The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Undoing the Talent Crisis

Who said this is the last year that Ms. Foundation will produce Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day? The radio news reader must have made a mistake. There are arguments for not allowing our 9- to 15-year-old youth to go to a real, live, working office for one day each year. And the arguments run the gamut from mere excuse for missing school, not sufficiently structured to give a real slice of business life, too many risks and corporate liabilities, to attendees are too young to grasp what’s happening.

There’s this buzz in the recruiting community that a talent crisis is imminent. By 2010 (or is it 2017?) we will no longer have a college (or even high school) graduating class that’s capable of critical thinking, able to process information and come up with accurate assessment of it, theorize and draw analogies. There’s shrieking in the industry that the employable numbers are shrinking and completely insufficient to replace the retiring Baby Boomers.

What I say is these are merely shrieks of lazy recruiting Chicken Littles. Actually, several years ago I studied the numbers of our high school graduates and population growth. Both are holding quite strong and steady. There is no decline. What is in decline, however, is the number who are capable of doing good training and who are disciplined enough to explain various nuances in order to develop the skills and talents that are needed for the future jobs.

In Keeping with the History

The history of TOD/SWD is long and admirable. Originating in opening the options for young girls and allowing them the freedom to aspire to leadership in a corporation, the day (due to social pressures) opened itself to being inclusive of boys. Both genders need to be able to evaluate what their future work options are. By exploring these options together, they also level the playing field and open the table to dialogue about the similar challenges and how they can be managed. It is also a time when both genders can see things not as a “him against her” battle. Instead, it is a time when both can consider how to develop the communication and relationship skills so desperately needed for a fully diverse and functional organization.

Early Adopters

University of Pennsylvania grabbed onto the idea of activities for the day and stepped it up a notch or so. It’s a day when business can take advantage of doing something about the emergency shriek of Talent Crisis advent in 2010. Not many businesses have internship programs for youth of these ages. Child labor laws prevent most of those in the 9 to 15 years age brackets from working. But here is the opportunity to make this fourth Thursday of April a time when mentors can develop their initial relationships. Managers can allow job shadowing. And youth can get a feel for what the real workplace is about.

The perpetual objection to Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day (TOD/SWD) is the youth will see this as a day to skip school. From some of the plans laid out by a few businesses, the youth may as well do so rather than collate and staple sheaves of paper. Yet, in addition to University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois at Chicago (in 2000) had some compelling content to offer its participating adults and youth. Stanford’s WorkLife Office also had the right idea in 1998. Maybe your office has some great tweaks on all of this. But here are some suggestions for the day.

Learning Modules

This is a day when a manager and their job shadowing youth can actually get involved in the grist of what it takes to run that part of the business. A situation arises, the two discuss the details of it. In Socratic mode, the pair work through the various alternatives in dealing with it: why one method will be successful, why another will not, and why yet another may be the optimal or a second choice. Then, together, they can determine which step to take. If there is time (that is, by the end of the day), the youth can see the result of their decision making and implementation.

The youth can be involved in telephone conversations and conferences so that they may get the sense of how many are part of the routine day and what is involved in these types of conversations. Before some are started, it would be a good idea to outline how a good conversation should be structured, what is included, the style of language, what’s complete taboo. Likewise with telephone conferences. Here, there is a definite outline and youth should be apprised of this so that they do not have the impression that these are off the cuff telephone calls with a little more splash.

Critical Thinking Challenges

Cheating would be where there is an emergency and the adult assumes complete control of the situation to the exclusion of the youth. Emergencies are the training fodder. Keep the youth involved, talk through the steps. Ask what they believe should be done next and why they have reasoned in that manner. Develop critical thinking skills. Verify, explain what the typical outcome will be and why it is good or not. The adult just may learn from the youth’s feedback. Explain which choice will be implemented. Watch for the results.


Proof of the job shadowing and learning process is simple and can be a lesson for the entire class. Have the ones who did job shadowing write a report on what they did for the day. The report should have certain required content so that it is standard and not as prone to subjective grading.

That report can then turned into an oral presentation to the most relevant class. Youth will then field questions and provide answers about the business, what they saw, how things worked, whether they would work in that industry with their new knowledge of the actual workplace compared with stylized presentations from other places.

The Beginning of a Career

Ah, good old TOD/SWD! A time to ready our new workforce for the challenges and actually share with them the joy we derive from our livelihood challenges. A time to explain why we do what we do and why we opted for that. It’s a time to lead another into the fold.

This is the opportunity of a lifetime. If we plan for these annual events, we can develop the skills to prepare a meaningful intern program. Growing from that, a good training regimen can be developed. Managers can begin to discipline themselves to explain processes and build teams who collaborate in developing product for clients and consumers. We’ll watch ourselves growing the qualified talent from the cradle to the official first day. What an impact!

This couldn’t possibly be the last year Ms. Foundation is going to produce Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

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