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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


One Big Way to Bridge the Gap Between Education and Employment

I am about developing young leaders. Students who see beyond surviving school and getting a job. At Growing Leaders, we want to equip students to lead the way into the future; students who solve problems and serve people.

The time has never been more ripe for this mission.

Recruitment or Employment Issues Chalk Drawing

A large employer of young people recently spoke with a representative from the Department of Education in Georgia. In essence, he said, “We are not asking grads about their GPA or their SAT. We are hunting for soft skills, communication skills and leadership skills. And we are not finding them.”

But is it the kids’ fault? According to a study done by McKinsey and Company, barely 50% of youth today believe their education actually increases their chance at getting a job. They just don’t see the classroom as a relevant place to “get ready.” The McKinsey study included 4,500 students, 2,700 employers and 900 educational institutions in 9 countries. Their findings confirm what I’ve been saying since 2008. We cannot survive an economic recession while at the same time produce graduates who’ve not been prepared for the working world.

Once again this year, somewhere between one third to one half of the job openings for entry level employees (i.e. “recent graduates”) went unfilled. In other words, the jobs were ready—but the graduates weren’t.  Youth are now three times more likely to be unemployed than their parents. According to social scientists, this has become more than an economic issue but a social and psychological one as well.

So what’s the problem? More importantly, what’s the answer?

One major problem is that schools and businesses are not collaborating well. Two thirds of employers are not in touch with educational institutions. And vice versa. It’s as though both are operating in a “silo.” 70% of educators believe the kids they are graduating are ready for work. Less than half of the students or the employers agree. Houston, we have a problem. It’s a communication gap. How can this happen? Simple. Most of the corporations who hire are from the private sector. Most of the schools are from the public or state sector. The two frequently fail to stay in touch with each other. In fact, they’re often are at odds with each other.

So—what would happen if the schools and businesses got together?

What if they talked and agreed on an outcome that includes both academic rigor, critical thinking and the development of a healthy worldview, but also practical skills that will enable kids to be employable? What if students could actually see how their classroom experience was going to pay off once they graduate? It might just keep more kids in school—and keep them engaged.

Each year, I get to see high schools and colleges that get this right. Fortunately, that number is increasing. Most of them I speak to are using Habitudes—Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes.  Teachers introduce images that represent timeless principles, which in turn spark conversations, which ultimately lead to experiences that change their life. When schools don’t furnish this tool, self-starting kids frequently obtain the books and prepare themselves. I love it.

If you’re an educator—may I suggest you sit down soon with some employers and talk about what they need? If you’re an employer, would you please sit down with school administrators and ask what you can do to help prepare kids for life and career? The real winner from this conversation…will be the kids.


  1. the1mcclain on February 12, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Good stuff as always, Tim. More constructive interaction between educators and employers is always going to be a good thing. I teach in the largest business school in TX and have participated in many such conversations and spearheaded significant curricular changes as a result. There are 2 things I’d like to add to the discussion.

    1. When schools, especially biz schools, bring employers onto campus, they/we inevitably bring C-suite Fortune 100 leaders who hire top positions rather than the mid-level managers who are the ones typically hiring recent college graduates. The C-suite folks are great and give us lots to think about but for a variety of reasons are shielded from the ‘in the trenches’ realities of both getting a job and the process of vetting job applicants in their own company. This naturally leads to a mismatch between the advice they give us (ie ‘we need strong communicators and leaders, not super high gpas’) and the realities of their internal HR systems, which DO weed out on the basis of GPA and typically do not account for soft skills or leadership in the pre-interview stage of the hiring process.

    2. A related point is that, as we push schools to open up and change based on what employers and ‘the market’ are demanding, what we typically DON’T say is that it takes two to tango and that companies also bear a burden in the push for full and fulfilling employment for all. I recommend two books that dig into this: Why Good People Can’t Get Good Jobs ( and Good Jobs, Bad Jobs ( These voices help to balance the conversation and are a useful corrective to use when people simplistically say that ‘schools aren’t doing their job’ or ‘it is all the public schools’ fault.’ Of course, once you start saying that companies bear a burden and have a role to play in reducing human misery and enhancing social opportunity, some people will call you all sorts of names (socialist, etc.) and reject it on partisan grounds. My experience, though, tells me that there are still enough reasonable people still out there to get a lot of good done. Thanks for your work!

  2. Brian Musser on February 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Although not perfect, I think the model Drexel University (where I work so I might be biased) uses is actually decent. They are a 5 year school where during your middle 3 years you spend 6 months in class and then 6 months on a co-operative work experience. This mean that upon graduation students have 18 months of real career experience. They also have been through the job search and interview process 3 times. I believe that for their first co-op experience students are required to apply for 20 different positions and go to at least 5 different interviews. This process changes students. Also, as a minister to college students who have had work experience, it gives us 3 chances to work through connecting beliefs to employment in ways that are extraordinary.

    • the1mcclain on February 12, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      Wow – that is incredible! You clearly have very strong corporate partners to be able to move this much capacity every year. I’m going to the Drexel webpage now. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Joseph Lalonde on February 12, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    It’s amazing how out of touch the education system can be. During my high school years, I remember it wasn’t about learning a skill, it was about making a good grade and passing one of the assessment tests.

    Since then, I’ve seen fellow classmates struggle to find footholds to move forward but they lack social skills, the thirst for knowledge, and more. Hopefully more schools and colleges come around to the fact something needs to change.

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One Big Way to Bridge the Gap Between Education and Employment