By Robert Williams
Executive Director, Misericordia University Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education
In the current economy, colleges and universities are under increasing pressure from government and their core audience — parents and students — to provide added value to their curriculum and academic degrees by putting into practice the theories they teach in the classroom. Today, experienced and skilled workers are competing in the job market for the same opportunities once reserved for "green" college graduates.
This prevailing paradigm has made higher education retool their products — soon-to-be college graduates — in an effort to create a competitive advantage for them. To accomplish this new approach, colleges and universities are looking at internships as an additional teaching tool and incorporating them into their business curricula. Internships provide that sought-after value for students because they provide experience in a company's structure, culture and with the rigors of deadlines. In order to create a competitive advantage for their students, institutions of higher education must go a step further and build partnerships with businesses.
Challenges to building these relationships abound. How can colleges and universities build these necessary partnerships when resources are tight?
Many educators agree that internships are the first step, but they alone do not build the necessary relationships that are needed to help grow businesses and resumes. In order to build a true collaboration, a step beyond internships is needed. The two must meet in the middle and create opportunities for each other by creating a business incubator. A university business incubator is a forum in which students step into the real world of business to learn the proper culture and training, as well as to practice their own skills and display their own talents to business leaders. Business in this incubator can invest by providing practical training, while at the same time suggesting innovative methods which may be too costly in their arena.
With an incubator in place, students can learn and practice the art and science of business, while businesses can help to shape their own workforce. For Misericordia University and its students, the incubator is the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education.
A workforce incubator provides a place where businesses can go to train, recruit and even explore untapped markets without the expensive trial and error associated with bad hires and learning curves. It is a place where businesses can observe, encourage and instruct their future employees while, at the same time, adding real value to the college or university. In return, higher education is providing its students with a competitive advantage in the market place by allowing them the opportunity to work on marketing plans, be a member of a sales force, and learn firsthand about the corporate world. Eventually, this synergistic partnership blossoms and colleges and universities can become testing grounds for marketing ideas or they can compete for marketing and sales opportunities, which could create a revenue stream for the institution. The added revenue could fund further training and the incubator perpetuates itself.
The Misericordia University Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education is still in its infancy, but we have embarked on this journey by creating partnerships with regional businesses like PNC Bank, ParenteBeard, Amory Medical Associates, Bucci Vision, Coates Toner, Calex and many others, as Misericordia takes a step beyond creating internships for students. Incubators create training opportunities for students by allowing businesses to influence curriculum by filling gaps in work experience, thereby insuring graduates are competitive in our challenging job market. This next step in creating training programs will eventually morph into a full-fledged pipeline for businesses to recruit new hires after observing them in action.
Businesses like ParenteBeard, for example, have created a training program with us to teach Excel programming. The partnership provides students the preparation, insight and access to the rigors and demands of the business with minimal cost to the university and company. At the same time, it provides ParenteBeard a pool of potential employees who already know how to function in their corporate structure. Smaller, established companies such as Amory Medical Associates enhance the graduate business program by providing hands-on experience and mentoring in sales and marketing, which has earned Misericordia graduates high-profile jobs with Hewlett Packard and IBM.
It takes time to develop true partnerships. At Misericordia, those established relationships provide business majors with the added value they seek and need in today's economy and job market.
Robert Williams, M.S., is the executive director of the Misericordia University Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education. He can be reached at [email protected].