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An #OpenLetter To Academia: Evolve Or Else

This week, I’m responding to a prompt from LinkedIn’s 2016 editorial calendar: #Open Letter.  This month, the site for professionals asks, “Which issue would you champion with an open letter?”  Of course, the nearest and dearest thing to my heart at the moment is the gig economy and, more specifically, how little we’re preparing future generations to succeed in it.  So, here’s my #OpenLetter to the university world.


Dear Academia:

You have a problem.  By 2020, more than half of the workforce will be an active part of the freelance economy.  Are you providing proactive programming that will prepare your graduates to become strong leaders?  Have you given them the tools and techniques to stay ahead of the competition in a brand new economy?

Unfortunately, your collegiates are graduating with more debt than ever and fewer traditional career opportunities than in the past.  When you combine this state of affairs with the fact that younger generations are considerably less entrepreneurial than their predecessors, it’s beginning to look like a recipe for disaster.  

The Washington Post recently reported on a new nationwide poll, carried out by EY and the Economic Innovation Group.  Of the 1,200 young workers surveyed, a shocking 44% said that “the best way to advance in their career is to stay with one company,” while 25% said that success can be found by “moving from job to job at different companies,” but only 22% advocated for “starting your own company.” EIG’s co-founder and senior director for policy and strategy, John Lettieri, commented that “Millennials are on track to be the least entrepreneurial generation on record, and that has huge implications for our economy going forward.”

There is a relatively simple solution.  You must begin to teach entrepreneurship and equip students to thrive in the new freelance economy.  Like it or not, salaried positions simply aren’t what they used to be.  It’s high time you start preparing collegiates for alternate paths: to become solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.  To be chosen even in traditional settings, the best candidates must have entrepreneurial skills.  Therefore, you must find a way to help millennials create new avenues for success.  

Telling college students to get into good school and get good grades in order to “get a good job” simply isn’t enough anymore.  To that end, the Stanford Center for Professional Development now offers courses like: Design Thinking and the Art of Innovation, Best Practices for Managing and Measuring Partner Relationships, and Business Models for Entrepreneurs and Innovators.  Of course, just thinking like an entrepreneur is not enough.  Students must prepare to run a business.  

Thus, we need to encourage students in all majors (not just business) to take courses like: Accounting, Finance, Business Management, Leadership, and Marketing.  We must teach them how to craft proposals and business plans, apply for financing, and manage the work of others.  We need to encourage juniors and seniors to do internships with entrepreneurs and small business owners to see how the day-to-day of these operations really work.  

The easiest way to start is to add the question “Why Choose You?” into your curriculum.  Students must have a solid foundation in Unique Value Proposition (UVP) in order to make themselves stand out and be chosen by potential clients and hiring managers.  

Even HR Professionals don’t recommend the traditional cover letter and resume approach anymore in the new “zombified” recruiting process (where only technology vendors seem to win, and the human has been removed from HR).  To get in the door at the fleeting corporate jobs, new grads need to be skilled in identifying the pain points of the hiring manager, and then marry their brilliant problem solving skills to them.  In simpler terms: it’s all about personal branding.  Know thy strengths and how they are ideally suited to solve problems.  Only by putting forth reasons why you would be the best candidate to solve their Business Pain can you gain notice.

Even better than that?  Collegiates must learn how to have others do it for them–by referral or by review.  You can bet that any company worth its weight is going to look at a graduate’s LinkedIn profile.  How many collegiates have thoroughly filled out profiles with solid recommendations?  If they did, they just might be found first by a hiring manager.

These are all fundamental key skills to succeed in the new economy and, yet, these key concepts aren’t typically taught in today’s curriculum.  It’s time to evolve.  I’ll remind you of my favorite Charles Darwin quote: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change.”

But the times aren’t just changing.  They’ve changed already.  So, academia, what will you do to keep pace?  How will you adapt to the career path of tomorrow by adequately preparing the graduate of today?

If you need suggestions, I’m happy to share.  Just drop me a line.  As someone passionate about the gig economy and academia, I’ve got lots of ideas and am here to help.  

Olga Mizrahi

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