CASE STUDY: University Partnership to Develop Future of Work Skills

October 24, 2019

CASE STUDY: University Partnership to Develop Future of Work Skills

EY is an organization that employs 250,000 people worldwide and hires nearly 50,000 new employees each year. How do we acquire the right people and skill sets needed in a digitally and socially transformed world? 

Early in 2017, we started a journey that would enable us to hire more students who are prepared to hit the ground running with future-based competencies. Projections were that nearly two-thirds of future jobs would require science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) backgrounds, yet research showed far fewer millennials and Gen Z students were taking STEM courses—and about 50 percent of those who did, ended up moving into non-STEM fields. 

Both our internal innovation labs and our clients confirmed the need for more STEM and other skill sets to address future talent needs in accounting. Technology tools were taking over many repetitive processes, freeing up humans for more strategic and consultative activities that would benefit from those who have a background in economics, law, engineering and human relations. 

Shaping a Future-Relevant Curriculum

In planning for our future workforce needs, we dubbed our initiative Day One Ready, a term borrowed from merger lingo that captures the intense preparation required to make all systems a “go” from the first day. The premise was that academic institutions from which we recruit would continue to equip students with critical thinking skills and courses required for traditional roles, while adding courses to drive preparedness in quality, client service and relationship building. We knew the firm that achieved an equilibrium between emerging technical skills and future competencies would be a market leader and an employer of choice.

From the university perspective, we believed Day One Ready would enable far-sighted institutions to differentiate their brands and attract the best students who would be hired by the best employers for their grasp of timely capabilities. We decided to look beyond typical academic “lanes” and seek buy-in at a broader executive level, which could be appealing to students.

One such forward-thinking institution was the University of Dayton, a private Midwest university. Our introductory meeting included the President and Provost, a Board of Trustees member, and the deans of the Business School, Engineering School, and the College of Arts & Sciences. They immediately saw the benefits of a program that enabled students to learn together while building competencies for the next generations’ workforce.

“We already were having our own, similar conversations,” recalls Eddy Rojas, Dayton’s Dean of Engineering, “but they were scattered. When EY came along with its Day One Ready concept, it completed the picture with the opportunity of a holistic program that would unify us to focus on emerging topics and skills.” 

John Mittelstaedt, the University’s Dean of Business, agreed that the right idea and institution had come together. “Dayton is nimble,” he says; “we have the right culture for recognizing the value this program brings to our students and our institution. It gave us an opportunity to have our schools work together and solidify our desire for greater interactivity.”

Craig Marshall, a partner at EY in our Columbus, Ohio, office who coordinated recruiting at Dayton, facilitated a plan to get key constituencies together to lay out a plan for the fall semester. “We broke the program down into four buckets: curriculum and course requirements, enhancing classwork with mentor exposure, introducing students to the real business world, and preparing those completing the courses to find a job,” Marshall said. 

From Thought to Finish in Less than Six Months

When Rojas took the lead as UD’s coordinator, he called on Assistant Dean Michelle Strunks to help meet a near-impossible deadline of starting classes in the fall of 2017, less than six months after the first meeting. Together, they designed the program to be open to all interested students, and to feature four, one-credit courses. After selecting the courses—Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics, Lean Six Sigma and Robotic Process Automation—Rojas met with faculty members and students and worked with Strunks to get the courses offered, taught, attended and accredited in less than six months.

A future-of-work-focused program like Day One Ready also deserved unique recognition. In addition to earning four credits and being able to utilize three of them towards an elective in their major, students would receive a certificate recognizing their completion of the four courses. 

“Getting all that done so quickly was really impressive,” notes Chris Morrison, current Associate Vice President of Advancement and Director of Campaign Operations. “But we knew we could do it, because our deans and faculty often work across different school units, something that can be difficult in a university environment. We take pride in our ability to flex.” 

By August, Strunks had identified a diverse group of students and instructors for the pilot. It was tough to meet requirements as an elective in such a short period, so classes were designed to be held over five Saturday mornings. “Amazingly, I got the instructors quickly, because they all felt passionate about these subjects and welcomed the chance to go deeper into them. They are giving these students a basic working knowledge of these topics they can build on.”

Rojas believes the students are equally committed. “They understand this is special exposure. When I meet with engineering students, I ask how many are interested in learning these skills, and 8 out of 10 usually raise their hands. They get it.”

In addition to the coursework, we teamed students up with EY professionals who serve as mentors, sharing career insights and advice. We also bring the students into the real business world by having them visit our Columbus office to experience practical applications of their learning.

What Success Looks Like

A few months ago, we held our first comprehensive assessment of the first two years of Day One Ready. The presence of Eric Spina, President, and Paul Benson, Provost, along with the three main deans confirmed for us Dayton’s perception of value. EY is pleased, as the number of recruits from Dayton has gone from 17 to 40 and will grow as more Day One Ready participants become eligible for recruitment. The number of course participants is rising, too, and our current goal is 30 per year.

Marshall is focused on “keeping it fresh,” adding to the curriculum each year and introducing a workshop on practical applications for careers in year three, such as business writing, Excel and mindfulness. Rojas is also working on offering a degree minor in future-of-work courses.

We are proud of Day One Ready’s success and our internal continuous learning programs that have resulted from it. Predictive analytics, algorithms, and artificial intelligence, along with skills we haven’t yet imagined, will govern the future. Our strategy is to shift the workforce, adjust hiring practices and evolve learning programs to stay ahead of the newest developments.

Mittelstaedt summed it up, “It has made our students more marketable, more intriguing to employers in a positive way, and helped prepare them well for a real business experience.”

The Authors: 

Martin Fiore is U.S. East Region Tax Managing Partner at EY.