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Developing Tomorrow's Leadership Today 

By Michael L. Wheeler

"Our actions today will determine whether we realize our hope for a competent and prosperous workforce tomorrow." Workforce 2020, The Hudson Institute

There is a myth in Corporate America. The myth says that we have a labor shortage--a shortage of qualified talent--particularly among minorities. Actually, there is some truth to this: The truth is that there is a shortage; the myth is that there is a shortage. Let me explain....

The United States is facing a tight and competitive labor pool with the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years. Increasingly, U.S.-based corporations--especially high-tech companies--are seeking employees outside the country to meet their demands for talent. In fact, some jobs are going unfilled. But, like an untapped, rich oil reserve, we have yet to fully utilize the talent that exists right here in our own country. The companies that access this reserve of talent and invest in the resources for research and development of these "reserves" will reap great rewards for the sustained competitiveness of their firms. These companies will establish their own pipeline of talent, ensuring the right people in the right place at the right time while creating a competitive advantage.

One way to tap the talent reserve and fill the pipeline is to invest in education and other developmental initiatives. From kindergarten though college and beyond, companies are investing in the future workforce, the leaders of tomorrow. Whether it is providing computers, loaning executives, endowing universities, partnering with not-for-profits, communities and schools, or providing special programs and internships, corporations are demonstrating a commitment to the future of their companies and to the future of the young, diverse talent coming their way. These initiatives have a positive effect for business, society, the economy, and literally change individual lives.

Tomorrow's Leadership
Peter Drucker once said, "The only thing we know about the future is that it is going to be different." In fact, our future workforce will be very different. According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), by 2050, the U.S. population is expected to increase by 50 percent, and minority groups will make up nearly half the population. Immigration will account for almost two-thirds of the nation's population growth....One-quarter of all Americans will be of Hispanic origin. Almost one in ten Americans will be of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. And, more women and people with disabilities will be on the job.1 We also have a new wave of individuals called the "net generation" who will be changing the way we think, work and use technology.

By the way, let's dispel another myth--the myth that says diversity is a "future" event. The workforce of the future is here. What the 21st century guarantees is an increase in that diversity. This is not about one group replacing another--it is about the fact that the world will be racially, ethnically and culturally different. We have the challenge and the opportunity to align businesses, educational systems, governments, and our own understanding with a world reality that diversity is a way of life.

The future of our country and our economy will depend upon the bright minds of our youth and how well we help prepare them for the future. What can they learn from us? What can we learn from them? How can we unleash their potential?

The Opportunity Gap
According to the DOL the U.S. economy may be the "strongest in history." In fact, according to the Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks number two among the world's leading global economies. But, with a closer look, all is not well. According to the report, Futurework--Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century, "Amidst prosperity comes concern....Some Americans have not been brought into the workforce. And workers, young and old, wonder whether they have the skills to stay ahead in the workplace of the future."2
The Facts
Two out of three high-school graduates will enter college this fall, but not everyone will have the same opportunity. For example:
  • Only 62 percent of Hispanics, the fastest growing segment of our population, complete high school.
  • African Americans and whites are statistically on par with high school graduation rates, but both African Americans and Hispanics lag behind whites in college attendance.
  • Fewer than 10 percent of adults with disabilities have graduated from college.3

Underrepresentation/Untapped Talent: Think about it: Hispanics represent the fastest growing population in the United States, but they lag behind most other groups in college attendance. The numbers are compounded by the fact that African American and Native Americans are also disproportionately underrepresented at the college level. And what about the other 90 percent of the disabled population? Alan Reich, President of the National Organization on Disability, reminds us: "The disabled cross racial, ethnic and gender groups--and the disabled are among those with the lowest participation rates in the workforce. We have talented people who want to go to college, become productive citizens, and they just need to be given the chance." For every individual not entering college, for every person who is not getting the education and attaining the skill level needed to keep them competitive and our nation competitive, we have an opportunity gap in untapped talent.