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Upskilling entry-level employees should be your priority, says Houston expert

Investing in your entry-level employees from the beginning will only continue to positively impact their future, and the ripple effect for businesses. Photo via Getty Images

With Spring Break behind us, many soon-to-be grads will be anxiously applying for their first entry-level jobs or internships; however nearly 50 percent of college graduates don’t feel qualified for entry-level positions and 20 percent feel like they lack basic skills to compete in the job market. It’s important for young professionals to have a solid foundation before the first day on the job, yet 40 percent of graduates say they only occasionally or rarely use skills they learned in college. This is scary for young professionals, and even more terrifying for businesses that are hiring entry-level employers.

Closing young professionals’ education-to-employment skills gap is crucial to the future of work, and how we go about surviving The Great Resignation. Businesses do not have the time, resources or money to teach every entry-level employee basic workforce skills, such as email etiquette and calendar management. According to Indeed, the average time employers spend training entry-level hires is around 33 hours per new employee, but shouldn’t some of the training be the universities’ jobs?

Maybe. However, over the past two years, colleges have been forced to redirect their focus to take care of students' mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic—understandable as between 80 to 90 percent of college students have experienced some mental health strains during the pandemic.

Each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) puts out a survey that assesses what should be taught in both internship-preparedness and career-readiness programs, to fill the gaps and upskill young professionals with the lessons they need to be learning. These core competencies were incorporated into Ampersand’s training, where young professionals are upskilled in a wide array of transferrable workforce skills that allow immediate success in new workplaces. Our 50-plus hours of curriculum was developed around NACE’s expertise, feedback from hundreds of businesses we spoke to,and my own personal frustrations of running a business for 12 years, which caused me to realize what opportunities and skills I wanted to bring to the new generation of professionals. Ampersand’s curriculum focuses on a variety of fundamental skills, such as: business structure fundamentals, interpersonal conflict resolution, combatting biases in the workplace, proactive communication, handling mental health issues and the art of constructive feedback.

One of the most appreciated courses in the Ampersand curriculum is the lesson on growth and grit mentality. According to psychology professor Angela Duckworth, the blend of passion and perseverance, aka “grit,” forecasts positive long-term success throughout someone’s life. Investing in these young professionals will not only set them up for larger success, but it will also give an equal and foundational opportunity to these youths as they begin developing their skills and growth mentalities. Mastering both basic workforce skills and goal setting allows young professionals to help them decide whether or not a job position is the right fit for them. Additionally, it will also help young professionals set up and successfully navigate five- or 10-year plans to use as bars of measurement in their future work endeavors.

In recognizing the education-to-employment skills gap and the need for excellent career-readiness training, The City of Houston’s Hire Houston Youth program has partnered with Ampersand to upskill thousands of young professionals applying for its summer jobs. Ampersand has created an exclusive curriculum for the Hire Houston Youth program that includes 35 lessons, five modules and four hours of asynchronous career-readiness content. These modules include topics such as professional development, employee rights and basic skill building. As a part of its partnership with Ampersand, Hire Houston Youth is making it mandatory for the young adults applying for a job to go through Ampersand’s platform in order to be eligible for an interview. With the partnership between Ampersand and Hire Houston Youth, the next generation of Houstonians will have a sharp set of career-readiness skills and be able to hit the ground running in any future job.

By recognizing and focusing on these necessary skills early on, while also providing a space for these young professionals to learn and grow, the new generation will have more opportunities and doors open up for them as they begin their careers. Investing in them from the beginning will only continue to positively impact their future, and the ripple effect for businesses.

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Allie Danziger is the co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Ampersand Professionals.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

Kerri Smith knows accelerators. Through her over 18 years at Rice Alliance, she's been responsible for overseeing several and was on the founding leadership team of Houston's first energy tech startup accelerator, SURGE. After years of focusing you accelerating Rice University's student-focused program, Owl Spark, she's transitioned back into the energy tech space.

"I've worked with many types of founders. There's not one unique characteristic that everyone has," Smith says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal is to help move them along and help them move the needle. At the end of the day, we want them to have a good experience and to meet their goals and objectives."

The Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator launched last summer with its inaugural cohort of 12 cleantech startups, which represented energy sectors from solar and wind innovations to hydrogen, geothermal, and more. Smith says the startups represented a wide range of stages and were from all over — only two companies were from Houston originally. The out-of-town companies were able to make critical partnerships in town and set up a presence and a home here.

"We were able to build a family-like culture among our group, and that was something that was wildly appreciative," Smith, who serves as executive director of the program, says.

Applications for Class 2 of CEA are open until May 31. While the program will offer the same access to mentorship and opportunities, the program will change slightly. CEA will focus on seed and series A-stage companies and will be a hybrid program. Throughout the 10 weeks, which begins in the fall instead of the summer this year, founders will visit Houston three times at the beginning, middle, and the end of the accelerator. Each startup will receive a grant to cover the expenses of the equity-free program.

CEA is just one part of a greater ecosystem of innovation under the umbrella of Rice University, which includes the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Ion Houston, Owl Spark, and more. All these entities also play into the greater Houston area's innovation ecosystem.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

With CEA specifically, some of these collaborations include working with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"We're a cog in the wheel. We do really well with that. We play well with others – in ways that the founder has a good experience and can benefit," Smith says.

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on the podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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