Summit goal: Prepare St. Ambrose students for jobs of future

A group of more than 100 business and education leaders gathered Thursday, April 7, to tackle a massive goal: Help prepare students to take on the next generation of work.

To discuss the issue, St. Ambrose University hosted Innovation Summit: Building the Next-Generation Workforce and invited business leaders from across the Quad Cities and Midwest to discuss workforce challenges with St. Ambrose leaders and faculty.

Larry Burke, the CFO of the Lakeside Book Company, listens to a discussion Thursday at the St. Ambrose Innovation Summit. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

During the three-hour meeting on the Davenport campus, the group discussed the problems and possible solutions of getting future workers prepared for tomorrow’s jobs. One of the top goals was to identify ways that St. Ambrose educators can change classes and lesson plans in order to better prepare students for those jobs.

“You are here to co-create the future with us. … Nothing is out of bounds; get creative,” St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak told the crowd at the summit.

Business and education leaders on Thursday said part of the solution can be found in creating more collaborative ways for the school and businesses to work together to help students get prepared for the business world.

“We are entering a new age of work, an age when smart machines and artificial intelligence will drive efficiency and production,” Ms. Novak said in a news release.

At the summit, she shared these World Economic Forum statistics to help illustrate the changing world and new age of work: 69% of children in school today will end up in jobs that do not exist today; and 54% of today’s workforce will require training to upgrade skills that are needed for the labor force of 2025.

Ms. Novak told those in attendance that part of the problem in preparing students for jobs is to tackle the “disconnect” between many employers and those in higher education. The bottom line is, most top educators believe they are doing a good job of getting students ready for the work world, and most employers say that’s not the case.

St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak, standing at left, listens to a table of people discuss ideas during the St. Ambrose Innovation Summit on Thursday, April 7. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

The new St. Ambrose president also showed these Gallup poll numbers:

  • 89% of employers do not believe students are equipped with the human skills to be successful in their work organizations.
  • 96% of chief academic officials believe that higher education is preparing students with the human skills needed for work.

There are numerous critics who add to this argument by claiming today’s higher education is not working for many people. 

During the meeting, Ms. Novak discussed findings from the Oren Cass book “The Once and Future Worker.” That data claims higher education works for only 20% of the population. The other 80% of the population breaks down like this – 20% begin and complete college, but are underemployed; 20% begin college but never finish; 20% immediately enter the workforce after high school; and 20% never graduate high school.

For a large part of the summit, the audience broke out into groups of about six and were separated into 20 tables to discuss thought exercises.

Some of the topics and questions included:  How do we understand the current and emerging needs of the labor force of the future?  How do we equip students for those realities?  How do we reshape the models of higher education in collaboration with business to build a stronger, more prepared workforce?

Several of the business leaders said they found the event very useful.

“It was valuable hearing all the people from different industries who are having the same problems I am,” said Larry Burke, CFO of the Lakeside Book Co., located in Warrensville, Ill. “The lessons discussed here aren’t new to me, but it helped bring them to the front of my mind.”

Mr. Burke said one of those lessons that really caught his attention was companies using collaborative efforts between education efforts and businesses to help get, train and retain employees.

Some of the business leaders represented these companies and organizations: Deere & Company, Rock Island Arsenal, Lee Enterprises, and Quad City Bank and Trust.

“We are grateful these extremely busy leaders invested a significant portion of their workday to help St. Ambrose University better serve current and prospective students in preparing them for the future of human work,” Ms. Novak in the news release. “We will become an agile and innovative (university) only in close partnership with the business community.”

Finally, it will also take universities like St. Ambrose to work with community colleges and apprenticeship programs to find solutions to better prepare students for the new workforce.

“We are all going to be better when all boats rise,” Ms. Novak added.

Get the free QCBJ email newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the people, companies and issues that impact business in the  Quad Cities area.