Quality Management

by A. Blanton Godfrey

Companies' new partnerships with education are
providing a much-needed boost to schools.

Quality Education

A few years ago at a senior-executive meeting, David Kearns, then CEO of Xerox, was asked if he thought the United States could regain its global competitiveness. David quickly answered yes and described what Xerox and other top companies were doing. Then he paused and, after some reflection, stated that he had only one concern. If U.S. industry had an Achilles' heel, it would be our educational system. He said that the one thing that may prevent U.S. corporations from regaining global competitiveness is the extremely poor preparation our employees receive in our secondary education system.

Since the time he made his remarks, I have heard similar statements from senior executives across the United States. However, their criticisms aren't limited to our secondary education system. Many have similar comments about recent college graduates and even MBAs. A number of new hires simply can't perform at the levels necessary to succeed.

What skills are important for success in business today? Recently, Tom Gerity, the new dean of The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, decided to form a number of focus groups to answer this critical question. He invited CEOs and Wharton graduates to campus for four-day discussions about what they look for when they hire MBAs.

He and others have found the following to be important in similar studies: the ability to work together as a team; basic problem-solving skills, including simple statistical methods, computer and project-management skills; communication skills; an international focus; language skills; and interdisciplinary skills.

Other studies focusing on the skills employers look for when hiring high-school graduates have found that the three things mentioned most frequently are: communication, problem solving and teamwork. These skills aren't taught at all or, at best, poorly taught in most of our schools.

However, many people are doing something to change this. In his book, Winning the Brain Race, David Kearns clearly states what he thinks should be done. Like Kearns, who became Deputy Secretary of Education after retiring from Xerox, other CEOs, such as IBM's Lou Gerstner, AT&T's Robert Allen and Alcoa's Paul O'Neil, have also become national leaders to help transform our educational systems.

Most companies don't feel they can wait. Many have developed their own world-class, in-house training and educational programs for their employees. Some claim that they now provide about 80 percent of employees' training in-house, whereas only a few years ago, the majority of training was done by universities, technical colleges and other outside providers.
In an article in the June issue of Across the Board, Steve Blickstein states that the educational and training costs for U.S. businesses are now estimated at more than $30 billion per year. This is about twice the gross national product of Argentina. The Saturn division of General Motors provides its 9,200 workers an average of 90 hours of training per year. They expect all employees to spend about 5 percent of their time in training and education each year. Intel University now has a budget of $150 million, about 5.7 percent of its payroll. Motorola University has a budget of $120 million per year, with 14 branches in the United States and additional ones in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Many companies are now sharing their training programs, materials and time with schools. These new partnerships with education are providing a much-needed boost for the schools, creating exciting new relationships between these key suppliers and customers.

One of the most exciting developments is the extension of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award to education. Nothing could be more critical for improving the competitiveness of American business. Many states have surged ahead.

There are many things we can do as individuals. We can become involved with state and national MBNQA efforts in education. We can create partnerships between business and schools. We can open our organizations' quality training programs to teachers and administrators.

About the author
A. Blanton Godfrey is chairman and CEO of Juran Institute in Wilton, Connecticut. He is an adjunct professor at Columbia University, where he has taught graduate courses in quality management for more than 15 years. He has taught quality courses for M.D.s at Harvard University's School of Public Health.

He also is an adjunct professor in the School of Textile Engineering and Management at North Carolina State University, and is on the visiting committee at Fordham University's Graduate School of Business.

A recent article Godfrey prepared for a conference of business school professors and deans is available on the Internet at http://www.juran.com. You can send questions to him at godfrey@netaxis.com.