an IBM website, and it populates into our internal volunteerism portal. We recently added an app which shows employees volunteering opportunities in real time. Our portal also points employees to more than 50 ways to learn specific skills that open doors to other volunteering opportunities. We also bring volunteer opportunities to employees, so they can provide benefits even with limited time.

SAGE: We’re sponsoring Clayton’s Universal Playground, which gives all kids the opportunity to play and learn. Some beneficiaries are chosen at the employee level. This year we started giving salaried and management employees one day to volunteer at an organization of their choosing.

How can technology unite educators and businesses?

ECKEL: If you don’t understand technology when you enter the workforce, you’re done before you start. It involves thinking critically, being part of a team and communicating. That’s why NCBCE focuses on team building and programs that promote understanding and collaboration. Those are the critical skills workers need. They’re soft skills, but they’re vital.

QUICK: Instead of putting students on a factory floor, where there are safety concerns, simulations can let them get their toes wet. But you still need help defining the experience. Last year a class at a small Northampton County school was studying human trafficking. We used video conferencing to connect it with an RTI International expert on the subject. So for only the cost of that person’s time, those students received a global perspective and the chance to ask questions.

SULLIVAN: NCBCE is building an online career navigator for students, teachers and families that will match a student’s interests to job availability based on Department of Labor resources.

How can businesses help shape curricula?

BONEY: They need to ask for what they need. About a decade ago, someone from IBM told me that they no longer needed I-shaped people, those with one area of expertise. They wanted T-shaped people, who had an expertise but could communicate with those in other disciplines. Recently it has become M-shaped people, those with several expertises and the ability to collaborate.

PIERRIE: Entrepreneurs drive the economy. Students need to hear their stories. Educators know instruction but need businesses to provide context. It has to be a sustained relationship. Knowing your school’s needs is important. Educators will listen to philosophical shifts around education’s expectations. The General Assembly needs to hear them, too. There’s great opportunity there, but most legislators are more concerned with smaller managerial points such as classroom size. That’s not a political statement; it’s where we are.

QUICK: Having business and industry serve on expert panels is an easy way to get them into the schools.  Many schools are hosting Innovation Think Tank, which is a version of the idea-pitching TV show “Shark Tank.” There also are expos, where students present a major project. Once you provide a concrete means for contributing, a second, third and more conversations with a business are likely.

VENTERS: I know the standards and skills that are developmentally appropriate for my students. And I know what activities I can pull in and use to get that skill and that standard across. But I would love for businesses to help me incorporate problem-solving and critical thinking into the college and career standards that I’m charged with teaching.

What is the value of apprenticeships?

PIERRIE: N.C. Department of Commerce is ramping up investment and resources for apprenticeships. Many companies, especially those with an international footprint, are interested in apprenticeships.

SAGE: We have several factories in England. The apprentice program there is three times what it’s here. Some of that is mindset. My two children were raised to believe that college was the plan, but that’s not the way for everyone. Our society has come to view apprenticeships as less than college classes. The reality is apprenticeships can lead to some of the best jobs.

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