How Companies Can Foster Important College Graduate Skills with Phill Miller of Open LMS
Today, William Tincup interviews Phill Miller, Managing Director of Open LMS. Phill highlights the importance of focusing on soft skills in addition to technical skills when it comes to hiring college graduates. While technical skills are essential, Miller argues that soft skills such as teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and adaptability are equally important.
There is often a disconnect between universities and employers when it comes to hiring graduates. Many graduates have skills required for the job, but lack the soft skills necessary to excel in the workforce. Universities should focus on developing soft skills in their students, and companies should prioritize them when hiring and training employees.
In today’s rapidly changing job market, it’s important for employees to be adaptable and learn how to work alongside AI and other advanced technologies. This requires critical thinking skills and the ability to ask the right questions to get the most out of these technologies.
Employers can foster these skills by providing opportunities for employees to collaborate, solve problems, and think critically. They can also provide training and development programs that focus on building these soft skills.
By prioritizing these soft skills, companies can help college graduates succeed in the workforce and stay relevant in an ever-evolving job market. It’s not just about what an employee knows, but also how they can apply that knowledge and work effectively with others.
Listening Time: 20 minutes
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How Companies Can Foster the Real Skills College Grads Need with Phill Miller of Open LMS
William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Phil on from open l m s. He’s been a guest before, so this is gonna be a lot of fun. And our topic today is how companies can foster the real, I’m using air quotes, the real skills that college grads need. So why don’t we do introductions?
Phil, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and open
Phill Miller: l m s? Yeah, my name is Phil Miller. I’m the [00:01:00] managing director of Open l m s. We’re the world’s largest provider of open source learning management software. And our clients range from some of the largest universities in the world to small companies that use us for internal training and training their salespeople, whatever that looks like.
And so we’ve got a very diverse set of clients as a, at a personal level, I’m a. Based in Indianapolis with father of four seven-year-old triplets and a nine-year-old. So I care greatly about the future of education and skills cuz I want all of my children to have jobs and not live in my basement. So is that a good enough intro?
William Tincup: No, that’s a great intro right there. You have to leave. You have to go. You have to. Yeah. That’s right. Time.
Phill Miller: Time. Yeah.
William Tincup: So what’s, the conversation is gonna be we’re what do college grads need so we can answer the algebra of what do they actually need today and into tomorrow and in real skills.
So what are you seeing right now when just because you’re seeing, you get to see it? With your clients and and all the things that they’re doing to [00:02:00] prep, employees obviously for, from a learning perspective, but what are you seeing as both, either the real skills will start there, that they, that people actually need today?
Phill Miller: Yeah, I think this is a hard conversation. This is one of the reasons that I think, you consistently hear companies say to universities aren’t giving us the graduates we need. And you hear gradu universities saying, we’re graduating these great students, why aren’t you hiring them into the right roles?
And I think it’s. At some level the two may be talking past each other a little bit. I think you gotta start with, yes. Employees need skills around there. If you wanna hire an accountant, it makes sense for them to have an accounting degree and to taking classes in finance and all those types of things.
I think we, where we get stuck is a couple of things, right? One. In many jobs, there are so many resumes coming in. There are that, how do you filter out who really knows those actual technical, job skills versus those that, that say they do or that have a certification or whatever that they do.
That’s one. The second thing is [00:03:00] so much of the world now, and especially even in the last few months with the release of the, some of the ap the AI stuff that’s out there. Many of the skills that employees actually need are not just accounting skills or they don’t need to know how to program in Java.
They need to know how to work in teams, right? How to synthesize information, how to ask AI the right questions so that you get, they they’re the skillsets that are, that we would call soft skills historically, that in many cases, universities can do a pretty good job of training people on in various ways.
But we just we don’t have a way of talking about that and about of saying, Hey, these people are actually good at this thing and here’s why, how we know that. And then you’ve got companies on the other side that get, I went to law school and I, theoretically, I’m a lawyer.
I’ve never practiced, but law firms say all the time going to law school doesn’t make you a lawyer. We have to, it teaches you how to think and then you’ve gotta, we’ve gotta actually teach you how to be a lawyer. And that just feels like a fundamental disconnect.
I agree. People need to know how to think, but [00:04:00] we need to actually look at the skills that they need to be successful and then ask for our universities. To create that and then also respect it when they do bring it up, bring it, bring those students in. So it’s a little bit of, I think even in the words we use, right?
We employers talk about skills. Universities talk about competency based education. They’re talking about the same thing, right? They’re just using different words. And I think a lot of this just gets caught in vocabulary and in, and yeah, just talking past each other, unfortunately. Yeah. Yeah. Almost. I think everybody
William Tincup: wants to do this.
Yeah it’s interesting you brought up a wonderful, an example of how to write the, how to ask the right questions of ai. That’s gonna be a thing. Like some people are just gonna be better at that it already is.
Phill Miller: It already is. Yeah. So I think
William Tincup: that’s right.
How do you, and that I can see scenarios and kinda experiential learning in a different type of way where you put people more in, in the, in this situation or in the scenario or in, in that [00:05:00] environment to then teach ’em how to do that. So I think there’s gonna be some modality.
Wise, I think there’s also gonna be changes that need to happen on both sides, both the employer side and the educational side to, to reach skills, which I’m, I’ll tell you I’ve, I’m struggling with skills from this perspective of. Okay. Skills. It sounds like it’s okay, you have it and then you keep it, and then you have it forever, right?
Phill Miller: No, not, it’s not like that.
William Tincup: That’s the struggle, right? It’s like there’s a breadth, there’s a depth, and there’s a born on date, right? Or an expiration date. And also you can be building these, how, what I call micro skills every day. And so how do how do you ba as a candidate or as an employee, how do you voice that?
You can do those things. And as an employer, how do you mine for those types of skills? Like how do you mine for people that have the skills that you need today? We’re not even dealing with much less tomorrow, but [00:06:00] like the skills today. So what have you seen with your clients in terms of how they’re shifting their kind of, their behaviors around, or their approach around skills and skills, training, skills development skills, evaluation like when you mentioned Java, it actually got me to think about technical screening and technical kind of assessments and so That’s great.
You can test for that, like where, where someone’s on the line, where with their Java development skills, but some things you, I don’t know if we have those tests yet.
Phill Miller: Yeah, the fact that I say Java probably makes me a, an ancient dinosaur.
William Tincup: Anything. Hundred percent. Hundred percent, hundred percent.
Phill Miller: But that’s ok. I think there are some things that are happening. We’re seeing a lot right now where in the evaluation process of technical skills, Java being a good if not 20 years old example of it. Where employers are actually running simulations, right? They’re giving and they’re giving people a coding challenge and they’re actually watching them do it. And I think that makes [00:07:00] sense in that regard. Yeah. But let me give you two examples that I think are interesting that, that are questions that I have right? Last week our company had a sales training event in Raleigh.
And we had all of, most of our sales people from North America were in. And we spent about half of the time doing scenario role playing about how to how to sell in different scenarios. And that’s a very real skill. It’s a little bit of a softer skill, but there’s some science to it.
And we are doing role playing. How many universities are doing role playing exercises, right? Take the accounting student I mentioned before that we absolutely want them to have the accounting skills. But when they graduate, have they ever been in a finance meeting? Or even a simulated one where they’ve where it’s been there’s accounting and tax and other and you actually say here’s what we’re trying to do.
We’re trying to generate our year end financial statements. Who, how does that work? And so I think to your point about modalities and how are people adapting, I see a lot of people moving to this. Kind of simulation role playing.[00:08:00] And especially for testing those soft skills of how people work together that we know in a knowledge economy are just gonna be more important, right?
You can find you, you can find people, or you can find AI tools to do the repeatable, predictable tasks you need the people that really know how to think on their feet and how to work in those situations. And what better way to do that than to. Put them in that situation, even if it’s a simulation, as long as you can, recreate or something where it’s actually meaningful, then I think it’s really good. You see this in, you see this in nursing and you had this real challenge in nursing during covid of nursing students that needed to go get their clinical experience, but they weren’t allowed in hospitals, right? Because they hospitals were on lockdown. So what do you do in that situation?
Can you come up with AR and VR simulations that are. That are, get you pretty close so that people can actually go get their clinical skills to go be a nurse. And so there’s a lot of these things where you gotta create those real world [00:09:00] examples where they not only have where you test, not only that they have the skills, but they know how to apply those skills in a work in a real work situation.
And I think that’s where it gets really interesting. So
William Tincup: when I was in business school, the only simulation that we did was for negotiation, my negotiation professor. Okay. The entire class. This is a great one. Oh my God, it was my favorite class. Oh every week it’d be a new simulation and he’d throw you into this, impossible scenario.
Your labor, your management you’re arguing over this impossible situations and impossible scenarios. But the whole idea was like, I got, I cat out of that class more. About negotiation and yeah, and about creating kind of great negotiations than pretty much any other class that I took in business goal.
Yeah, and I think that’s
Phill Miller: A perfect example of where that is a skill that you can read 50 books about negotiation, and you can take a quiz about negotiation strategy, but [00:10:00] until you sit across from somebody, even if it’s in a simulated environment, And that person is really trying to push you and negotiate with you.
You’re not actually gonna develop that skill that much. No. It’s just my son at nine years old is super into basketball right now and I love that. But, he can watch the N B A all he wants, but until he actually and read books about basketball. But until you actually get outside and dribble a basketball and shoot around you’re not actually gonna get good at basketball.
So I think that’s, that, that practical element is really real and. The mo modality thing that you said before is good as well. Like you, you can the a ar vr options that you have for technical skills now can be real. It’s very expensive to to set up a nursing clinical situation. I was talking to somebody who is doing some a R V work, R work for mechanics.
And the reason they were doing a R V R is it’s really expensive to basically break. Semi trucks so that people can repair them in real life. Why not do that in an ar vr situation where you demonstrate that and you do it once and you don’t have [00:11:00] to, basically fake that a real semi, which costs pens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to, to deploy and let them work on ar vr situations most of the time.
So I think the modalities are available to us to do. To do this across a wide variety from negotiation, very soft skill to mechanics and nursing. We’ve got modalities now that allow us to do those skills in more real life experience, which I think is great. The purpose of education and training in many cases now is just, it’s changing from.
Like passing along the skills to really the why and the how and the thinking behind it. And that’s one of the tenets of a knowledge economy. And I think there are people that are doing really cool stuff out there and we like to support all of our clients in doing that as well.
William Tincup: So one, one things is, I know that you’re doing the Salesforce training, or you did the Salesforce training.
I’m actually doing one of those tomorrow, and then it’s called objection response, what I call the universe of nos and so you map out, okay, here’s all the different ways people are gonna say no to you. Okay, so now how [00:12:00] do you take that? No. And make it a maybe, how do you make the maybe and turn that into, yes.
Great. So you gotta, as a salesperson, BDR sales anybody that’s on the revenue generating side, you have to understand all the different ways that people will say no to you or. Right or put you off, which is great. First of all, you gotta know what they are and then you’ve gotta be able to create the combat of, okay, I know that you’re gonna say budget is an issue.
Okay, let’s talk about that. So I love that training, but again, how many sales teams do we know that actually put their people through? On a regular cadence. Years ago we used to do this on Friday and we did it with phones. And we’d all sit around in a room and okay, you’re the client, you’re the customer, you’re the prospect, you’re the salesperson.
Go and they’d have to talk to each other. And and it was fun because we’d all observe it Now. What we would do is obviously videotape that and, create a li create create content. Some learning content for new new hires. But I wanted to get [00:13:00] your take on the companies, the company side of this.
Do they, is it your perception that they know what skills that they need? I
Phill Miller: think the easiest I think that companies tend to default back to what’s easiest to screen for. And, again, I’ll the Java or accounting example, you get a bunch of resumes and you say, Hey, these people, they’ve got three years of working with Java are three years of working in accounting.
And so you default and it’s harder to screen and to test for. The application of that knowledge and for those soft skills. And so I think the path of least resistance is often I think people know that they want to interview for that. I think they know that they want to train their people on things like leadership and management skills and, negotiations.
But I think that. It’s just it’s easier to default back to things that are very quantifiable and very tactical. And so I think that those get [00:14:00] lost in the function. I think, I think everybody aspires to do that. I just, I don’t think that they, that we actually execute on it as often as we should because we get caught up in that.
And so leadership teams and leaders of HR functions, Need to find ways to prioritize that and make sure that people know how to do that. And they also need to teach their people how to interview for non-technical or non domain specific, right. Skills, soft skills, working in teams. It’s not, I.
Rocket science, there is a, there are methodologies for how to do that can be trained and taught but most people, I don’t think get a lot of training in that. We just did our, we just finished up our performance reviews for 2022, a few, couple weeks ago, and our team put together an amazing training on how to do performance reviews, and I’ve given.
Probably hundreds or I don’t know if I could say a thousand performance reviews in my career, but maybe more
William Tincup: than you care to know.
Phill Miller: Yes. Yeah. But it was a really, it was a, it was only a 30 minute training, but it was really valuable, like things that you hadn’t thought about and [00:15:00] just to keep to your point earlier about skills aging.
That’s something that, in many cases, unfortunately we only do once a year, and so it’s not something that you’re constantly refreshing. And so the idea that, before you have, in our case, 150 people go do performance reviews, everybody takes 30 minutes to just level set and create a shared vocabulary on how you’re talking about that’s incredibly meaningful. You, not everybody is able, it creates the space to do that. And I think that’s, that. I think we aspire to, we talk about it, but you actually putting pen to paper or allocating the time to it, I think is much harder.
William Tincup: So we got three kind of constituents groups and we might have even more, but companies, schools, and grads. How do we sync them in, in, is it just the better companies have a way of congealing these together and bringing these folks together around, around skills, let’s say.
But how do we, cuz it’s on some level, when we were talking about it earlier, it seems like a check in and egg. Okay, one person’s talking about it in this language, [00:16:00] this one’s talking about it in this language. Okay. Who’s gonna give and how do we, or how do we create a new language, et cetera. But you’ve also got grads in there.
You’ve got the actual students themselves, and they either know what they wanna build or don’t know what they wanna build et cetera. So there’s that. What’s your, again, you DEIB you deal with a ton of different clients. What are you seeing about, like, how do you bring those different groups of interest together around something as important as the skills that they need to thrive?
Phill Miller: Yeah, it’s hard. You’ve got. Constituents that would basically say, let’s blow the whole thing up. The university system needs to crumble, right? Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. I don’t think, I don’t think that’s right. I think there’s some ways to create value there. We are seeing some really innovative folks that, that really create connections across that.
We saw the I think it’s Starbucks and Arizona State now, where any Starbucks employee can go to Arizona State online effectively for free. And there’s collaboration between the [00:17:00] leaders of Starbucks and the designers of Arizona state’s online programs to make sure that some of these skills are getting taught.
And again you can’t, I don’t think you can take a school on how to be a barista at. At Arizona State but this other shields are really there and I think Starbucks really values that. So I think we’re seeing innovative companies partner with that. The area where I actually see a lot of really positive collaboration is what I think is the hidden gem of the US educational system, which is the community college system.
We see a lot of community colleges that are partnering with their local employers, with their large local employers. And creating great programs that go both ways. A company will bring their employees in to be trained by the community college. And the community college will create programs that generates graduates that are specifically trained with the skills they need to go work at these companies.
And I think that. At a very practical level, that can be incredibly symbiotic. If you’re working at a [00:18:00] manufacturing or distribution fac like a whole bunch of places, call your local community college and see if there’s a way that you can partner cuz they’re, they’ve got often thousands or tens of thousands of students that they’re, that they could help build programs for you.
I think we’re seeing some very practical examples at that community college partnering with a. Specifically, I’m in Indiana, so you know, manufacturing and logistics companies, right? To build programs together that create those skills. Why? Why would you not do that? That helps your local economy, it helps your business, it helps your local community college.
So I think we’re seeing really positive stuff there. Not everywhere and not as much as we probably should, but there are some really good use cases and examples out there. You
William Tincup: know what I love about that is the fluidity of that relationship. It’s okay, here’s what we need. Okay, great. Let’s build something around that.
Okay, now things change. Here’s what we need. Okay. Let’s build something around like you can see them being agile with
Phill Miller: each other. Yeah. And some of them, some of them go bidirectionally, even as it goes to locations. It’s like some of the employees are actually [00:19:00] taking the courses. At the employer on their equipment.
Because again, if you wanna do a CNC machine tool and die type thing, those machines cost millions of dollars. The community college may or may not have the budget to do that. So can you partner with the local company to give them access to those things that they need to be trained on?
Those are, there’s great opportunities for that type of collaboration. And again, I think the innovative companies are doing that. I would love to see a much deeper partnership. At the community college and l and company level, I think it could really produce results. But yeah, those are some examples that we’ve seen across our client
William Tincup: base.
In that example, what’s great about that is that also helps you with engagement and retention so that you have some other kind of offshoots that are really positive for the organization and the employee because they feel like you’re investing in them. Technically you are investing in.
Phill Miller: Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Yeah. We can’t invest in them anymore. I love that. So I think there’s, I think there’s real positive stuff there for [00:20:00] sure. So those are some examples.
William Tincup: I love it, brother. I love talking with you. This is absolutely absolutely amazing. So just thanks for your time always.
And thanks for coming. No worries. No worries. Let’s do it again. And thanks for everyone listening. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.