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By: Bret Schulte
Via: The New York Times
HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — If you are from around here, you know Doug Friedlander is not.
Born in New York City and reared on Long Island, Mr. Friedlander is Jewish and vegetarian and has a physics degree from Duke.
But here he is, at 37, living in a roomy white house in this hard-luck Delta town of 12,000. Mr. Friedlander and his wife, Anna Skorupa, are part of a gradual flow of young, university-trained outsiders into the Delta’s shrinking communities, many of whom arrived through Teach for America and stayed beyond their two-year commitment.
Mr. Friedlander is now the ambitious director of the county’s Chamber of Commerce. He frets over the kudzu that is devouring abandoned buildings. He attends Rotary Club meetings, where he sidesteps the lunch offerings for carnivores. He organizes workshops to modernize small businesses and pushes tourism and the development of a decimated downtown along the banks of the Mississippi.
The mechanization of agriculture, lost manufacturing and a legacy of poverty and racism have taken their toll on the Delta, but Mr. Friedlander is thrilled to be here. He left his job at a software company in North Carolina’s Research Triangle nine years ago, taking a two-thirds pay cut, to “make a bigger difference.”
To that end, “this is the most fertile soil on earth,” Mr. Friedlander said. “If I were in New York, I would be a leaf at the end of a branch at the end of a tree — in a forest.”
Mr. Friedlander arrived in 2004 to teach science at Central High School in Helena. He was one of 71 corps members in the Delta; currently, about 300 of them fan across the region’s classrooms each year, mostly in Arkansas and Mississippi.
Here, in towns like Helena, a former agricultural hub and river port, they find some of the most devastating poverty in the country: shacks on cinder blocks, schools with nearly all students on subsidized lunch programs.
Segregation is a fact of life. Private “white-flight academies,” as some locals call them, are common, leaving public schools to serve an overwhelmingly poor, black student body.
“I just knew when they left my classroom, it was an uphill battle for so many of my kids,” said Greg Claus, who is from Ohio and taught art at a public junior high school from 2008 to 2011. Now an assistant to the mayor of Greenville, Miss., he has seen the names of some former students on the police blotter. Several more are already parents.
Teach for America is fiercely competitive, drawing top graduates accustomed to success. “For most, this is the hardest challenge they’ve ever met,” said Luke Van De Walle, a 33-year-old corps alumnus from Indiana who has settled in Helena with his wife, Jamie, and their two young children. “They put a lot of effort in, and they get chewed up by 25 third graders.”
Still, some former members say they have never felt so satisfied.
Michelle Johansen, 37, arrived from the University of Michigan in 1997. Since then, she has become a volunteer manager at the farmers’ market in Cleveland, Miss. She works part time at Habitat for Humanity and is an adjunct instructor at Delta State University.
“I don’t want to leave,” said Ms. Johansen, who is married and has two children. “The work I’ve been able to do in the Delta is fulfilling.”
She does wish there were a Target in town. And a movie theater. There is no place to get brunch. But, she said, “there’s something about the Delta that’s very special, and if people are open to it, they will be captivated by it.”
Matty Bengloff, 28, is one of those people. He grew up in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Now he owns a three-bedroom home in Cleveland, as well as a hip new yogurt shop called Delta Dairy, with his fiancée, Suzette Matthews.
“The barriers here are low,” Mr. Bengloff said. “You can be really entrepreneurial. Everyone is eager to help.”
But the transition is not always easy.
Residents cured Mr. Bengloff of his Yankee ways. Soon after arriving in the South with Teach for America, Mr. Bengloff was in a school speaking to a receptionist. When he could not hear the man’s words, Mr. Bengloff asked, “What?” The receptionist said: “I can tell you’re not from around here. When you don’t understand something, you say, ‘Excuse me, sir?’ Or, ‘Sir?’ ”
Mr. Bengloff took the lesson to heart. Now his habitual use of “ma’am” irritates his mother back East. He drawls, “Thanks, y’all,” to customers passing through his shop.
Ms. Johansen and Mr. Bengloff said they were attracted to the quirks and complexity of the Delta.
They have found schools that are progressive and a complicated political scene. Ms. Johansen’s doctor is a catfish noodler (who fishes bare-handed). Shopping online is more necessity than convenience, though a two-hour jaunt to Memphis is common. The unofficial town motto, plastered on bumper stickers, is an ironic “Keep Cleveland Boring.”
No one, residents say, is too busy for a good chat.
“I know people who live in places with lots of things,” Ms. Johansen said. “Movie theaters. A Target. And they aren’t happy. I’m a happy camper.”
Mr. Bengloff, who is Jewish, found what locals call a “church family,” led by a retired rabbi who commutes from Memphis once a month. Just as many of the temple regulars are Christian as are Jewish, just because they like the diversity of experience and, said Mr. Bengloff, “the rabbi is great.”
Some longtime residents initially resented the inflow of Teach for America members with fancy degrees and backgrounds. Those troubles have largely eased over time. And the hard truth is, the Delta needs the people.
“It’s good having highly educated folks coming back,” said Chuck Roscopf, a lawyer in Helena. “My kids, my friends’ kids — they’re all gone. They’re in Dallas or just about anywhere else, but they won’t come back.”
Teach for America entered the Delta in 1992, when it dispatched a few dozen corps members to Helena and Marianna, Ark. The numbers and geographic reach expanded steadily but exploded in 2009 because of an influx of funds from the State of Mississippi and the Walton Family Foundation.
The organization now estimates that over those years, 250 corps members have stayed on after their two-year commitments were over. Some have remained in education; others found jobs in private industry and community organizations.
They have started education-based nonprofit groups, like Mississippi First and the Sunflower County Freedom Project. Mr. Friedlander and Ms. Skorupa, with other Teach for America alumni, were founding board members of a new Boys and Girls Club in Helena.
Mr. Friedlander remains a hard-charging New Yorker, which has rubbed some folks the wrong way.
“If he was just here to make money, they probably would have run him out of town,” said Jason Rolett, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Phillips County. But Mr. Friedlander has won the trust of much of the community, Mr. Rolett said, “because of his heart, how much he cares.”
Mr. Friedlander enjoys ripping through a PowerPoint presentation of Helena’s new health center, riverboat tours, renovated historic buildings, a downtown emerging from ruin and new businesses. His pride is palpable.
Helena even has its first director of an advertising and promotion commission, Julia Malinowski, 27, from Seattle.
Word is spreading beyond the Teach for America crowd.
Recently, graphic designers opened a firm called Thrive in Helena after living for five years in Brooklyn, where “about 200,000 people were trying to do what I wanted to do,” said a co-owner, Terrance Clark.
He has had enough work in the Delta to hire two interns from Midwestern design schools this summer. And Mr. Clark has recruited a group of friends from Indianapolis to come to Helena to work on community projects under his company’s 501(c)(3) umbrella.
Mr. Clark, Ms. Malinowski and the rest work together in a chic business incubator downtown.
The space is airy and open, with interior brick and a glass conference room — sort of like what you would find in Brooklyn.
By: Jonathan Rothwell
Workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields play a direct role in driving economic growth. Yet, because of how the STEM economy has been defined, policymakers have mainly focused on supporting workers with at least a bachelor’s (BA) degree, overlooking a strong potential workforce of those with less than a BA. A new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program presents a new and more rigorous way to define STEM occupations, and in doing so presents a new portrait of the STEM economy.
Graphics by Christopher Ingraham
Sources: Based on Brookings analysis of data from the Department of Labor’s O*NET program, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American Community Survey and the Strumsky Patents Database.
By: Collin Eaton
Via: Houston Business Journal
Surrounded by Houston business and civic leaders at Rice University, the Greater Houston Partnership said Wednesday it has launched a regional workforce development initiative to tackle major labor issues in Houston.
“Employers are saying this workforce issue that we’ve been talking about and suggesting might be an issue, it is now here and now,” Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, told me in a press conference before Wednesday’s Global Cities Initiative event, put together by the Brookings Institute and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Also during the event, leaders from the initiative talked about how Houston can become a bigger player in the global economy.
Harvey said one company told him, “‘If we can’t be certain that we can bring the construction workforce to build a petrochemical facility, we want to build on the Houston Ship Channel — and if we’re not certain the workforce to operate that facility is there, we’ll go somewhere else.’”
In response to executives’ growing labor concerns in Houston, the Partnership is launching the GHP Regional Workforce Development Taskforce over the course of the coming weeks. It will be co-chaired by Gina Luna, chairman of the Houston region for JPMorgan Chase, and Bruce Culpepper, executive vice president of human resources at Houston-based Shell Oil Co., the U.S. arm of Hague-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
Harvey said executives are concerned about attracting a skilled, technical workforce in Houston.
On the task force, half the seats will go to business leaders across key sectors — oil and gas, manufacturing, health care, the petrochemical industry and a few businesses outside of those industries, Harvey said.
In 2013, the task force intends to create a plan to go forward with in 2014, he added.
“We’re not going to have this group of high-level executives and leaders sitting at the table to work out the nuts and bolts,” he said. “They’re going to scope out the problem, figure out what the opportunities are, focus the effort — and then in 2014 we’ll go forward. This is in the one- to five-year, near-term horizon.”
By: Irene Chapple
(CNN) — The global talent war is heating up as baby boomers begin their mass exodus from the workforce. But a new report reveals employers are not prepared for the new generation of emotionally intelligent, ethnically diverse workers.
“After the Baby Boomers, The Next Generation of Leadership” reveals what the next two decades of the global workforce will look like, as those born after the war make way for the so-called X and Y generations.
Organizations that fail to prepare for the evolution of the workforce “do so at their peril,” the report, from executive recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson and Cass Business School, found.
The report drew on surveys of 100 senior executives across 19 countries, and 24 nationalities, between 2010 and 2012.
Cliff Oswick,deputy dean of Cass Business School, said the “rock star” approach to chief executive leadership which has been prevalent in recent years will no longer work.
Oswick, speaking during the report’s launch in London Wednesday, pointed to different types of corporate structures, such as citizen-centric and servant leadership, as models for the future.
According to the report, the rise of women into positions of power will create a “feminization” of leadership which will be reflected in the increasing importance of emotional intelligence, people skills and flexibility.
The importance of the BRIC nations and other emerging markets will also ensure more culturally diverse workers are employed around the world.
This, the report found, will mean knowledge of other languages will become more important. However, English is cementing itself as the language of business, with executives regarding fluency for non-native speakers more important than native speakers speaking a foreign language.
According to Oswick, the demands of the X and Y generations are aligned to the skill-set of female leadership styles. However he noted high-flying corporate women of today’s world are not necessarily showing more feminine attributes, such as emotional intelligence and aversion to risk.
Oswick said the shift in leadership styles that generations X and Y will bring was yet to flow through to workplaces. Ingrained discrimination against woman in remained an issue, he added.
The generational change mean executives seek a new crop of leaders who can inspire others “across geographic and age barriers,” and who were comfortable with uncertainty as well as being curious, educated, well read and traveled.
The report noted: “This list makes sense: emotional intelligence and flexibility are essential skills in an environment where generations, cultures and gender are all in flux.”
However, the new generation is also focused on work and life balance, rather than just corporate progression. This attitude can be seen particularly with working women, who want to be intellectually stimulated and valued as part of a team, the report found. This desire was more prevalent than pushing through a perceived glass ceiling.
One of the interviewees noted: “In general we are nurturing individuals, while the baby boomers are more generalists.”
The biggest single challenge will be recruitment, as the world’s population ages and companies seek specialists in fields such as technology.
However, the report reveals only 41% of the respondents believe organizations are ready for the changes the influx of X and Y generation leaders will bring to the workforce.
One respondent said the company was “actively trying to get in front of the change and lead.” However, “I find it difficult to say that we are ready. I doubt many organizations are.”
The report suggests organizations should ease the transition by allowing senior executives to use the last years of their career to mentor up-and-coming leaders. Respondents were split on whether a move away from full executive responsibilities should mean a reduction in pay.
Organizations should also adapt to the different mind-sets of the new generations, who looks for a work and life balance and the opportunity to work smarter rather than harder. Flattening the organizational structure and ensuring companies are culturally aware will be vital, the report said.
By: Hannah Seligson
Via: The New York Times
JASMINE GAO, who is 19, just wasn’t the classroom type. So instead of languishing in college, she dropped out after her freshman year.
Ms. Gao decided that she didn’t want to continue studying at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York. At first she considered transferring to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, but she changed her mind when she saw that her tuition bill would be around $44,000 a year, with only a small amount of financial aid available. “I didn’t want to come out of college with $200,000 in debt and have to spend 10 years paying it off,” she said.
Yet she still sought a way to nurture her interest in technology. A year later, Ms. Gao holds the title of data strategist at Bitly, the URL-shortening service based in New York.
How did she catapult from dropping out of college to landing a plum job? She became an apprentice to Hilary Mason, chief data scientist at Bitly, through a new two-year program called Enstitute. It teaches skills in fields like information technology, computer programming and app building via on-the-job experience. Enstitute seeks to challenge the conventional wisdom that top professional jobs always require a bachelor’s degree — at least for a small group of the young, digital elite.
“Our long-term vision is that this becomes an acceptable alternative to college,” says Kane Sarhan, one of Enstitute’s founders. “Our big recruitment effort is at high schools and universities. We are targeting people who are not interested in going to school, school is not the right fit for them, or they can’t afford school.”
The Enstitute concept taps into a larger cultural conversation about the value of college — a debate that has heated up in the last few years. In important ways, the value is indisputable. The wage gap between college graduates and those with just a high school degree is vast: in 2010, median earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree were more than 50 percent higher than for those with only a high school diploma, according to the Department of Education.
But college is expensive, and becoming more so — between 2000 and 2011, tuition rose 42 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — and students fear being saddled by debt in a bleak job market. (Students from the class of 2011 who took out loans graduated with an average debt of $26,000.) And some employers complain that many colleges don’t teach the kinds of technical skills they want in entry-level hires.
Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor, upped the ante to this argument when he started the Thiel Fellowship, which pays a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 for young people not to attend college and to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams instead.
Enstitute doesn’t offer anything like $100,000 to its apprentices. Still, it is aimed at intelligent, ambitious and entrepreneurial types — people like Ms. Gao, who participated in the Technovation Challenge, a nine-week program and competition for high school girls to design a mobile app prototype at Google in New York.
“If I had known at 19 what Jasmine knows, I would be ruling the world,” says Ms. Mason, who is 34.
The concept is not a perfect model by any stretch. For one thing, a college degree is still the assumed prerequisite of most any professional job. But more people seem interested in testing alternatives.
“We need educational research and development for a new time,” says Tony Wagner, an innovation education fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and the author of “Creating Innovators.”
“I have no idea whether Enstitute is going to be successful,” he adds. The only way to find out, he says, would be to follow the apprentices over time after the program and compare them with their college-educated peers. “Yes, you get exposed to a lot of great things by going to a liberal arts school,” Mr. Wagner says, “but you have to look at the cost-benefit analysis.”
MR. SARHAN and his co-founder, Shaila Ittycheria, met when they worked at LocalResponse, a social media company in New York. They selected this year’s first class of fellows — 11 in all — from a national pool of 500 applicants ranging in age from 18 to 24.
Ms. Ittycheria, 31, and Mr. Sarhan, 26, call the program “learning by doing.” Students train under a master, in the way that many trade professions have operated for centuries. “It’s a level of experience that an intern never sees,” Ms. Ittycheria says.
For participating companies, the program offers cheap, talented labor for a much longer period than a typical internship. But the fellows are betting that their minimal wages will turn into full-time jobs once they complete the program — perhaps even at the very company where they apprenticed.
Nine of the fellows have attended at least one year of college, and three are college graduates. Most say they do not plan to return to school. But what will the apprentices miss if they forgo the four-year period of intellectual exploration and cultural knowledge that college is meant to provide? Defenders of higher education argue that college students gain important knowledge as well as critical-thinking skills that are crucial to a meaningful life and career.
The Enstitute’s founders contend that their program does teach critical thinking, but in different ways. “They are not debating Chaucer; they are debating product features,” says Mr. Sarhan, who graduated from Pace University. “But it’s the same idea of how do I write down and communicate an argument.”
Enstitute does offer a semiformal curriculum, requiring eight hours a week on topics like finance, branding, computer programming and graphic design, as well as English, sociology, and history, the content of which comes largely from online courses. The fellows also receive writing assignments every six weeks; outside academics and experts edit and review the work for writing style and grammar. Many fellows choose a less technical track for their course work and study subjects like Japanese culture or the poetry of Keats.
Based on their living arrangements, it would be easy to mistake the fellows for traditional college students. They share a large loft space at 11 Stone Street, near the southern tip of Manhattan. There are two to four beds to a room and three shared bathrooms, and the fellows share cleaning duties.
Most socializing takes place in a sparsely decorated common space, and around a large banquet-type table. Dinners are usually prepared and eaten communally. Twice a week, established entrepreneurs come to dinner, give an informal talk and take questions.
Perhaps the only giveaway that this isn’t a college dorm is that by Friday night, the apprentices are often too tired to go out. Full-time work is exhausting.
Many of the fellows say they work upward of 40 hours a week. There is no overtime; the compensation package is a stipend, usually around $800 a month, with housing and food fully subsidized by Enstitute — a benefit being extended only to the program’s first class. Starting this September, the new batch of fellows will have to pay $1,500 in annual tuition, and their room and board will not be covered. Stipends, however, will be around $1,600 a month — and they will be paid overtime. The entrepreneurs cite various reasons for agreeing to take on an apprentice. “It’s an awesome value at a nominal cost,” says Ben Lerer, 31, a co-founder of the Thrillist Media Group, a digital media site geared toward men; its apprentice is Ben Darr, 20. “We would hire Ben full time today,” says Mr. Lerer, who treats Mr. Darr to twice-weekly boxing sessions. (Enstitute strongly discourages employers from hiring the apprentice before the program is over.)
Having an apprentice for a two years has other advantages for a business. “It takes three to four months before you trust an intern and before they are up to speed, and then the internship is over,” Mr. Lerer says.
Ms. Mason, at Bitly, agreed to participate in the program because she has an intellectual interest in new models of education. “I moved from academia into start-ups, and I wish I had had a way to learn what I needed to be useful at a company,” says Ms. Mason, a former computer science professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.
Beyond the fellows’ work, companies are eager to tap into the mind-set of 18- to 24-year-olds, a coveted demographic group.
Kwame Henderson, 23, an apprentice at the mobile software company Tracks, is its head of quality assurance and manages a product plan, which involves ensuring that the app works properly for users across all their devices.
“Kwame put together a whole presentation of how people in college would use Tracks, says the company’s founder, Vic Singh, 36. “He makes copy sound more casual, and that helps move the needle with the younger audience.”
(Unlike most of the fellows, Mr. Henderson is a college graduate; he received a bachelor’s degree in marketing, with a minor in information technology, from Seton Hall in 2011. He enrolled in Enstitute as an alternative to attending an M.B.A. program, which would have cost $50,000 a year.)
THE apprenticeships in this class focus on tech start-ups. For the next class, Enstitute will offer apprenticeships in digital advertising and nonprofit areas, placing fellows at places like The New Republic, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and the nonprofit Charity: Water.
Enstitute says it has raised around $300,000 in donations in the last year, and it plans to expand to a couple of more cities by fall 2014. Its founders want the nonprofit Enstitute to become a brand name like that of a top-flight university. But instead of getting a paper diploma, the fellows will graduate with a portfolio of skills they’ve acquired, business development deals they’ve closed, marketing materials they’ve created and products they’ve built, in addition to 5 to 10 recommendations.
When the first Enstitute graduates enter the job market, some hiring managers might view the program skeptically, says John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University who serves as a hiring consultant for technology companies. Many hiring managers still place a high premium on a college degree and will not even consider an applicant without one, he says.
But many companies are having trouble filling positions requiring precisely the kind of knowledge that the apprentices are learning. Mr. Henderson plans to leave Tracks knowing how to ensure that a mobile app is ready for public release. Mr. Darr learned how to wireframe, a way of making prototypes for screen-based products. Ms. Gao, who wants to run her own company, is learning Python, a coding language. Samman Chaudhary, 24, who wants to work at a business incubator, will have experience in evaluating business plans; she recently judged a venture capital investment competition at the Stern School of Business of New York University.
“It’s a race for top talent, and you would be crazy to ignore talent that is demonstrating execution and learning through alternative channels,” says Jason Madhosingh, an Enstitute board member and director of innovation and digital partnerships at American Express, a role in which he makes hiring decisions.
For many companies in technology hubs like Silicon Valley, San Francisco and New York, though, “this is exactly the kind of hire they are looking for,” Mr. Sullivan says. “Code speaks louder than words there.”