Purpose At Work: How Ford is Transforming Lives And Its Business Through Education
By Simon Mainwaring
This is the fifth article in a series of interviews from business leaders who attended the Social Innovation Summit in Los Angeles. The Summit is ground zero for purpose-driven entrepreneurs, philanthropists, business representatives, and individuals working to leverage capitalism for social good. For this article I spoke with Cheryl Carrier, Executive Director of Ford Next Generation Learning.
Simon Mainwaring: Few people know about Ford’s impact on education. Can you share a little background?
Cheryl Carrier: What really excites me about Ford Motor Company and Ford Motor Company Fund is our history of leadership in education. Ford Next Generation Learning works with communities to transform education be relevant and authentic for students. It gives our young people the kind of high school experiences that equip them to make informed decisions about their future. It connects them with local employers and civic leaders. It builds social capital and 21st century workforce skills like problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, valuing diverse opinions and being lifelong learners. But it goes beyond work. What we do impacts the very things students require to be successful in life — even the skills and attitudes needed to get along with their future partner or spouse.
Mainwaring: But why education? How does it support Ford’s business?
Carrier: For Ford, it’s always been about helping students prepare for their future. However, it’s also evident that Ford Motor Company is competing for talent with other high-tech companies. So, we’re starting to do more in the communities where we have operations. We want to break down the barriers to make sure local students are eventually able to walk in our doors, contribute, and succeed.
Mainwaring: So where do you begin?
Carrier: We apply our unique, community-connected approach. Transforming education requires working with community members and employers. They help us engage students in more meaningful ways. In turn we help them break down barriers in their HR processes to get them a more diverse and capable workforce. We can no longer leave behind students that are smart and capable. We’ve got qualified people in our own backyard. We are driven by our mission to help them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in college, career and life.
Mainwaring: How does this make a difference to employers and their roles?
Carrier: We engage employers in the transformation, and they bring the world of work to the classroom. Students work on real employer projects with students and teachers. As a result, what we hear time and again from employers is, “How can we do more and go deeper?” For example. we bring workforce and economic development intermediaries, local chambers, civic leaders, nonprofits and employers together and using the Ford NGL framework and roadmap help them create the structures and processes to transform education to be more relevant and engaging. All stakeholders, including student and parents, are part of the conversation. The community becomes a co-owner with the district of this transformation and ensures that it is scalable and sustainable.
We use the career academy model as the foundation of our transformation model. Career academies are small communities within existing high schools. Students learn their academics through the lens of something they are interested in such as engineering, advanced manufacturing, health, public service, or IT. When the community embraces the opportunity to collaborate with the district, you can build, transform, and sustain a system that withstands leadership and other changes. The employers feel a true sense of ownership and pride in these academies. Actually, there’s often an uptick in employee morale and productivity. It turns out that the benefits of our community-connected approach are more far reaching than we first imagined.
Mainwaring: Education is an area a lot of companies play into. What’s unique about what Ford does?
Carrier: Career academies have been around for over 50 years. We knew that if you transform teaching and learning to be more relevant, more students stay in school and develop needed skills. That’s why we started doing work centered around the career academy model, but the obvious big question remained: “If career academies are so good, why aren’t there more of them?”
What we discovered was that the districts brought in the larger community, but they didn’t have a process or a system to implement and maintain it. That got us excited because, through our business lens, we know how to create structures and systems. We started thinking, “How do we develop something that helps the community build and sustain this type of an organization and allows for nuances?” This led to the development of the Ford NGL framework and roadmap.
We knew that if you transform teaching and learning to be more relevant, more students stay in school and develop needed skills.
Mainwaring: How does leadership justify the ROI to the business?
Carrier: Ford always did work in this arena and did so rather quietly. Now we realize it’s something we need to share, because we have knowledge and unique processes that will help other communities, companies, and students. We are seeing improved success for students, workforce outcomes and community prosperity in the network of over 40 Ford NGL communities.
Mainwaring: In terms of these collaborations, how do you handle the challenge of who gets the credit?
Carrier: We look for partnership organizations that are bold — partners that are willing to take a calculated risk. We’re looking for people that say, “What we currently offer our students is not good enough.” We’re looking for communities that have a heart and a soul and are willing to go all in.
Our team of coaches guide communities through the Ford NGL framework and roadmap. Our communities pour their heart and soul into making the transformation a reality. It is a true collaboration. The transformation is owned by the community.
Ford Motor Company’s name is on this, but we partner with other automotive companies in their communities. We partner with a variety of major organizations. We want their name to be attached and for them to get credit for being part of this transformation. If you want to encourage local ownership, you must be willing to give credit where credit is due. When you are doing the right things for the right reasons, there’s more than enough credit to go around for all the stakeholders.
Mainwaring: What motivates them to do that?
Carrier: The results that they see in other Ford NGL communities inspire them to bring this model to their community. In addition, we’ve done a lot of research around our current generations. They’re remarkable young people, and they’re often misunderstood. They see wealth as a great divide, and they don’t like it. They don’t want people to be left out. Also, our own team is intergenerational, and they hold us to a very high standard. For instance, we have a big push on the outward mindset through Arbinger Institute. It’s this mindset that says we need to be open, and we must be inclusive. We practice it every day. We invite our partners in and ask, “Do you want to try this out with us? See if this works for you. If it does, we’re probably going to be really good partners.”
Mainwaring: How do you share this story throughout the company culture and externally?
Carrier: We work with our communications team to tell the story internally, however, we are also having regular conversations with the various business units as to how they can leverage Ford’s NGL’s access to an amazing talent pipeline.
Mainwaring: Are there challenges you’ve overcome that could be good learning opportunities for other impact driven companies?
Carrier: This is not a “program” as “programs” come and go. This is a “transformation model” and it take a community approach to be successful. This is the way we hope education will look in 2040.
To that end, we have learned many important lessons about what needs to be in place to be successful in this transformation model. First, you must have a district superintendent that owns and believes with their soul that this is important to the success of their students. Second, you must have a convening organization that can bring key stakeholders to the table and advocate and inspire them to not only be engaged but to make this part of their DNA. Third, we are looking for community spirit and heart – the sense that people are coming to this work because they truly care about the success of their students and their community and they will work together in a meaningful way to ensure its success.
When these three things are in place, it is remarkable what a community can accomplish and going through this process gives them the confidence to tackle other issues in their community. We see this every day in our network of communities, and they are choosing to be a beacon for other communities and to share what they have learned.