June 14, 2024

Nurturing Your Talent Pipeline Through Scholarship Initiatives

In the contemporary American business landscape, the challenge of locating and retaining skilled personnel has grown more formidable than ever before. The United States currently boasts almost 10 million job vacancies, yet the available workforce consists of only 5.8 million unemployed individuals. Economists project that this ongoing labor shortage might persist for years to come. According to insights from the Harvard Business Review:

“From 2011 to 2021, nearly every U.S. county saw a decline in its working-age population. … Pew Research Center estimates indicate that 2020 witnessed 1.1 million more retirements than anticipated, and Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals a workforce exodus of 2.4 million women during the initial 12 months of the pandemic. Moreover, the number of 18-year-olds entering the workforce is shrinking, signaling even greater scarcity in the future.”

Addressing this workforce deficit demands diverse strategies, but the most effective approach to cultivating a sustainable talent reservoir involves ensuring that the three million high school graduates in the U.S. each year can seamlessly transition into becoming trained, skilled, and certified contributors to the labor force.

Regrettably, the path from high school to career is strewn with obstacles, especially for individuals from historically marginalized groups and those hailing from the lowest income bracket. The expenses associated with college, including community colleges and trade schools, are beyond the reach of many. Attending school often takes a backseat to work, family responsibilities, or caregiving duties.

Even when students possess the ambition, commitment, and plans to realize their educational aspirations, slipping through the cracks remains all too feasible. Only 64% of students starting a bachelor’s degree program complete it within six years, with Black, Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native students experiencing the highest dropout rates. At community colleges, less than 40% of those initiating an associate’s degree ultimately finish.

So, what can be done, and how can scholarships play a role?

Higher education has a crucial part to play, and so do employers. The aforementioned HBR article emphasizes a critical point: “To secure the workforce they need not only for the present but also for the future, employers must excel in sourcing their own talent and actively fostering their employees’ skill development.” In essence, nurturing a talent pipeline isn’t solely the responsibility of higher education institutions; employers share this responsibility as well.

To galvanize private-sector engagement in this endeavor, the Biden administration’s Talent Pipeline Challenge is investing federal resources and infrastructure into initiatives that encourage employers to invest in equitable recruitment and training efforts, particularly in fields like construction, electric vehicle and battery development, and broadband infrastructure.

Furthermore, collaborations between colleges and career-focused education are aiding accessible students, as highlighted in an article from NSPA: “In a recent survey, 88% of students felt equipped to enter the workforce, with 81% attributing this readiness to their school’s career development resources or programs.”

Yet, despite these successes, a crucial element remains absent. With each passing year, American high school graduating classes grow more diverse, yet neither college graduates nor corporate leadership teams reflect this shift. The potential chilling effect of the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision threatens to exacerbate this discrepancy. Presently, Black, Indigenous, and Latino/a students are over 25% less likely than white and Asian peers to complete a college degree. When they do, they often grapple with substantial debt, hindering their ability to establish fulfilling careers and commence building generational wealth.

Enter private scholarships—the catalyst for transformative change. For companies eager to proactively construct a sustainable talent pipeline and cultivate a diverse future workforce, equity-focused private scholarships offer a potent tool.

A salient observation from the aforementioned HBR authors highlights that “our education and training system, the primary conduit of marketable talent, is not in harmony with demand.” The skills students acquire, especially in technical and digital disciplines, don’t always align with employers’ present and anticipated needs. This means that even a highly accomplished college graduate may not be fully prepared for the demands of the job.

By funding scholarships tailored to specific fields or skill sets, private-sector firms can contribute significantly to developing graduates with the skills that truly matter. Moreover, when these scholarships are coupled with mentorship, internships, or work-shadowing experiences, students gain invaluable insights into real-world operations while still in school.

Additionally, private scholarships can be precisely targeted at the demographic that companies aspire to recruit. Scholarship-awarding organizations aren’t merely providing funds to be distributed by educational institutions. Instead, they are reaching out to their ideal candidates, individuals whose potential for success might hinge on overcoming a relatively modest financial barrier or potential loan debt.

Defining success in this context By eliminating barriers that could prevent students from pursuing their aspirations, private scholarships confer significant advantages upon companies, their communities, and their talent pool.

The PepsiCo S.M.I.L.E. program stands as an influential example. Managed by Scholarship America, this scholarship is accessible to Black and Hispanic students in community colleges who plan to transfer to four-year institutions. These students represent the future members of a more diverse workforce, yet merely 1 in 6 community college attendees effectively navigate this path toward a bachelor’s degree.

To elevate this success rate, PepsiCo S.M.I.L.E. extends financial support, culminating in an annual summit at PepsiCo HQ. This gathering offers recipients opportunities for professional development, networking, professional photoshoots, and interactions with company leaders. These experiences provide the kind of advantages that more privileged students might have encountered prior to their transition from college to the workforce.

If every American company were to establish similar programs, the potential to bolster the upcoming generation of talent is immeasurable—a benefit that reverberates throughout society. As Jamie Merisotis, CEO of Lumina Foundation, aptly pointed out in a recent Forbes piece: “Elevating our nation’s educational attainment translates to increased national prosperity and global competitiveness. Consequently, by making higher education more accessible to those who have been historically marginalized, we all stand to gain, not just them.”

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