How can teachers prepare today’s students for careers tomorrow? Lisa Dughi, chief operating officer at NAF, speaks with CXOTalk about how business and education partners help underserved high schools use technology to educate youth to overcome the skills gap and earn family-sustaining wages in IT, finance, engineering, hospitality, health sciences and other fields.

“…We’ve really thought about how we can do that technologically,” Dughi says. “We are in the process of building a platform that we’re calling My NAFTrack, that is going to help facilitate the NAFTrack program where students will be able to create profiles about their experience in the NAF Academies, their professional experiences, and their internships, of course. Companies will be able to see that and will be able to find not only interns but, eventually, future employees.”

Dughi has led the Operations team as COO at NAF since 2017. NAF is a national network of education, business and community leaders who work together to ensure high school students are college, career and future ready.

This interview was recorded at SAP's SAPPHIRE NOW 2018 user conference, as part of the SAP Select program, with SAP's largest customers. The event focus was Intelligent Enterprise.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: We are live at Sapphire Now 2018 in Orlando, Florida. I'm Michael Krigsman. I'm an industry analyst and the host of CxOTalk. Right now, we are speaking with Lisa Dughi, who is the chief operating officer of NAF. Hey, Lisa. How are you?

Lisa Dughi: Great. Thanks for having me.

Michael Krigsman: Let's do a fist bump.

Lisa Dughi: All right. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter] Tell us about NAF.

Lisa Dughi: NAF is a national network of business and education partners that are working together to really transform the high school experience. We're primarily in underserved high schools, and we're really focused on getting kids ready for college and careers. The industry part of it is so important because businesspeople get to be a part of educating their future employees and their future leaders.

Michael Krigsman: What is the mission behind NAF?

Lisa Dughi: It really is to make sure that every student has access to a successful future. We want to make sure that kids, particularly ones who don't have the role models at home or in their community, are able to see what a future can look like and then get to really learn how to create the pathway in their high school experience.

Michael Krigsman: You're the chief operating officer.

Lisa Dughi: Yes, I am.

Michael Krigsman: What does that mean?

Lisa Dughi: That means that I oversee all of our work that's basically not the programmatic work. I oversee our finance, our IT, our marketing and communications, our strategy, our admin and HR. Everything that sort of makes the engine run is in my purview.

Michael Krigsman: Lisa, NAF has been around for 40 years.

Lisa Dughi: Mm-hmm.

Michael Krigsman: Right now, what are the forces that are going on in our world that make your mission so important today?

Lisa Dughi: It's as critical as ever when we hear things about the skills gap. While unemployment is certainly going down, the opportunity for jobs that are careers — that have a family-sustaining wage, that are helping to end cycles of poverty — is so critical. We need to make sure that, particularly in areas where there isn't necessarily the access to opportunity, that we're providing it: Kids in high school get to see that there is a pathway out of an environment that perhaps isn't as opportunistic as they would like it to be; and bringing in business partners because they talk about the fact that they can't find the skilled employees that they need.

Michael Krigsman: Is the core of what you do then bringing businesses in to partner with high school students? Is that the foundation of it?

Lisa Dughi: That's a really important part of it. We exist in existing public high schools, and we train the school to be able to run the NAF program. It gets integrated into the day, so it isn't an extra thing that kids have to do. It is a part of their high school experience. Everything is really created with business partners in partnership because we want to make sure that the education that the students are getting — whether it's in IT, finance, engineering, hospitality and tourism, or health sciences — is absolutely meeting the goals of what companies are looking to hire. Having those business partners be a part of the classroom experience, that's when the lights come on and they can see what a future might look like.

Michael Krigsman: Lisa, I know that your program is very rigorous in terms of the data that you're looking at, in terms of the measures, the metrics. Tell us about the measures that you look at for evaluating success.

Lisa Dughi: We look at things in a number of different ways. We evaluate the actual academies, which are the schools within a school, and we make sure that they are at the highest quality — that they are adhering to our design, and that students are getting the best experience that they possibly can. We also look at the student performance, and we have what we call our NAFTrack Certification

Michael Krigsman: We are live at Sapphire Now 2018 in Orlando, Florida. I'm Michael Krigsman. I'm an industry analyst and the host of CxOTalk. Right now, we are speaking with Lisa Dughi, who is the chief operating officer of NAF. Hey, Lisa. How are you?

Lisa Dughi: Great. Thanks for having me.

Michael Krigsman: Let's do a fist bump.

Lisa Dughi: All right. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter] Tell us about NAF.

Lisa Dughi: NAF is a national network of business and education partners that are working together to really transform the high school experience. We're primarily in underserved high schools, and we're really focused on getting kids ready for college and careers. The industry part of it is so important because businesspeople get to be a part of educating their future employees and their future leaders.

Michael Krigsman: What is the mission behind NAF?

Lisa Dughi: It really is to make sure that every student has access to a successful future. We want to make sure that kids, particularly ones who don't have the role models at home or in their community, are able to see what a future can look like and then get to really learn how to create the pathway in their high school experience.

Michael Krigsman: You're the chief operating officer.

Lisa Dughi: Yes, I am.

Michael Krigsman: What does that mean?

Lisa Dughi: That means that I oversee all of our work that's basically not the programmatic work. I oversee our finance, our IT, our marketing and communications, our strategy, our admin and HR. Everything that sort of makes the engine run is in my purview.

Michael Krigsman: Lisa, NAF has been around for 40 years.

Lisa Dughi: Mm-hmm.

Michael Krigsman: Right now, what are the forces that are going on in our world that make your mission so important today?

Lisa Dughi: It's as critical as ever when we hear things about the skills gap. While unemployment is certainly going down, the opportunity for jobs that are careers — that have a family-sustaining wage, that are helping to end cycles of poverty — is so critical. We need to make sure that, particularly in areas where there isn't necessarily the access to opportunity, that we're providing it: Kids in high school get to see that there is a pathway out of an environment that perhaps isn't as opportunistic as they would like it to be; and bringing in business partners because they talk about the fact that they can't find the skilled employees that they need.

Michael Krigsman: Is the core of what you do then bringing businesses in to partner with high school students? Is that the foundation of it?

Lisa Dughi: That's a really important part of it. We exist in existing public high schools, and we train the school to be able to run the NAF program. It gets integrated into the day, so it isn't an extra thing that kids have to do. It is a part of their high school experience. Everything is really created with business partners in partnership because we want to make sure that the education that the students are getting — whether it's in IT, finance, engineering, hospitality and tourism, or health sciences — is absolutely meeting the goals of what companies are looking to hire. Having those business partners be a part of the classroom experience, that's when the lights come on and they can see what a future might look like.

Michael Krigsman: Lisa, I know that your program is very rigorous in terms of the data that you're looking at, in terms of the measures, the metrics. Tell us about the measures that you look at for evaluating success.

Lisa Dughi: We look at things in a number of different ways. We evaluate the actual academies, which are the schools within a school, and we make sure that they are at the highest quality — that they are adhering to our design, and that students are getting the best experience that they possibly can. We also look at the student performance, and we have what we call our NAFTrack Certification, which is the process that students go through to be certified when they graduate.

This is a really exciting part that companies have decided. We have 16 companies that have decided to be NAFTrack Partners. They have said when a student goes through our process and they graduate with a NAFTrack Certification that these companies are going to give them special consideration in the hiring process.

Michael Krigsman: I'm very business focused, but I'm also extremely interested in how you manage technology.

Lisa Dughi: It's interesting. We needed a mechanism through which to do that, and we've really thought about how we can do that technologically. And so, we are in the process of building a platform that we're calling myNAFTrack, that is going to help facilitate the NAFTrack program where students will be able to create profiles about their experience in the NAF Academies — their professional experiences, and their internships. Of course, companies will be able to see that and will be able to find not only interns but, eventually, future employees.

Michael Krigsman: The technology is enabling you to build that community.

Lisa Dughi: Absolutely. It's been very exciting because, as we've embarked on this and we've had such great partners with companies like SAP who have helped us really envision something that we wouldn't have dared to dream of because, when you do use technology that already exists, and we don't try and build it ourselves because we will admit to have tried that at first and realized that we were going to end up with a minimally, minimal-viable product. Yeah. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: Turning yourself into a technology or software company was not the right way.

Lisa Dughi: It was not the right way. Finding something that existed that we could leverage for what we were trying to do has opened up avenues we never would have anticipated. It's incredibly exciting what technology is going to offer our students.

Michael Krigsman: That's interesting how the technology, it sounds like, led to really envisioning what is possible for the organization and for the future.

Lisa Dughi: Absolutely. We really would never have imagined that we would be able to provide some of the resources that we're going to be able to provide to our students because we knew we couldn't build them ourselves. But, once we started to see things that were out there, already existed, and could be fairly easily leveraged for something that it wasn't necessarily intended for because we are using some of their tools in a way it was not built for but is going to really be a gamechanger for students and for companies looking for those students in the future.

Michael Krigsman: As you think about the future, you think about technology, and think about data, what is your vision? Where is this going?

Lisa Dughi: I think that technology obviously is the disruptor for every industry. I don't think education is any different, and so I do think that, as there are ideas about using technology for personalized learning and the way a classroom looks and feels, I think that this, in terms of for NAF, is going to help us start to think about how we are a part of that. I think having technology in a classroom and also having students have access to the world outside of their classroom that is technologically enabled is really what's going to make education just feel different, and students have different kinds of experiences. Especially for students who may not ever have the opportunity to get very far out of their home area, they still will be able to experience the world.

Michael Krigsman: It's all about the experiences that those students have and what they can then, ultimately, offer back to the companies.

Lisa Dughi: Absolutely, yes.

Michael Krigsman: Great. Lisa, thank you so much for taking time and speaking with us.

Lisa Dughi: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Michael Krigsman: How about another fist bump?

Lisa Dughi: Absolutely. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: All right, I love it.