with Commissioner mulligan
In this episode of MoTalent, Commissioner of Higher Education Zora Mulligan and Department of Economic Development Director Rob Dixon provide an overview of the final recommendations that have come about through the Talent for Tomorrow and Best in Midwest initiatives. These initiatives included an assessment of the current workforce and how well it matches needs, a deep dive into our current workforce strategy, and as a result, is fundamentally resetting our approach to meeting the state’s workforce needs. Over the past year, state leaders have engaged more than 3,000 citizens and identified opportunities to transform Missouri into a top state for economic and workforce development.
On Jan. 16, Governor Parson delivered his State of the State Address outlining his policy and budget priorities. Several Talent for Tomorrow and Best in Midwest recommendations were included in his agenda. Some of these recommendations will require statutory changes and/or state appropriations to implement.
Missouri deserves the best. We’re not there yet, but we will be.
Director Dixon begins the conversation by describing the “why” that created the need for change.
Missouri’s economy is growing, but we lag our peers in every measure. Among our 14 peers, Missouri ranks:
There’s also a talent pipeline issue when it comes to the number of Missouri students who complete high school and move on to enter college. To become the best, Missouri needs to open doors of opportunity to help people get the training and education they need.
Governor Parson announced a major reorganization of state government involving four state agencies in an effort to improve economic and workforce development across the state.
Transforming the Department of Economic Development
The new Department of Economic Development will be laser focused, regionally targeted, customer centric, and data driven. This will include creating new divisions within the department that are structured around the customer rather than around programs and processes. Two key parts of this transformation are establishing a Deal Closing Fund within the existing Missouri Works program to help win more jobs for Missouri and implementing Missouri One Start which will deliver tailored workforce solutions that shorten the time to market and make businesses more competitive.
Aligning Missouri’s public workforce system with higher education
Technically this is a reorganization, but Commissioner Mulligan characterizes it more as a fundamental reset of the state’s approach to workforce development. This change will allow the state of Missouri to communicate with citizens about the full range of postsecondary options – from apprenticeships to certificates to doctoral programs – all under a single strategic umbrella.
This move, along with a few other tools highlighted by the Governor, will be especially transformational.
Missouri is in it to win it
To achieve the results that we see in top states, it means taking action and making bold decisions that will help move Missouri forward. This includes a complete overhaul of Missouri’s economic and workforce development strategies and better alignment of existing state agencies.
Governor Parson’s top two priorities are workforce development and infrastructure and these are being addressed throughout his administration. Commissioner Mulligan and Director Dixon also discussed some of the work that’s being done in other state departments, including:
with commissioner mulligan
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It can be a hard question to answer, in fact some of us are still deciding. As a young child, sometimes it’s less daunting.
One of our most fun conversations was with a group of kids at Show-Me Child Care Center in Jefferson City. Several wanted to be doctors, veterinarians, and teachers when they grow up. A few others had high ambitions to become superheroes.
A key component of the Talent for Tomorrow and Best in Midwest efforts is better connecting education and the workforce. Part of that means increasing the supply of graduates in fields that are in high demand. This raises a key question: When and how do kids decide what they want to be when they get older? How do we encourage students to pursue those high-demand fields? How do we develop talent for tomorrow? To try to answer these questions, we sat down with Diane Clayton, a school counselor at Jefferson City High School; David Hough, dean of the College Education at Missouri State University; and Nathan Fleming, a science teacher and Project Lead the Way instructor at West Plains High School.
What the experts say
Career development “starts even earlier than just the high school,” Clayton said, starting as early as elementary school and definitely by the time a student is in middle school. Dr. Hough categorized students into three groups when it comes to making career decisions. Some make the decision exceedingly early, while others develop their interests throughout their education and make a decision, and others take longer, until later in college or after graduation.
So, what does it take to help people decide what they want to be? Clayton says the two key ingredients are time and exposure to a broad range of career options.
Jefferson City Public Schools adopted what is called an ‘academy model,’ which allows students to choose one of several areas, or academies, that they would consider pursuing. Rather than consisting of a specific occupation, these academies are designed to be broad and give students exposure to a multitude of career paths they may be interested in. “[Students] aren’t pigeonholed into one specific area,” Clayton said, but it helps them find some focus. “It’s one thing to know I have an interest in this area, and it’s another thing to know that I have an aptitude,” she said. Knowing a little bit more about yourself as you prepare to graduate from high school can help students make more informed decisions about next steps.
Fleming thinks that teachers have a responsibility in helping students explore different career options. One effective method, Fleming says, is having professionals in the teacher’s subject area come in and speak to the students about what they do. “If teachers did that through all subject areas, then students should be exposed to a lot of different careers before they get out of high school,” Fleming said.
On the flip side, these daunting decisions can be stressful for students. Clayton emphasized the need to remember that high school students aren’t finished products, and the need to focus on providing students with opportunities to explore a variety of career paths to make that decision easier. Ideally, a student’s first year of college should not be the first time they’re being exposed to the countless career paths open to them.
Possible paths forward
Hough believes we should rely on existing research to guide efforts to improve student career outcomes. “The two things that come out [of the research] are mentoring and internships,” Hough said. “Finding someone, the wise person who takes you under his or her wing and teaches you and leads you … is a very powerful tool to help incentivize people to pursue a certain area.”
From Fleming’s perspective, we need to make an effort to set aside time on a regular basis to talk about college and career choices in a concrete, practical way. Fleming talked a lot about what he calls the “hidden rules”, which “is all the little things that we assume you’d have to know in life, but there’s no class that teaches it.” As he developed the concept, he realized that “the students really crave that kind of information because it’s really practical information that could help them.”
A millennial moment
We took a moment to speak with a few current college students who recently had internships with the State of Missouri. Olivia Kessler, who attends Lincoln University and interned this summer with the Information Technology Services Division (ITSD); Levi Anderson, who attends Missouri S&T and interned with ITSD; Matthew King, who attends Missouri State University and interned with ITSD; and Scott (Jeffrey) Farley, who attends State Fair Community College and interned with Facilities Management, Design and Construction (FMDC).
We asked these students about how they decided what to do after high school. Anderson approached college in a very informed, practical way; and he knew what he wanted to do from day one. He worries that students are pressured into going to college, even if they’re not sure what they want to do. “They realize that they don’t like what they’re doing, and they still have all of this debt from [college,] which then digs them a hole for later,” Anderson said.
“I think about [debt] a lot,” Kessler said. “I want to become a doctor, so not only do I have to worry about the tuition from undergraduate school, but I have to worry about the tuition of graduate school … That’s a lot of money I’m putting into it, and I’m not even sure if I’ll get a job afterwards. I’m just hoping I can get a scholarship, an assistantship, something just so I won’t have so much debt to worry about when I’m 40.” For Farley, state supported programs were game-changing. “If it wasn’t for the A+ Scholarship Program, I probably would have just went straight out into the workforce,” he said.
The big picture
The purpose of our conversations was to get a better sense of when and how children make decisions about what they want to do with their lives. In some ways, we got an answer: Students begin to get ideas about their careers as early as elementary school, and many are well into the process as they progress through middle school. Schools have a significant, but challenging role to play in fostering career development and career maturity.
However, the variety of responses we received and the stories we heard hinted at something else: That career development is a messy, non-linear process. People choose careers in interesting and unforeseen ways. Many of the people we spoke to throughout the podcast series were examples of this.
Hearing from a few familiar Missourians
We explored some of those interesting career paths in our discussions with a few familiar Missourians.
Carrie Tergin had no plans to run for mayor of Jefferson City when she enrolled at Missouri State University to pursue a business management degree. “I went into business because I have a family business…, so I always knew business was my interest and my background.” She went on to run the business successfully, crediting her college experience with making her more effective. But during her college career she also had experiences that opened her eyes to public service. While students may or may not get to college knowing what they want to do with their lives, it is also important to keep your eyes open to new experiences and opportunities that could change or enhance your career. “You really get out of [college] what you put into it,” Tergin said. “[College] is the first time you’re really out on your own and you get that opportunity to make things happen.”
When Don Claycomb went to college, he wanted to teach vocational agriculture. And he ultimately achieved that goal after completing a graduate degree at the University of Missouri—Columbia. His story is not one of doing a complete career turnaround, but it is an example of the myriad positions students will have the opportunity to serve in throughout a full career. Claycomb has spent over 50 years in public education, including serving in roles as a high school teacher and college professor; an administrator; and as president of State Technical College of Missouri for 23 years. Last year he was appointed to serve on the State Board of Education by Governor Mike Parson. His biggest advice is to maintain focus to accomplish your career goals.
“When I started college, I thought I wanted to be a medical dietitian, said Mary Russell, who has served as a judge on the Supreme Court of Missouri since 2004. “I quickly learned that that was not going to be an appropriate major and career for me, so I switched to communications.” Russell credits the various internship opportunities she had as a student at Truman State University as helping spark her interest in attending law school. “I knew for sure that when I went to law school that I never, ever wanted to be in a courtroom … So I guess I learned never to say never.” She encourages students to keep their eyes open and to take advantage of every door that opens to them.
Additional resources and further reading:
With Commissioner Zora Mulligan
In this episode we take a look at three areas people often have misperceptions about – the value of liberal arts degrees, the role of apprenticeships and trades programs in workforce development, and the opportunities available through the career and technical education path.
Nationwide, there has been an increased focus placed on technical education, which provides the kind of ‘hard’ and practical skills students need in order to roll up their sleeves and get started on day one. These programs—think welding, construction, advanced manufacturing, the list goes on—are increasingly held up as the future of a postsecondary education more readily linked to workforce needs.
While we agree there is a real need for technical skills to get students in the door, it’s often the soft skills or perhaps a better term, the power skills —critical thinking, problem solving, communication—that undergird a successful lifelong career.
A liberal arts degree makes cents
The key criticism about liberal arts degrees is that students with these degrees have low earning potential, but this was disputed in our conversation with Dr. Sue Thomas, President of Truman State University.
The research suggests that conventional wisdom is short-sighted. While liberal arts degree holders initially earn less than other graduates, “that is only for the first few years after graduation … that advantage absolutely changes over the course of the career,” said Dr. Thomas. In fact, students who have a liberal education experience are “up to 72 percent more likely than others to be earning more than $100,000 in their careers.”
What explains this? Laura Evans from Cerner, based in Kansas City: “I really think you do need both [general and technical skills]. There is a short-term need for students and workers to be able to have skills that they can come in and … add value in a work setting.” On the other hand, Evans continued, “there is certainly a longer-term thought: a need for foundational capabilities … that you draw upon again and again to learn the next set of skills, as skills change fairly rapidly.”
Another explanation is that students with liberal arts degrees are more likely to become leaders. This is because these individuals have the communicative, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills to move beyond the early stages of their careers to learn new things, expand their networks, and occupy increasingly complex roles and responsibilities outside of their area of expertise. Many of the state’s top leaders received a liberal arts education.
Power skills are an antidote for automation
Automation has become a growing part of the national conversation in recent years, but it often occurs in isolation from the parallel conversations about increased focus on technical education. To truly prepare our students for a 21st century workforce, we need to give them the power skills that will enable them to succeed not just in the years immediately following their graduation, but that they’ll need in decades to come.
“I would argue that the liberal arts and sciences become more relevant as automation increases,” said Thomas. “The skills that you’re going to need in a more automated world are social-emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities … The skills that cannot be easily automated are the skills you develop in a liberal arts and sciences education.”
This conclusion is supported by research that suggests that liberal arts degree holders enjoy greater career mobility than other graduates, an essential quality in a time of rapidly changing workforce needs. Zora Mulligan, commissioner of the Missouri Department of Higher Education, quipped, “These liberal arts skills are the ones you’re going to need whether you want to run a small business, run for office, or run from the robots that took your job.”
Liberal arts and technical skills go hand-in-hand
To explore more connections, we sat down with John Gaal, the Director of Training and Workforce Development for the St. Louis – Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, who has been involved with apprenticeship programs for nearly four decades, to talk about apprenticeships and their crucial role in improving student outcomes.
First things first: What is an apprenticeship?
For many, the word is a familiar one that is hard to define with any degree of specificity. Simply put, a registered apprenticeship employs an “earn while you learn” model with substantial on-the-job learning, resulting in a nationally-recognized occupational credential for the apprentice. In Missouri, there are 400 registered apprenticeship programs across a wide variety of occupations.
In our conversation, Gaal talked about how apprenticeships have changed and where they need to go if we’re serious about workforce development.
Throughout the conversation, Gaal frequently mentioned a turning point in 2011, when Harvard released a Pathways to Prosperity report that paved the way for other institutions to get serious about apprenticeships. Previously, apprenticeships have been stigmatized by perception of the three D’s—that they’re dirty, dark and dangerous.
When talking about the skills people need and develop in an apprenticeship program, Gaal highlighted so-called power skills as key to these professions. This might come as a surprise from someone deeply involved in the construction industry, and highlights the importance of challenging conventional wisdom.
“The apprenticeship program structure of today is certainly being challenged by how fast technology is moving, and in order to remain competitive [workers] have to keep up with the technology,” Gaal said. “It’s not unusual to see apprenticeships … actually implement as part of their training system these notions of what makes an employee successful throughout their curriculum,” such as problem-solving and teamwork.
What’s the difference between apprenticeships and internships?
Apprenticeships are formal employment programs designed to train people to perform a specific job, while internships are opportunities to gain on-the-job experience in a shorter time frame. Many students use internships to decide if a particular career path is right for them.
According to an annual survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), over nine in 10 employers say they consider prior experience when making hiring decisions, and many of these highly value experience in the form of internships. So it’s no surprise that internships have become an integral part of the college experience.
To dive deeper into the value of internships, we spoke with Ryan Klatt and Nick Rackers, instructors in the State Technical College of Missouri’s Commercial Turf and Grounds Management program; Reese Kerlin, a State Tech alum and assistant groundskeeper with the New York Red Bulls; and Zacary Baladenski, a current student at State Tech and an intern for the Boston Red Sox.
Why do internships matter?
“Internships are important because students learn a lot better if they do things hands-on,” Klatt said. “We do a lot of hands-on in class, but we can only do so much.”
Internships also provide students with networking opportunities and valuable connections.
“[Internships are] helpful in figuring out what you don’t want to do,” Rackers added. He noted that many students go into an internship experience thinking they want to do one thing, and realizing that maybe that path isn’t for them. That may be a difficult experience, but it saves someone from having that realization when the stakes are higher. Rob Dixon, director of the department of economic development, summed it up best: Internships are a way to “try before you buy” for both students and employers.
How do I get my foot in the door?
Both Kerlin and Baladenski secured internships with major organizations far from their campus in Linn, Missouri, made possible by a combination of self-motivation and support from State Tech faculty. Like with many things in college, being a self-starter has its benefits.
If internships make a big difference for student outcomes, as research suggests they do, ensuring students from all backgrounds have access to these programs is essential. “Most students can’t take time away from a work week to do an unpaid job,” said Zora Mulligan, commissioner of higher education. Both Baladenski and Kerlin agreed. “There’s no chance I would have been able to travel out to Philadelphia without being compensated for my time,” Kerlin said.
Students should also remember to think about internships broadly. “It doesn’t have to have the job title of ‘internship’ to count as an internship for the credit required for a degree,” Rackers said. Students looking only for positions labeled as an internship may be limiting their opportunities without knowing it.
As an intern, will I just be getting coffee and shredding paper for my supervisors?
“I think often we don’t pay enough attention to [a student’s experience in an internship,] and so you have interns doing everything from running to get coffee, to filing, to shredding, when really the purpose of their work there is to learn more about what they want to do when they grow up,” Mulligan said.
“We don’t expect [students] to get special treatment,” Rackers said. “But we do expect some kind of acknowledgement that these students are there to learn something. So we understand that maybe a job has to get done and there’s a time crunch and that’s the real world, but at the same time, taking a student aside and explaining something just a little bit more thoroughly goes a long way.”
Being a self-starter is an essential part of being a successful college student and a successful intern. This means not waiting to be told to search for new opportunities, instead taking advantage of industry websites, mentors, and other opportunities on campus to learn new skills and build a reliable network. Kerlin and Baladenski are examples of the success and job prospects students can enjoy by doing so. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for faculty. Providing valuable learning experiences in the classroom, and career guidance and support outside of it, can ensure students at an institution like State Tech are well-equipped for success.
Additional resources & further reading:
WITH COMMISSIONER ZORA MULLIGAN
In our second episode, we begin by talking with a group of individuals responsible for attracting and retaining employers and talent to the state of Missouri. As this conversation reveals, a significant part of this equation is having a stream of talented college graduates who are able to excel in the positions employers need to fill.
What is site selection?
Our guests described it as a dating game, beauty contest, and a game of survivor.
“It is a dynamic and precise analysis of geography, people, and business climates,” said Jim Alexander, senior vice president at the St. Louis Regional Chamber. “A client will come to a site selection consultant and give them a good overview of the types of requirements and characteristics they’re looking for in a workforce.”
The consultant then identifies an area where that business is most likely to achieve its goals and be successful.
Oftentimes companies are looking for flaws to eliminate communities and regions out of contention. Tim Cowden, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, pointed out that the role of the economic developer is to eliminate as many of those flaws as possible.
What employers are saying – talent, talent, talent
A central concern for businesses is to find employees with the right skill sets. Many of the rules that apply to site selection, and what businesses are looking for, are similar for urban and rural areas. Carolyn Chrisman, director of Kirksville Regional Economic Development, added that companies are generally well-equipped with demographic information that informs their decision-making. In her region, however, they collect additional information to communicate with employers because there is often a different story boots-on-the-ground than what you see on the surface. This includes analyzing populations and strategies for expanding the workforce.
The role of talent
Talent plays an integral role in employers’ decisions about where to start and where to expand their businesses. It’s emphasizing the importance of high-quality educational opportunities in attracting businesses to the state. Understanding what talent means to companies is important to making sure they have those skills.
While much of our time is spent looking forward, we thought it would be valuable to take a moment to step back and look to history to learn a little bit about how we got to the moment we’re in.
Talent for Tomorrow “needs to be an initiative that is about scale,” said Zora Mulligan, commissioner for higher education. “And if you think about the real and substantive changes that have happened in the last 150 years, the GI Bill certainly comes up on the list.”
Dr. Gary Kremer, executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri. Kremer is a fifth-generation Missourian who previously taught history at Lincoln University and William Woods University, and served as the state archivist. He provided a look back at the transformational impact the GI Bill had on colleges in Missouri.
The GI Bill, formally the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, as victory on the European front drew closer. World War II, and the subsequent passage of the GI Bill, changed both Missourians shipped a world away to fight in distant battlefields and those who stayed home. The GI Bill overwhelmed colleges and universities across the country.
“During the war, [enrollment at] the University of Missouri—Columbia … declines to about 2,200. And by the fall of 1946, there are over 10,000 students,” Kremer said. “Seventy percent or more of them were veterans.”
This came with many logistical challenges, but “it’s hard to imagine what our society and economy would be like without such a generational transformation,” said Rob Dixon, director of economic development.
Seeing the connection between workforce and higher education
Throughout the Talent for Tomorrow initiative, we have been making significant efforts to learn from Missourians about how to improve our colleges and universities to prepare a 21st century workforce. We also believe it is necessary to look outward, to learn from others who share our values of promoting student success through connecting higher education and workforce development.
We sat down with Dr. Martin Van Der Werf, associate director of editorial and postsecondary policy at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).
Van Der Werf believes that workforce development and education are inextricably linked, because “the main reason that people go to college is to get a job. And if they’re not going to get a job with what they’re majoring in, then they’re going to possibly see their investment in college as being wasted.”
So how do we address that? Van Der Werf suggests that more information about the availability and benefits of other programs—offered online and offline, as two-year degrees or certifications—could open doors people never knew existed. Even if students and institutions have the information they need, leaders in higher education must overcome a fundamental challenge: the workforce changes quickly and unpredictably, responsive to a constant deluge of inputs, while higher education is more slow-moving, requiring lengthy processes of program approval and review.
Additional resources & further reading:
with Commissioner Zora Mulligan
Since becoming Governor of Missouri, I have traveled across this great state to learn about the opportunities and issues facing our people. Workforce development and economic growth impact Missourians at every level, from the business owner trying to turn vision into reality, to the employee working to make ends meet, to the under- or unemployed Missourian trying to reskill and find their place in a 21st century workforce.
To meet the needs of all Missourians, we need a strategy to attract and retain talent in our state. Getting people the education and training required for the jobs that are here today, and the ones that haven’t even been invented yet, is how we can help businesses and our citizens.
I am optimistic about Missouri’s future, as we all should be. But the future we want is not just going to happen. It’s going to take all of us, coming together, to move Missouri forward.
That’s why my administration is laser-focused on workforce development and infrastructure. The MoTalent podcast series begins to explore some of our thoughts and ideas as we develop strategies to make Missouri Best in the Midwest.
In this series, you’ll hear conversations with educators, business leaders, and economic developers; with elected officials, national experts, college students and recent graduates. It’s clear from these conversations and many others that we have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Missourians both today and in the future. The time is now.
Governor Mike Parson
MoTalent is a series by the Missouri Department of Higher Education focused on hearing real voices talk about economic and workforce development. This podcast is part of the Best in Midwest and Talent for Tomorrow initiatives.