Community Engagement
Mind the (Talent) Gap
Lorna Donatone
Lorna Donatone

CEO, Sodexo Schools Worldwide President,
Sodexo North America

It’s hard to avoid the topic of the talent gap; online pundits, academic think tanks and the media routinely debate the source of the problem and possible solutions. Accolo.com reports that employers are frustrated; 40% of businesses are having trouble finding qualified applicants for key positions. Worse, 55% confirmed that these talent issues were affecting their ability to meet client needs.

Bottom line, what U.S. schools are teaching and what kids are learning is not translating into practical skills that make them employable. Technology and computer sciences – the STEM subjects – are not being widely taught, so these vital skills are lacking in the workplace. Even Monster.com weighs in on the subject, advising companies to take a two-pronged approach, retaining baby boomer employees as long as possible while tapping into young talent though corporate thought leader involvement in schools as guest speakers or school board members to influence the school’s curriculum and talent pipeline.

A recent Forbes article includes a fascinating – and unsettling – finding. While vocational education appears to be a solution for business and students alike, however students perceive the value of a community college education to be much lower. In the U.S., there is a growing and often acrimonious divide between blue collar and white collar jobs, a politically-driven class struggle that benefits no one. It is worth noting that every country that was part of the research values traditional education over vocational education except for Germany, where only 49% of respondents say academic education is more valuable. Germany, of course, offers numerous apprentice-based programs and has among the lowest unemployment rate in Europe.

The NRA Educational Foundation (NRAEF) is taking a pragmatic approach; their ProStart program addresses the gap for one of the biggest sectors in our service economy – practical education in the culinary arts. The program approaches the field from many perspectives – all engaging. Their Project Taste Test – Servin’ Up Successful Careers video series – features chefs talking candidly about their careers and the passion that drives them, providing inspiration and practical advice for aspiring chefs. The Road to the Pro Start Invitational captures the passion and the mission – training and nurturing students across the U.S. who aspire to excellence in the skills and capabilities that will make them successful. “There’s more to life than the city I’m in” is how one student put it, and ProStart provides the roadmap for those willing to put in the time and effort required to realize the dream. It’s all pretty intense, to say the least, but I’m thrilled by the intensity of effort and genuine passion I observe each year during the competition. I know ProStart will make a difference for business, and most important, in the quality of life for the students and their communities.

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Lorna Donatone is President & COO of Sodexo Education.

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