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The Many Benefits of Symbiotic Employer-Institution Partnerships

The EvoLLLution | The Many Benefits of Symbiotic Employer-Institution Partnerships
As the priorities of students across the board—be they traditional-age or working professionals—shift more and more toward labor market applicability, postsecondary institutions and employers have a greater responsibility to ensure program relevance and employment pipelines.

Higher education institutions today are serving a very different demographic of students than they were a decade ago. Today’s students are older, they’re often working and they’re often supporting families. Even for the population of traditional 18- to 22-year-old students, they are more focused on labor market outcomes than ever before. These shifting priorities are leading to changes at institutions as well. Many are rebuilding programs to focus more closely on learning outcomes and relevance. Others are opening specialized environments, like Brock University’s Goodman School of Business and its Centre for Business Analytics, helping students find pathways into specialized and high-growth areas. In this interview, Lori Bieda shares her thoughts on the role employers play in today’s postsecondary environment and reflects on the numerous symbiotic benefits stemming from strong employer-institution relationships.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How do major employers and corporations benefit from strong relationships with local colleges and universities?

Lori Bieda (LB): One benefit of these relationships is the direct connection that we have through individuals who go through the college and university programs then directly join our organizations. The other way that we benefit is working together collaboratively on projects. We’ve had several instances where we’ve shared information and data on a project basis in an effort to help teach the students, but also to gain the benefit of their expertise.

Evo: To your mind, what are the characteristics of a strong postsecondary partner?

LB: There are a number of schools now around the world that are recognizing the importance of having analytics incorporated into their curriculum, and Brock University’s Goodman School of Business is one of them. For me, as a practitioner in analytics for the last 20 years, it’s important for the people who are in the analytics field to recognise that it’s important not only to have the technical skills but the business acumen to apply them. The schools that we like to partner with are schools that have that in their discipline and their curriculum and in the way that they think.

Evo: When schools like the Goodman School of Business launch workforce-focused divisions, like their new Centre for Data Analytics, how big a role do employers need to play in developing the curriculum?

LB: I participate in shaping curriculum for analytics for different schools because we’re in a massive time of change where there are all kinds of different influences affecting analytics. I think it’s important for the academic world to have an understanding of what is relevant within business. It’s also important for the business world to know what works within a classroom and how you shape minds and what is engaging and interesting to students. I think that there’s a very healthy collaborative relationship that needs to be formed ongoing. We can learn from them and they can learn from us, but I think at the end of the day you want relevant curriculum and you want to engage students and when you have that you get the best of both worlds. That in my experience is what comes from working with folks on the academic side to be able to shape the next brightest minds who are going come in to the workforce and dramatically change our future for analytics.

Evo: Beyond workforce development, how can centers like these support the ongoing learning and professional development of existing employees at companies like BMO?

LB: In my experience, individuals who come from this space are hungry for learning in any form. Some of the organizations around us and schools around us have created programs to allow them to continue their education, whether that’s masters programs or other courses they can take. It’s a good way to keep graduates connected to the school, and it’s also just a good way to help people stay fresh.

I think for the employers it’s important to provide ongoing training, and we do that here at BMO. We have very broad, rich ongoing training programs where we’re constantly looking for ways for our analytical talent base to learn and grow both technically and from a non-technical perspective. The more that you give these individuals an opportunity to learn and give them an opportunity to refine their skills the longer they’ll stay.

Evo: What does it take for a university to stand out as a continuous education provider for executive education and ongoing learning? How does a university stand out as a partner for employee education?

LB: The first thing you need to do is you need the ground work to be able to produce really solid analytical talent coming out with the mixture of business and technical acumen. Then we need curriculum for the management layer that allows us to up our analytical IQ, and I don’t just mean for the analytics folks; I mean executives across the business. I think academia has a role there to be able to educate the masses on what can be done with analytics. This is why new data analytics centres like Goodman’s are inter-disciplinary by their very nature. Over time you’ll start to see the programs that can cut across company lines and can educate management and executives about the importance of analytics so that the folks who know analytics are talking to people who also understand it. When you do that, magic happens and analytics becomes dominant across the company and leveraged as a true competitive asset.

Evo: What is the ideal role employers should play in the higher education market?

LB: I think we have a responsibility to help shape curriculum. It’s highly relevant for us to participate in some of the advisory councils to make sure that the content that our students are being taught is relevant. I think that supporting the programs is also important. At BMO we have some of our promising analysts take part in the programs and provide feedback, and we subsidize some of these programs for our high-performing talent. We also hire the folks that are coming out of them and teach them so that we can become part of creating a hot bed for analytical talent around the world. We’ve got some of the biggest analytical schools in the world here, and as a result we have a lot of students coming from the US, China and other countries. I think we have a responsibility to make sure our curriculum is rich.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about working with universities to develop specialized programming that helps build our workforce?

LB: I think we have a collective obligation to create things like written assets and books, things that live beyond us. We can see now the amount of thought leadership around data and analytics is huge relative to what it used to be. Before now, you couldn’t get a group of analytic practitioners together and now I could speak every month. I’ll be going tomorrow to speak in New York and last week we were in San Diego. It is crazy the demand around the world. I think it behooves us to be able to share some of what it is that we’re doing in the ways that analytics is transforming business. As we do that, we encourage more people who are looking for great ways to plan a career to think of analytics as the way to do that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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