Schools Must Do Better to Prepare Students For a Freelance Future

Almost two-thirds of children currently in elementary school will end up in jobs that don’t exist yet. That’s why students need transferable, creative skills. Unfortunately, they’re not developing them at school. Hiring managers say current graduates lack critical thinking skills, aptitude with problem-solving and attention to detail. New workers are also short on communication and teamwork abilities.

Students can hone these skills when schools empower them to think like entrepreneurs— by using their knowledge to figure out solutions to real-life problems.

For example, instead of memorizing the names of U.S. presidents, students might pick one president and create a campaign poster, speech, or advertisement to learn how to communicate a key message.

Freelance learning environments teach students how to think critically, collaborate and communicate – the abilities that hiring managers say they’re missing. When college students have application-based experiences like long-term projects or internships, they’re more likely to be engaged at work upon graduation.

Entrepreneurship gives people freedom over their work, which also improves well-being. One study of 11,000 graduates from the Wharton School of Business found that those running their own businesses were happier than graduates in other jobs— no matter how much money they made.

Some schools have embraced entrepreneurial learning. For instance, at the Portfolio School in New York City, teachers give students interdisciplinary projects centered on a theme. One course focuses on how to make ice cream machines. In the process, students learn history by studying how ice became commercialized; science by seeing how states of matter change at different temperatures; and math by measuring ingredients to make their own batches of ice cream.

Other schools enlist outside programs to bring entrepreneurial thinking into the classroom. The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship partners with underserved schools in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles to teach students how to build a virtual food truck business or create an app.

To teach students to be adaptable, schools must ensure that the environments in which they learn are adaptable, too— that they reflect the real world. One idea that’s taking hold is the “makerspace”— a studio-like classroom designed so kids can learn by doing. A makerspace may allow students to work with drills, three-dimensional printers, sewing kits, or even a soldering iron.

The product engineers at the company I lead, KI, constantly collaborate with architects and designers on research into how the furniture within a classroom can support entrepreneurial learning. In one case, our research team found that teachers were improvising makerspaces out of everything from storage bins to old couches. So our designers developed a collection of seating and work surfaces called Ruckus that’s reconfigurable, adaptable, and tailor-made for cutting-edge learning environments like makerspaces.

No matter where the future of work takes us, entrepreneurial skills will never be obsolete. That’s why they should be the foundation of what we teach our children.

Dick Resch is CEO of KI Furniture (www.ki.com). This op-ed first appeared in Fox News Opinion on www.FoxNews.com.

Rethink office layouts to improve workers’ health

Americans are gung-ho about getting in shape. Seventy percent say they want to take steps to improve their health, according to a new study from UnitedHealthcare.

Those steps usually stop at the gym door. More than six in 10 workers don’t take advantage of subsidized gym memberships and other wellness benefits, even though nearly three-quarters of employers offer them. This lack of physical activity takes a toll on worker well-being— and drives up health costs.

Employers may think they can’t force their workers to exercise. But indeed they can— by subtly integrating more physical activity into the 9-to-5 routines. Office spaces that “nudge” employees to move around are proving that they can provide a hefty boost to workers’ health and productivity.

Most Americans are sedentary. The typical person sits 13 hours a day. Only one in five exercises enough, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All this sitting makes people sick. Inactivity increases the risk of costly chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression and stroke. These diseases devastate workers and their families. They also harm businesses’ bottom lines. Lost productivity due to poor worker health costs the economy $84 billion a year.

To recapture these costs, companies are changing up their office layouts to encourage workers to get up and move more, a philosophy known as “active design.” For instance, firms create multiple work areas, so employees have to travel to different rooms depending on whether they’re making calls, conducting meetings or compiling reports.

Consider the offices of architecture firm Gensler in Newport Beach, California, with workspaces spread around, often on different floors. Employees are encouraged to change locations regularly by walking around the office, climbing stairs, even riding on company scooters and bicycles.

These nudges toward movement may sound trivial. But they have a huge impact on health and productivity. Workers who take a five-minute stroll every hour exhibit increased energy levels, an elevated mood, less fatigue and fewer food cravings.

Other companies encourage workers to shun the elevator and use the stairs by designing visually compelling, inviting staircases. The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee headquarters in Chattanooga includes a monumental staircase with multi-story outdoor views in each of its buildings. The insurance giant reasoned that workers would eagerly take stairs that offer picturesque views of the Tennessee River. Views of a musty stairwell with no natural light? Not so much.

Many employers also provide workers with sit-stand desks. Allowing workers to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day is among the simplest ways to improve worker health. Employees love this flexibility. Seventy percent of full-timers admit that they dislike sitting all day.

Reducing the amount of time spent sitting at work lowers the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Cutting sitting time by just three hours a day can increase life expectancy by two years. Other firms are experimenting with active design by adding outdoor workspaces, healthy onsite food options and light, airy rooms. Natural lighting has been linked to improved moods and better sleep quality— nearly one more hour per night. That makes for a more engaged and productive workforce.

These investments in smart design pay off. When companies improve the health of their sickest workers, those employees become 11 percent more productive, according to a new study. Americans say they want to make their health a priority— but often fail to follow through. Their employers can help, often unbeknownst to them, by adopting the principles of active design.

Dick Resch is CEO of KI Furniture (www.ki.com).

Key to finally fulfilling that New Year’s health resolution

The confetti and champagne bottles have been cleaned up. So now millions of Americans will embark on their New Year’s resolution to— finally!— hit the gym and get healthy.

Most will, unfortunately, fail. Making and then promptly abandoning resolutions to exercise and adopt a healthier lifestyle have become something of a national pastime but there’s a way to break the cycle. And it doesn’t require shelling out beaucoup bucks for a personal trainer or foregoing dessert. The solution is as simple as it is effective— resolve to stand more.

Standing for just a couple more hours a day can be as beneficial as training for a marathon. It’s the easiest way to finally fulfill that New Year’s resolution to get fit.

Standing more is such a powerful approach to improving health precisely because it doesn’t require radical lifestyle changes or a Herculean willpower.

Most Americans live sedentary lives. Nearly 90 percent are working in jobs that have them sitting all day. Then there’s the time spent commuting in the car, eating, and watching TV. Add that all up, and the average American spends over six hours a day strapped to a seat.

However, sitting isn’t a harmless comfort. At these volumes, it’s deadly. Prolonged sitting prompts muscles to downshift their metabolism and burn less fat. That causes blood circulation to slow down and makes it easier for fatty acid to build up in the heart. Cardiovascular disease can be the eventual result.

In fact, a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that men who sit six or more hours a day are about 50 percent more likely to die from chronic disease, compared with those who sit three hours or fewer.

Even a small commitment to standing can generate massive health benefits. Dr. John Buckley of the University of Chester in the United Kingdom notes that standing for an extra three to four hours a day at work “is the equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year.”

Standing also helps release endorphins, which heightens alertness and energy levels— and therefore makes people more productive.

That consequence should be of interest to employers. Encouraging standing can be a low-cost way to goose worker productivity— and thereby boost the bottom line.

Employers can start by adopting an “Active Design” approach to their workspaces, structuring them so that they’re conducive to regular movement. They can offer workers height-adjustable sit/stand desks instead of traditional seated ones. They can replace company cafeteria tables with high tops. Managers can switch to standing meetings.

Employers can also encourage people to take the stairs. Dr. Karen Lee at New York City’s health department has noted that if the average adult climbed the stairs for just two minutes a day, she’d burn enough calories to prevent weight gain for the whole year.

All these little workplace enhancements add up to much healthier— and happier— employees.

Those who have resolved to improve their health in 2016 needn’t fret about gym memberships or fad diets. They just have to start standing more. A couple more hours a day off the seat can make that yearly resolution a reality.

Dick Resch is CEO of KI Furniture. For more information, visit: www.ki.com.

‘Employee first’ mentality is good for business

Not many companies can boast returns of more than 4,000 percent over the past decade. But Netflix can. The company— or rather the talented people behind it— achieved these returns by revolutionizing the way we watch television and movies. That revolution would have been impossible without Netflix’s unique work culture. Codified in a 124-slide manifesto that more than 11 million people have viewed, that culture gives employees huge amounts of freedom in exchange for high performance.

This manifesto is best described as a framework for “social capitalism.” And it’s required reading for any executive hoping to understand the benefits of a people-first mentality. This model is what the millennial generation is demanding. And research is beginning to show that employers that follow it are more profitable in both the short and long run.

This “cultural revolution” isn’t confined to Silicon Valley. Companies from Trader Joe’s to Harley-Davidson are shifting from classic capitalism’s fixation on the bottom line to social capitalism’s focus on people.

They have had to in order to persuade millennials— the best-educated, most technologically savvy, and most populous pool of workers in the United States— to join their companies.

According to organizational culture expert Gustavo Grodnitzky, millennials “work harder for cause than for cash.” Indeed, a survey conducted by the Case Foundation discovered that 55 percent of millennials took a job with a company in part because of its cause-oriented activities.

Keeping employees happy, motivated, and engaged in their work is a financial imperative. Replacing an employee who leaves can cost as much as 150 percent of that employee’s salary. At companies where workers are consistently rewarded for achievements, employees are seven times more likely to stay put.

The approach just requires some common sense— from compensating employees competitively to allowing them to use social media at work.

Consider the cases of Costco and Sam’s Club. The former pays its employees about $20 an hour and provides upwards of 90 percent of them with retirement plans. The latter reportedly pays around $11 an hour and offers about two-thirds of its workers retirement plans.

At first glance, Sam’s Club would seem to have the better grip on labor costs but according to Harvard Business Review, employee turnover costs Sam’s Club more than twice as much as it does Costco. The extra tab for Sam’s Club amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sometimes the key is empowering employees to see the way their work can change the world. At my company, KI Furniture, our workers are turning out products made of recyclable and renewable materials— 177 of which have been certified as sustainable.

Moreover, each and every chair we make financially empowers both our company and our employees to improve the lives of others through charitable efforts, whether they’re company-sponsored or undertaken personally by our staff.

Employers’ investments in their people pay off. Gallup reports that strong employee engagement can bump up a company’s earnings per share by 147 percent. According to research from two Harvard Business School professors, companies with strong corporate cultures centered on people— employees, customers, and owners— have four times the revenues and 12 times the stock prices of companies that don’t.

The newest generation of American workers is not content with just a job. They want a workplace that cares about them— and about the people beyond the four walls of the office. Instead of simply clicking through Netflix’s culture manifesto, it’s time for companies to one-up it.

Dick Resch is CEO of KI Furniture in Wisconsin.

The quiet killer: Sitting in the dark

Americans are working more than ever— and it’s slowly killing them. The typical employee now logs 47 hours a week at work— and spends nearly six hours a day sitting, often in a windowless office or cubicle.

He loses two hours of life for every hour he sits, according to Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. And he’s a zombie for the hours he has left. A lack of natural light during the workday leads to less sleep at night.

Companies must reverse these trends— for the sake of not just their employees but also their own bottom line. They can do so by adopting an “Active Design” approach to their workspaces— one that promotes physical activity throughout the day and encourages workers to adhere to a healthier lifestyle.

More than two in three adults are overweight or obese. Sitting all day at work is a big reason why. Extra pounds don’t just harm those who have packed them on. Overweight or obese Americans miss 450 million more days of work than their healthier coworkers. These absences result in more than $153 billion in lost productivity.

Those who work in a conventional modern office, with its rows of fluorescent-lit cubicles aren’t just obese, they’re tired, too.

The human body needs access to natural light. Dark or artificially illuminated workspaces throw off the body’s circadian rhythm— the internal clock that tells us when to go to bed and get up. It’s no surprise, then, that workers with access to natural light sleep 46 minutes more each night than do their windowless colleagues.

To fight these ills, companies must redesign their workspaces. “Active Design” shows the way.

Active Design capitalizes on the latest in health and wellness research to create workspaces that unwittingly compel people to, well, be active at work. The goal is to make workers healthier without them even realizing it.

Employees are more likely to move if they can see each other and freely interact. Open-plan workspaces encourage people to walk over to a colleague to discuss a project face-to-face rather than email or call. The result is more movement, an increase in collaboration, and a more engaged workforce.

By tearing down the walls between workers, an open office also allows in more natural light. Employees are also more likely to move around when they can work in settings beyond their desk— like informal lounge spaces, cafe areas, or smaller meeting rooms.

When workers are back at their desks, they should have the option to sit or stand while working. A height-adjustable sit/stand desk can allow them to do so.

The health impact of such a desk can be astounding. One study found that standing at least three hours every workday for a year was equivalent to running 10 marathons. Standing for two hours a day burns 30 percent more calories than sitting.

Active Design also covers what we put into our bodies. That means making healthy food options and café spaces available during working hours.

Google is famous for its lavish cafeterias and gourmet cuisine. But the search titan subtly nudges its workers to eat healthily by serving small plates, color coding dishes according to how healthy they are, and putting junk food behind healthier options.

Workplace inactivity is endangering the lives of American workers. Companies can ward off that threat by making their workplaces more active. Doing so won’t just empower workers to live healthier lives— it’ll also shore up American businesses’ financial health.

Dick Resch is CEO of KI Furniture.

Failures in math, science education beginning to add up

Americans could use a crash course in math. According to a new study from the Brookings Institution, jobs in science, technology, engineering and math are vacant for more than twice as long as non-STEM positions— largely because employers can’t find people with the requisite math and science skills to fill them. In fact, high school graduates with STEM skills are in greater demand than college grads without them.

Our nation’s schools simply aren’t producing graduates with the level of numeracy needed to succeed in today’s economy. To change this, we must change the way we teach math and science. By replacing passive, lecture-based styles of instruction with an alternative that more actively engages students in the learning process.

Conventional approaches to math and science education are failing. Twenty-nine nations or other jurisdictions outperform U.S. students in math, according to the latest rankings from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international think tank

Only one-quarter of American twelfth-graders are proficient or better in math. The average eighth-grader is below proficient in science. Such consistently poor performance threatens our entire economy. American firms, including my own, can’t find the employees they need to grow and compete. By 2020, the shortage of skilled workers with postsecondary degrees will reach five million, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Since President Obama proclaimed STEM education a “national priority” back in 2009, American students have actually fallen behind many of their foreign peers.

Reversing these discouraging trends will require a radically different approach to science and math instruction. Fortunately, there’s evidence that just such an approach— called “engaged learning”— can deliver the improvement our nation needs. Engaged learning empowers students to play a more active role in knowledge acquisition— in other words, “to learn by doing.” The technique involves a combination of reading, writing, discussion, personal reflection, and interaction with technology.

School systems are increasingly partnering with the firm I lead, KI, to design and build learning environments that encourage collaboration and discussion. In these classrooms of the future, students work in small groups while instructors move around— interacting with groups of students, posing questions, provoking discussion, and offering individualized help and coaching. The results of this approach have been impressive.

For instance, 14 colleges, including North Carolina State University and the University of Central Florida, implemented an engaged-learning program known as SCALE-UP for some larger undergraduate classes. Across all the schools that participated, SCALE-UP classes saw a significant reduction in failure rates, as well as marked

improvements in conceptual understanding and student attitude.

SCALE-UP didn’t just help students avoid failure. Those in the top third of the class experienced the biggest improvements.

The University of Minnesota experimented with engaged learning by teaching the same biology course in two different environments: a traditional lecture hall and an “Active Learning Classroom” outfitted with glass markerboards, group table seating and shared large-format computer monitors.

Students in the conventional setting performed exactly as their ACT scores predicted they would. But those in the Active Learning Classroom scored nearly 30 points higher than their standardized test scores forecast.

Without a dramatic overhaul of math and science instruction, American students will continue to lag behind those in the rest of the world. Engaged learning strategies have proven successful in boosting student achievement quickly and dramatically.

It’s time to embrace this approach to education, and take our students— and our economy— to the head of the class.

Dick Resch is CEO of KI Furniture. For more information, visit: www.ki.com.