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Learning to Fly: Developing Future Talent Through University Partnerships

The World Economic Forum (WEF) surveys people every year about the biggest problems facing the world. Among them this year? Climate change, inequality and food and water security, just to name a few. These tremendous challenges are beyond our current capabilities alone; they will require expert contributions from emerging and future leaders. 

Tomorrow's minds, whose applications of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can change the world and shape the future. This is critical to manufacturing. With significant impact on global economies and the environment, manufacturing could be the game-changing industry to address the world's many problems. But with labor shortages restraining manufacturing growth, according to The Federal Reserve Bank, they may also be hindering our ability to find viable solutions for the world.

How are we preparing our students to tackle these big problems and lead us into the future?  

In a recent analysis of more than 2,000 college classes in STEM, researchers at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that 55 percent of classroom interactions consisted mostly of conventional lecturing. The study, originally published in the journal Science, is the largest of its kind and monitored 550 faculty members in 700 courses across 25 institutions. While classroom interactions and theory are essential to the learning experience, they aren't enough. 

The answer? Going beyond the classroom with experiential learning. 

Research in neuroscience shows "that we learn most (and retain that learning as changed behavior) when the emotional circuits within our brain are activated. Visceral, lived experiences best activate these circuits; they prompt us to notice both things in the environment and what's going on inside ourselves," according to the Harvard Business Review.  

"Having an experiential learning experience is critical," states Michael Milligan, Executive Director and CEO of ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). "It helps students be more intuitive about how they approach problems and make sense of the results." Students with this type of experience are better prepared to take on the world past graduation.

From a quality perspective, schools that are accredited by ABET are judged on the learning outcomes of their programs. ABET highlights the importance of team work, communication skills and a deep understanding of ethics and sustainability, which are all driven by industry. "We want innovation in STEM education," says Milligan, adding "Experiential learning and project-based learning are just examples of innovation we encourage. The programs at the forefront can really see the innovation and try different things up front." 

Experiential Learning Takes Shape at Jabil

Internships are proven to introduce students to the intricacies of navigating work and life in the "real-world." They provide relevant, hands-on projects for their field of study, while giving them access to seasoned professionals and experts. Internships are often a reality check for students.

While many of our sites and teams provide internship opportunities for students worldwide, it is the Jabil Blue Sky Center in San Jose where students can take their learning a step further. Through the "Jabil Scholars" program, select San Jose State University (SJSU) students get to work on their final senior project in Jabil's labs, using cutting-edge technology and machines. They also receive direct feedback and mentoring from engineers and staff, who introduce new ways to approach the questions and problems these students are trying to solve. 

Jabil's new short documentary, Learning to Fly, tells the story of the Jabil Scholars program, highlighting its importance to the students, community, Jabil and the world. Watch it below. 

Harjeet Hansi is one of many students who went through the program. "I remember walking in through the doors, and I had no idea what Jabil was," he reminisces, "I just knew that they made stuff for other companies." On his first day, he walked in with hesitations as he didn't know what to expect. When he asked questions as simple as where to find work gloves, he was pleasantly surprised. Jabil employees not only showed him around the labs, they also took an interest in his project, approach and knowledge. "There was so much advice and so much love from the team; I just felt so welcome," says Hansi. 

Before the program, Hansi didn't quite know the direction he wanted to take with his career. "Two months prior to graduation, I just wanted a job. I didn't know where and I didn't know what I wanted to do. I just wanted something. It wasn't until the internship that I knew [engineering] was what I wanted to pursue." 

Now Hansi serves as a full-time associate engineer at Jabil, where part of his responsibilities include leading the incoming SJSU students. "I think it's really cool how I started off as a mentee in this Jabil project, and now I'm the mentor, and I get to teach these students what I learned and help them get to where I am today," he smiles.  

The Jabil Scholars program has created an impactful way for the company to find the talent it needs. In addition, the rich diversity of SJSU students translates to a more diverse and high-tech workforce for San Jose and beyond. 

How to Develop Effective Partnerships with Universities

The future will be shaped by the people with the passion, expertise and vision to take on some of our biggest global challenges. These individuals are in our universities, completing their education. Some are unaware of the potential within them. Therefore, it is up to companies to partner with universities to empower future leaders to create change. 

Here are some tips on creating an impactful partnership:

1. Have an executive sponsor. Select an executive sponsor who will champion the program internally. Ideally, they need to have decision-making authority and should represent the types of individuals you want to attract to your company. Having a dedicated leader can make it easier to move initiatives forward. In Jabil's case, having an executive sponsor helped grow the program from nine to 44 students.

2. View the program as an investment. The size or impact of your program doesn't just change with an executive sponsor, you need a budget as well. As with any initiative within your company, there should be a dedicated budget, where you track your ROI. These types of initiatives are an investment for the future well-being of your company. It's about developing the type of talent that can propel your company or industry forward. Now that is a good investment. 

3. Build in meaningful work. There are enough internships out there that comprise of making photocopies and mundane work. Create a program that provides a challenge, teaches real-world skills and guides participants through each step. Give students the opportunity to innovate and develop their leadership skills. 

For many students, their curriculum is a "closed" experience, where syllabuses are predetermined. But when it comes to a program such as the Jabil Scholars, SJSU's Dr. Folarin Erogbogbo has some advice. "The company doesn't necessarily have to come up with the ideas," he says. "They could give students a general topic area and let the students delve into it to come up with something of interest." From there, students can create a statement of work and the company can guide them through. Past "scholars" have done work around heat exchangers, additive manufacturing with metal, flexible electronics and acoustic hyperlenses, all of which could be incorporated to existing projects for Jabil. 

"In school, [students] get really excited about the technology part of things but don't understand the criticality of prep-work. So I teach them how to do things like write statements of work and put together schedules and project plans," says Rosa Javadi, engineering services manager, who oversees the scholars.

"We are willing to integrate what we learn from [Jabil] into our curriculum. So now, all of our students' statements of work are similar to the ones done at the company. They are also able to incorporate some elements from our syllabi. It's an excellent synergy," adds Erogbogbo. 

4. Make it part of your culture. Having your team buy into the program is an important step. As we mentioned earlier, Hanjeet felt welcomed by the Jabil employees right from the start, because they made him feel a part of the team. Creating this type of environment for all participants will ensure the long-term success. It can make the difference between a shy, hesitant student and a motivated power house. 

5. Think globally, act locally. This is where things come full-circle. If we are determined to solve the world's most challenging problems, we need to start small. In this case, making a difference in your local community can go a long way. Not only does this provide the opportunity to initiate a pilot program, it gives you the framework to scale it globally. 

"The partnership between Jabil and San Jose State University is particularly unique. We're thrilled that Jabil continues to promote this partnership... We want to continue to grow partnerships like this with other companies, using Jabil as an example," says San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. "It's a great benefit to our community as Jabil works to help us broaden the talent pipeline," he adds, reflecting on the impact the program has had in the local community.