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  • January 24 2012

    Developing talent in the Knowledge Age

    In November, I had the pleasure of listening to presentations from high school students participating in Cerner Scholars, a program designed for students to work at Cerner for part of their school day to receive academic credit. Their assignment for this particular evening was to present to their parents and to a select group of Cerner associates what they had been working on all semester.

    That evening, a young man who had expressed interest in learning more about computer science showed a piece of Cerner technology that he had helped code. It was fairly basic functionally, but under the direction of his manager, he had been the one to develop it.

    Watching his mom react was just as interesting as hearing the young man's presentation. She was floored. She had no idea her son could do something like this, and it had just hit her that her son was achieving something through “all that time he spent on the computer.” But, beyond being impressed was her revelation that he wasn't achieving this kind of education in the classroom. He actually had to go outside of his school to hone the skills relevant to his career goals.

    That night I realized this was a simple, yet powerful example of the dynamics in today's education system. Simply put, we are living in a different world--a fast-paced, technology-driven, constantly-changing world. Technology permeates everything we do as a society, from health care, retail, finances, travel, music, and on and on. Yet our education system, the system in charge of producing tomorrow's workforce has been slow to evolve and is often ill-equipped to prepare tomorrow's workforce.

    Technology-focused jobs, often included in the broad category of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), are proven drivers of economic growth and development. Yet, our current education system is not producing enough students in these fields to meet workforce needs. Bill Gates held nothing back when he described education today, saying, “America's high schools are obsolete…By ‘obsolete,' I mean that our high schools—even when they're working exactly as designed—cannot teach our kids what they need to know today….This isn't an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system.”

    Beginning to understand how we got here requires a quick look back at our nation's history. Education is deeply embedded in processes and designs that support a very different generation of Americans. Many components of our education structure originated in the late 1800's or early 1900's when education was optimized for farming and industrial economies. And while today's landscape doesn't look anything like that, we continue to teach our children in many of the same ways without accommodating today's rapidly-changing knowledge economy. We have to recognize this shift into the “Knowledge Age,” which requires more than the “know-how” or “know-what” skills our education system was designed to teach. In today's workforce, “knowledge” workers need to be able to use that “know-how” to create new knowledge, new technologies, new processes and more.

    The Cerner Scholars program I mentioned is just one example of how we're working with our Kansas City community to provide opportunities for young people to apply the skills they've learned in the classroom, as well as develop and apply new skills. To further this effort, we're hosting our second Cerner High School Expo early next month. High school students will have the opportunity to:

    • See how our associates are working with clients to develop software and information systems to improve patient care in our nation's hospitals
    • Talk to current interns and associates about the steps to take to pursue a career in health IT
    • Tour our health clinic to see firsthand how Cerner technology is revolutionizing health care
    • Speak with representatives from a number of regional colleges and universities about their schools and the programs available to prepare students for tomorrow's workforce

    I often think about the young man whose presentation I listened to that night last November, and I get excited about the possibilities that exist for young people in our community. I think there are many similar stories out there, just waiting to be told.

    Robin McClean manages Community Relations and Talent Development partnerships for Cerner. Having worked a variety of roles during her seven years at Cerner, McClean now oversees Cerner's investments in the community, with a particular emphasis on profession-based education programs related to science, technology, engineering and math in Kansas City schools. She is the liaison between Cerner and a number of community partners in the areas of health, education and economic development. Along with these responsibilities, McClean manages marketing for Cerner Careers, coordinating all print, online and social media strategies. She has also worked in US Consulting and Federal Government and Industry Relations during her time at Cerner.

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