The Evolution of Our Schools

Why the Minnesota business community needs to be involved in education policy

By Jamie Candee
Monday, June 1, 2015

Everyone in the Twin Cities, whether or not we are parents, has a vested interest in ensuring our schools are adequately funded, teachers have the time and resources to do their job, and administrative staff has the training and passion to lead. 

Why? As CEO of Questar Assessment Inc., I understand firsthand the need to attract, hire and develop talent that will fill the many vacant positions left by earlier generations. This need is common across all industries as companies seek employees for new roles that are evolving with our digital age — scrum masters, user interface designers, customer readiness consultants, social media managers … the list is endless. Many of the jobs most critical to running a successful business today did not exist 15 years ago, and year by year new technology is changing the way companies around the world do business. While it is important to continue training the current workforce in new technological advancements, investing in the next generation is crucial for the continued success of any business. 

What does it look like to invest in today’s youth — and tomorrow’s workforce? We must be aware of what is being taught in our schools, and we must pay attention to the very definition of “College and Career Readiness.” Depending on the state, often less than half of high school students go on to complete a four-year degree. When faced with this reality, we as leaders in the business community should stop pretending the only option is a four-year degree and start working on a plan that helps every student find success — regardless of his or her post-secondary choice. 

I am bothered that we can’t seem to build a K–12 system that develops our kids for either college or career. My grandfather, Russ, never went to college and he went on after World War II to run a private road construction company. My mom, with a technical certificate in hair styling, was one of the first people I recognized as an entrepreneur — she successfully ran a hair salon for over 40 years. In the United States, the necessity of a college degree for future success sometimes outweighs the message that many different passions and goals can be developed into successful careers, and not all of them require formal post-secondary education.

I am not advocating that we steer kids away from college — for many, the things we learn there (both inside and outside of the classroom) are indispensable to our future career success. Instead, I am advocating that as business leaders and community educators, we take greater initiative to work with states and districts to build a pathway to careers that can be achieved through specialized training if a student wishes to take that road. 

There are many ways for us to act now and invest in the passions and dreams of the next-generation workforce. For one, find out who your state education chief is, and set up a meeting to discuss this topic. In Minnesota, our state education chief is Brenda Casselius, and she recently participated on a task force with other state chiefs on how to better work with employers and post-secondary institutions to better prepare students for a variety of future options. Many of these career paths will involve a college education, but others will involve specialized training, apprenticeships or other forms of further education that do not involve a degree.

As a member of the Minnesota business community, and as CEO of a K–12 assessment provider, I am involved with the education of tomorrow’s workforce on a daily basis. There are huge improvements to be made in K–12 education, both in Minnesota and in the United States, and I urge state business leaders to look at the many evolving needs of their companies and assess the impact of today’s educational standards on future needs. Put simply, students entering high school this fall will be entering the workforce in less than a decade. What impact can we have right now on the development of future business leaders? My answer is simple: We must involve ourselves in K–12 education policy and invest in the next generation, whatever their passions might be.


Jamie Candee, President and CEO of Questar Assessments Inc.