A New Look at OJT

Happy Labor Day to all!  Here it is September again, the year is ¾’s over and students are returning to their classrooms.  While colleges and universities struggle to maintain standards because of their rising costs, curricula continue to evolve.  Instruction of business and entrepreneurial coursework is on the rise, and many programs are focusing on areas such as marketing, promotions, idea development and business operations.  This is all good!
But while enrollment in business programs is filling up classrooms, scientific, engineering and technological studies are on the decline in the US.  Have we reached a point where college students think it is more important to know how to sell than to develop the skills necessary to explore new technologies and create new products?  Could this explain why top jobs in these fields are being filled with graduates from universities in India and China?
To a large degree, the answer is, Yes.  Right now there are many areas of scientific study that are not being pursued in the numbers that will sustain existing industries.   How can we promote the development of new industries in this country when it’s getting harder for employers to find the talent they need here at home?  This necessitates either outsourcing the work to other countries, or importing the talent from outside our borders!
There’s no denying that part of this situation is the high cost of education for students and the universities.  Students are fearful of loan programs that will indenture them for decades after they get their degrees, and the schools are having a tough time keeping quality educators and maintaining facilities as their costs continue to rise.  Funding for many educational programs is drying up, leaving a quality education available to far fewer students.
Are there any easy solutions?  Not really.  But here are some thoughts for consideration:
Maybe it’s time for more employers to provide directly relevant education and training in their own facilities for the most motivated and interested in their particular fields.  I believe we would we see an increase in productivity and idea / product development if students were given the tools and encouragement to develop their talents and interests while applying them directly on the job, at companies where their interests can be more fully explored and nurtured.
Institutions of higher learning should be establishing long-term relationships with large and small science, technology and research companies to provide more students access to on-the-job training (OJT) programs that would contribute to their motivation and skills development in addition to helping them acquire their degrees and certifications.
Don’t mistake this rant to suggest we should do away with degree and certificate programs!  On the contrary!  Plenty of professions and specialties warrant advanced degrees and learning, as well as achievement of an approved level of competency!  And I’m sure there are more professions that should require a focused degree program that as yet do not!  That measured level of accomplishment then encourages employers to look more deeply at an applicant’s potential to make important contributions, then give them the tools they need to succeed.
But there should also be more programs for intense on the job learning that provide accelerated opportunities for career development, mentoring and growth.  This would put the onus for finding appropriately trained professionals on the corporations, who would then see to it that their staffs had the tools to learn and produce, to think and create.  Engineering, science and technology businesses would then be more inclined to source their workers domestically, because they would be directly overseeing the development, growth and execution of the particular skill-sets they need, and reaping the rewards of loyalty and commitment from providing that encouraging environment!
On-the-job training programs have been around for many years, but unfortunately they have too frequently been relegated to mechanical and manual jobs rather than for the acquisition of high-end skills.  It is time we rethink the OJT paradigm to include more technical specialties.  Could corporate sponsored OJT programs improve the quality of work and products being developed?  I certainly believe OJT’s can have a positive impact on the quality of our workforce, as well as bringing ideas to fruition and products to market.    That’s a win-win for students and business!
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