Why Colleges and Businesses Don’t Work Together.

You would think that if any two organizations were made for one another, it would be academic institutions and businesses. They have completely symmetrical goals after all. Colleges/Universities prepare their students to graduate as well-rounded people who are ready to dive into the workforce and achieve outstanding results immediately. Businesses are always looking for talented, well trained pools of qualified candidates to join their organization and make an immediate, pronounced positive impact on their organization’s success.

So why don’t these two organizations work more effectively together…especially in these turbulent times?

Granted some colleges have a fairly well developed network of contacts in business & industry that utilize their students on internship or co-operative education basis. Some schools can even claim that employers are hiring their students on a full-time basis in these trying times. But the relationship is built upon an underdeveloped, sporadic and non-continuous basis. Both fail miserably at developing any kind of a strategic partnership.

Most colleges seek organizations in their immediate market area, to serve as a pipeline for placing their students. Few schools bother to take the time or make the effort required to nurture a relationships with key businesses as a truly valued partner. Schools fail to become strategic partners of business and industry, when they fail to provide a significant level of service to the key businesses and organizations (trade associations, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations, business solutions centers, etc.) They often do not invest he time and effort required to learn a business’s key products/services, the accounts that business manages, their business challenges, competitors, management team, etc.

A key issue in the approach that schools take in soliciting businesses is the nature in which they engage businesses in such a “decentralized” fashion. A university has many disparate departments all with differing goals and motivations that are soliciting businesses. The efforts made by these departments to reach out to business are often poorly coordinated and compete with each other.

A college may have its co-operative education department, alumni relations, career development center, business school, fundraising department, entrepreneurial center, and even different engineering departments solicit a business SEPERATELY. Rarely does the college or University target key businesses at the highest level. In fact, they hardly ever are aware how much at odds these departments are and the damaging mixed messages that this approach sends to the businesses they are attempting to partner with.

Even worse, colleges are myopically focused on applying poor metrics to determine their success in serving business & industry. They point to the graduation rates of their students in the aggregate as a measure of their success. Many academic institutions still subscribe to the outdated and erroneous belief that it is not their job to assist students in finding employment.

They hold to the outdated notion that their mandate is merely to deliver a “well-rounded” education for their students. Colleges and universities would be well served to perform a critical self-assessment as to their placement levels of students upon graduation in key timeframes within each field/major and concentration area of study.

Businesses also fail to leverage the relationship with academic institutions at the highest levels of strategic partnerships. They seek out college students as a source for cheap labor. They often fail to consider that schools can serve their long-term recruiting and staffing needs by providing excellent talent as a trial ground for making hiring decisions. They often provide poorly developed job descriptions, and bring in college students for highly glorified clerical work.

They see college students as a great source for labor to accomplish repetitive, administrative, and tactical work, but often fail to utilize student talent to help their grow their businesses. They fail to utilize the growing presence of entrepreneurial think tanks and business start up centers that many colleges and universities are now building, to serve small land mid-sized businesses in their launch efforts.

To overcome this tremendous lost opportunity, colleges should develop cross functional teams comprised of members from all the departments listed above. These cross-functional teams must be empowered to solicit long-term strategic relationship with businesses and trade associations. Businesses should view colleges and Universities as a tremendous resource for their strategic planning and new business development efforts. Open up their business plans, and engage the college across multiple levels to gain the maximum benefit of the relationship. They should have a strategic recruiting plan with a wide range of local area academic institutions that they strive to build strategic working relationships with.