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SAP Ideas Forum: Anonymous Extraordinaries to the Rescue

October 25, 2016 by Marianne Heer 43

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in the SAP Ideas Forum on the new Tech Workforce in Boston, and I was introduced to a new term: “Anonymous Extraordinaries.”

This is how TEDxTeen speaker and Civil Rights activist Natalie Warne describes “people who work selflessly and vigorously for what they believe in. People who are motivated by conviction and not recognition.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Natalie this month when she spoke at the forum, and she has an amazing story. In her senior year of high school, she learned about the plight of child soldiers in Africa under Dictator Joseph Kony through the film Invisible Children. She was so moved, she went on to lead a nationwide movement to help pass a bill that would provide funding to areas devastated by the longest war in Africa – an effort that caught the attention of media heavyweights Oprah Winfrey and CNN. Though she became the face and the voice for the movement, she credits its success to the hundreds of people who stood and worked next to her. Natalie calls such people “anonymous extraordinaries.”

Brilliant term, right? And at the SAP Ideas Forum I was surrounded by more than 120 of them. One hundred twenty of Boston’s public sector, nonprofit sector, government officials, big corporations, and civic organizations who work tirelessly behind the scenes for our nation’s students. We discussed how we can all come together to drive opportunity for Boston’s youth regardless of age, color, economic status, or gender.

The SAP Ideas Forum brought together public, private sector, and government reps to drive opportunity for youth

SAP’s Commitment Runs Deep

At SAP, our commitment to diversity and workforce development runs deep. This year alone, we pledged our support to the White House Tech Inclusion initiative, the Computer Science for All Initiative, and have become the first EDGE-certified technology company in the U.S., recognized for our gender equality in the workplace. We feel strongly a career in technology is pivotal, not only to the tech industry, or for the students’ themselves, but to the economic growth of our nation.

In Boston specifically, SAP is in the second year of an IT pathway program at Charlestown High School, also called C-Town Tech. Done in partnership with Jobs for the Future, Bunker Hill Community College, and the Boston Private Industry Council, the initiative looks to provide students a direct line to a technology college and career path. It’s part of SAP Corporate Social Responsibility’s signature initiative of Early College High Schools that includes BTECH in New York City, Skyline High School in Oakland, California, and Templeton Secondary Mini-STEM School in Vancouver, British Columbia.

We’re in This Together

The best part about being in a room with anonymous extraordinaries is their deeply felt passion, drive and commitment to the same cause. All three were echoed by the customers and government officials who joined a panel I had the opportunity to moderate.

For a successful future, businesses need to work with educational institutions to prepare tomorrow’s workforce

Kelli Wells, executive director of Education and Skills for the GE Foundation, stressed collaboration is the driver of a more inclusive workforce. She sees GE as the convener, bringing companies and public sector organizations together frequently to engage and work together: “Often we see things happening in silos, and the reality is to reach the heart of diversity you have to open the doors and collaborate. We may not have all the answers separately, but working together we have a really good shot.”

GE recently relocated its headquarters to Boston and is committed to hiring 8,000 interns ages 16-18 across the globe to give them the experiences inside a corporation, and set them on the right career path.

Daryl Graham, vice president of Global Philanthropy for JP Morgan Chase, explained engagement was essential to break down barriers, and talked about getting his executives outside the building so others can come in.

And there’s a lot of them coming inside. Since 2014, 50,000 young people have been hired through JP Morgan’s summer internship program. The company recently committed $75M over the next five years to address the skills gap for today and tomorrow’s tech jobs, to build a healthy pipeline and create new pathways. Daryl also stressed the importance of skills mapping not just the tech skills, but soft skills. “We live in a digital age where kids are on their phones all the time, but you still have to communicate with people and most companies are seeing a gap in soft skills,” he said.

Ron Walker, Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, couldn’t agree more. He talked about the $20M Massachusetts Governor Baker invested to address the skills gap in the state, and stressed the importance of teamwork as a skill that’s in high demand. Secretary Walker was keen on a “demand-driven” system that seeks to train potential employees based on the jobs that employers are most needing to have filled. “We have to have business at the table,” he said.

Finally, Dr. Felix Moesner, CEO of Swissnex Boston provided a unique perspective on how training and education works in Switzerland, one of the most innovative countries in the world with the lowest youth unemployment rate: three percent. There, it’s all about the mindset. “In Switzerland, young students are embedded in the professional and adult world. We throw them in and they have to survive,” he said. With 70 percent of young people participating, the Swiss Vocational Education Training system is not only held in high regard, it is also a critical component of the Swiss economic engine.

Felix also stressed the importance of flexibility. “In the tech sector, advances are taking place at a staggering rate. This means the skill one learned four years ago may no longer be relevant today, so it is very important to prepare a flexible and adaptable workforce.”

Felix is right. In my career, I have the privilege of speaking to so many of our customers. Most of them have a digital business strategy and they are starving for employees. The businesses of today need to be working with the educational institutions preparing tomorrow’s workforce to ensure a sustainable and successful future. I truly feel SAP is moving the needle with initiatives like C-Town Tech and the others outlined by our panelists. We’re not 100% there yet, but with a world of more and more anonymous extraordinaries working relentlessly behind the scenes on this important task, there’s nothing that can stop us.

Top image via Shutterstock

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