The Global Business Coalition for Education recently published a new study highlighting the role small businesses are playing in supporting education. The newly released report, “An Untapped Force for Global Education: an exploration of small and medium enterprises”, is based on interviews with business leaders in 18 countries, who support education in their community or abroad.
Among the participants in the study was Terrence Southern, the Founder and CEO of HarozTec, a Dallas-based robotics and artificial intelligence engineering firm, that supports Dallas Independent School District’s Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) early college high school program. P-TECH offers economically disadvantaged students the opportunity to graduate in four years with both a high school diploma and an associate college degree. We asked Terrence Southern a few questions about his decision to support the local district, how he managed to rally his team and other engineers, and whether he had any advice for business leaders willing to support education.
Why does your company partner with local schools?
At my company HarozTec, we create the curriculum and the workforce development skills set to train youth in the jobs of the future. I believe that me and my company represent the jobs of the future, not just in Dallas but across the globe. I also understand what is going to be required. I learned over 20 years ago when I began my career, that the workforce was going to change when it came to robotic, artificial intelligence, drone development, and all the different technologies that are now being put forth. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need and the requirement for automation. McKinsey & Company released a report saying that automation would be everywhere across the globe by 2030. Now with Covid-19, the trend is to have automation tomorrow. By partnering with the local school district, I am able to be a mentor for the students who come from the community that I came from. I am originally from Detroit, Michigan. I grew up not knowing any engineers, so for me it’s amazing just to come out of a situation where you dream of being something that you have never seen before. This way, the students that I work with no longer have to be in that position. The likelihood for them of meeting the CEO of HarozTec versus the CEO of a fortune 100 company is much greater. They can say, well I know Mr. Southern and he is a robot engineer. I want to be a robot engineer. He knows how to connect to people. We make this happen by partnering with the local school district, whether it be public, or charter, or private, and some of the local organizations that we work with. This way we have a larger impact across the board and the message gets spread to other school districts, which helps us grow. Additionally, we are able to offer students the opportunity to become interns and to work for our small company. This helps us offer ourselves to big companies. It just kind of spreads organically. When they go to college or enter the workforce, they have something to put on their resumes. That gives them some level of leverage amongst others who might be in a different situation. It also gives us the opportunity to work with a diverse pool of students and it levels the playing field. It gives them the opportunity to work with someone who can relate to their story, their background, or their demographics. This connection can be based on the area they come from, their ethnic background, their language or just the fact that they see someone who mirrors what they want to be one day. It is very rewarding to be in that position.
How do you get other business leaders involved in education?
The journey to getting other engineers involved has been very successful, I also have a non-profit organization called Illuminate Stem. There we focus on science technology, engineering, and math, but also on sustaining talents and elevating minds. The goal is to take a diverse pool of students and work with them to show them how science and technology can apply for anything they want to do in the future. We consider ourselves an extension of the teachers in the school system. Today as a witness and engineer I realize that the teacher can’t keep up with the speed of technology, and there is no way that’s possible that they know what’s going on in the world from a manufacturing standpoint, from a technology standpoint. I also know, because I was once that kid. My teacher told me to become an engineer because they make a lot of money, but she had no idea what engineers do. A lot of people believe that the teachers by themselves are aware of technology, where the jobs are going to be at. I think it’s a little bit of unrealistic expectation of the teachers to drive them to that point. It’s going to require someone from the industry, someone who is working on the future of jobs to say: yes, go into robotics but here is what robotics do. We are putting a lot of responsibility on our teachers to make that happen. So, my organization gives the kids this opportunity – you know you are not going to meet LeBron James today, but you are going to meet the LeBron James of robotics today. That means a lot to that kid. He can go on the internet and look at this person. He can know who it is. I love that feeling because I get handwritten letters from kids from all over the world. Then I have to hand write a letter back to them, of course, which makes me feel really good. I think this helps other large organizations work with us, because they can see that we are making an impact and they want to come work with us. We can make a larger impact by collaborating with those larger companies.
What advice would you give small businesses wanting to support education?
The advice I would give is get involved and be an agent of change for the future. We are living in unpredictable times right now. There is a whole new generation that’s waiting to say: okay, I went to college, I was told that if I got good grades, I would get a scholarship, go to college, and then get a job. Well, the jobs are going to change for the future. By being a small business, I not only allow them to get a real cool job in technology, but I can also tell them, well here is how you might want to be an owner, an innovator, an entrepreneur, a community leader. They get to see that through me, and I am easier for them to reach than the CEO of some of the fortune companies. I am reachable, they can see me having a good time with my life. My life is balanced, I have a family, it looks attainable to them and relatable from there they stand.