by Beth Kellerman
Every day, you can find news stories reporting about our rapidly changing business world where cutting edge companies are discussing how to reinvent their corporate environment. Many of them feel that Project Based Product Development will be their means of survival. Who is asking the question – where are these companies going to find the talent with the experience, ability to integrate subjects, critical thinking skills, collaborative skills, and communication skills to be successful in these new business models? Typically, the Fortune 500 Companies look toward the best universities to provide this talent. Where will these universities find students qualified to enter these Project Based Learning programs? I can tell you one place, Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia.
What is Project Based Learning? Michael Groman of the Buck Institute for Education in his Blog, STEM, and PBL… A Natural and Essential Connection writes “PBL, with its emphasis on authenticity, connections, inquiry, and process, is able to provide these disciplines a necessary pedagogy… Integrating the subjects encourages students innovation, promotes authentic learning and allows students to see connections with their community and between content areas.”
My son, Zachary is entering the sixth grade at Trickum Middle School in Lilburn, Georgia. He is fortunate enough to have been chosen by a lottery to participate in only the second year of this school’s STEM Program. There were 125 sixth graders chosen from 175 who entered the lottery. These 125 spots are distributed among students participating in the Gifted and Talented, General Eduction and Special Eduction programs based on the percentage of the total grade population in each of these categories. The four core subjects of math, science, social studies and language arts are combined with engineering/technology and computer science to teach the sixth grade curriculum through problem/project based learning. According to the 2017 Trickum Middle School STEM brochure, “Sixth grade STEM students will learn how to collaborate, think critically, and actively engage through the use of project-based learning experiences. These students will also begin to explore and discover solutions to real-world problems, developing their communication and technological literacy skills for everyday life.” This is just the beginning for Zachary and other kids in Gwinnett County, Georgia. The STEM Program is part of a much greater effort by Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia. They have created an entire Department of Academies, Career and Technical Education dedicated “to better prepare high school students for the demands of the 21st century economy and postsecondary education.”
Why is the activity of one county school system in Georgia so very important? In May, 2017, IBM announced that many of their remote workers were being given the option to move to work from one of IBM’s six hubs or leave the company. The majority of the articles that I read on subject shared the views of Jeff Boss of Forbes who wrote, Why IBM’s Move to Rein In Remote Workers Isn’t the Answer. In a nutshell, Mr. Boss commented that while IBM may be able to “create greater moments of serendipity, ” and “drive greater innovation, communicate and make decisions faster,” he feels IBM’s move will fail because of the negative impact on employee morale.
My question about the success of IBM’s proposal goes beyond changing these employees work situation, and negatively impacting company morale. Just suppose for a moment that many of these employees have been classified as remote employees for five, ten or more years. By putting these employees together physically, does IBM, and other companies like them feel that former remote employees will magically be able to shift their skill sets to more problem/project based just because of proximity? I agree this is a first step, but what else needs to be done? Will these employees have the basic problem/project based learning? To take this challenge further, there is an entire generation of millennials replacing this aging workforce. Until the Middle Schools, High Schools and Universities are able to provide these companies with graduates that are already comfortable in the problem/project based work environment, who is going to create/train the talent with the particular cognitive and soft skills needed for problem/project based work to populate this new corporate environment?
Is this real? In June, 2011, Steve Jobs proposed to the City of Cupertino his vision of a new campus for Apple. Five years after his death, Apple’s new campus was completed. In Steve Levy’s article for Wired, One More Thing, he describes his walk with Jony Ive through the nearly complete Ring, which is the main building on the Apple campus. “It’s frustrating to talk about this building in terms of absurd large numbers,” Ive says, “It makes for an impressive statistic. While it’s a technical marvel to make glass at this scale that’s not the achievement. The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.”
In my humble opinion, the technology sector has always been the testing ground for new business ideas and models. Steve Jobs was known for being far ahead of his time. I have often heard that the success of Apple was the team. In 2011, shortly before his death, he felt strongly about creating an environment where people could successfully work together by easily being together. There are many more facets to this problem/project based model. I think the challenge will be for the IBM’s of the world to figure out how to train their existing talent how to thrive and be happy in this new world, as well as ensure the project based product development situation will embrace some of the better aspects of remote work scenarios like respecting work/life balance.