When your company is growing fast, you want a solid plan to find the right people to help you. The struggle is real for leaders when they lack a pool of people to recruit into their fast-growth companies.

In my work with high-growth companies, leaders are constantly looking for quality people who have skills and that are a match for the company culture. They want to find employees who are attracted to the mission of the company more than those who are simply talented.

Secondary education is a big part of this problem. Though graduates have invested thousands of dollars and years, many are not coming out prepared for the working world. The students don't believe the problem is their lack of real-world skills, so they look to other markets for opportunity. While many students believe they will be more successful in big markets like Boston, San Francisco, New York, and similar metropolitan areas, there is a serious need for local-growth companies to hire students from local colleges that have marketable skills.

Two Problems Create a New Opportunity

For ages, companies and universities have struggled with these challenges, which are more serious now with economic opportunity surging and the pool of qualified people shrinking each day.

Kim Miele, executive director of Gulf Coast CEO Forum, has heard a repeated cry from CEOs in the gulf coast of Florida about the need for employees. "It seems like 90 percent of talented young graduates are leaving Florida to chase opportunity in big cities," she says. After hearing this enough, Miele joined forces with the leaders of the community to develop a way to shift this trend.

Dean Eisner, retired CEO of Manheim, could see that their community had great universities, but the talent was leaving to find jobs somewhere else. Eisner looked for situations where companies and universities have joined forces for ideas. "Our goal was to create a program where CEOs would get more involved with local colleges to create targeted training necessary to hire the young graduates."

The BIG Idea Creates Impact

Bright Ideas on the Gulf Coast (BIG) was created and named by The Gulf Coast Community Foundation and supported by the Gulf Coast CEO Forum. The initiative creates a collaboration between the colleges and the business community to build a strong pool of qualified candidates for jobs in the area and to make the students aware of the local career opportunities.

To be successful, this program had to go beyond addressing the symptoms -- it had to get to the heart of the issue. The CEOs worked with local colleges at the Cross College Alliance like University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM) to review the options. The end result of the BIG program can be summed up in four main initiatives:

  1. Training programs - creating curriculum programs in areas like digital marketing and big data that gives students the exact skills they need to be successful when they graduate. These classes were taught by the CEOs under the guidance of the college professors.

  2. Hire interns - creating opportunities inside companies that allow students to get real work experiences and give them a deeper knowledge of the company's mission.

  3. Speak at universities - CEOs serve as guest speakers at many classes, bringing elements of their businesses to the topics the students study.

  4. Host events - develop monthly events that allow businesses and students to get to know each other in environments outside the classroom.

Pete Petersen, CEO of Dealers United, got involved with the program along with other company leaders and professors to develop a digital marketing course that would provide the exact training needed to provide a productive and skillful employee directly from graduation. "I have recently hired someone I knew would be able to immediately jump into our work," he says.

Connect With Your Local Colleges for New Talent

The biggest impact of the program was developing relationships between the students and companies. Students learned the mission of the local companies in their field of study. All of this allowed the companies to build a better pipeline of students directly into the companies involved with the program and beyond.

None of these hands-on experiences would be possible without the involvement of the local business community. According to James M. Curran, Ph.D. Dean at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, "They bring a realism to the student learning experience that makes it more relevant to today's business world and makes the students better prepared for their professional careers."

When you connect with professors and university administrators with a genuine desire to serve the community, you will also see new opportunities to speak at the schools and develop strategic relationships that can help you in many ways. This proactive approach to preparing students is the long-game which makes it even more of a pay-off for you.