Private sector leaders: if you must, go straight to the “Serious ROI” section. Private sector involvement in education is CSR in a fancy gift-wrapping that doubles as a potent sustainability strategy in disguise.
This is a WHAT and WHY overview. Part Two offers a few starter targets, and Part Three some specific areas of common ground where we can start closing the chasm between education and the real world. While some may be old news to education professionals I’m an outsider layman, and this is in layman terms targeting my private sector peers. The dicey part: improving education requires private sector involvement and insider collaboration. And education and the private sector haven’t been the greatest allies in the past. The chasm between the two drives many of the issues and suggested actions that follow.
DISCLAIMER: these are musings and suggestions from one non-expert outsider. We need more people unafraid to think and offer what they have, for better or for worse. Engage!
It’s a causal chain: companies need a rich and deep talent pool to survive; they will starve without the necessary quantity of high-quality human resource nutrients > a well-prepared, highly skilled workforce fuels company productivity and economic growth > the education system doesn’t meet companies’ need for well-prepared workers > companies under-perform, economy stagnates, social fabric unravels.
An innovative education system can do a whole lot more than stock the talent pool to feed local companies. Education can be the catalyst for private sector sustainability, economic prosperity, community betterment, and individual and social well-being.
Parents move to areas with the right education opportunities for their kids, so the community’s population grows with young wage-earners moving in. Trickle-down hits: the local housing market, merchants and service providers all thrive. Major employers relocate to areas with an education infrastructure that can sustain a highly skilled labor pool, existing employers expand too. Students fully engage with their school experience (remember the “innovative” qualifier?), achievement and attainment levels skyrocket and the labor pool grows deeper and richer.
Quality of health care services is a key indicator of community infrastructure strength. Hospitals need full capacity utilization to provide quality services. It takes bodies (unfortunate choice of words, sorry) to fill beds and justify high-tech diagnostic equipment. Population grows>health care services improve. Side Note: health care is in the midst of a transformation away from treatment to preventive services—a huge boost in well-being is the expected result.
Community prosperity soars and poverty, crime rates, social issues drop. Citizens are fully engaged and support community projects, participate in council / local government meetings, strive to become a responsible electorate. Young people stay as there is opportunity. Workers once again realize the lost dream of a lasting, highly satisfying career with one employer and there’s no longer a need to wander forever in search of a meaningful, long-term career. People pack away their transient baggage and families once again become more deeply rooted.
We all benefit: learner, private sector, education, community, society. While broad effort is ideal, there’s no need for national legislation. Local alliances among community, education and the private sector can reshape the local terrain. Early bird gets growth and prosperity worm.
The private sector’s three most crippling and high-cost workforce issues are:
1. Retention: attrition / turnover;
2. Recruiting from a numbers and talent-challenged labor pool;
3. Disengaged employees and potential hires.
Forward-thinking companies that are deeply involved with and committed to their community’s education system can minimize the Unholy Three’s impact and realize significant returns too:
- A more highly engaged workforce, bottom-line payback in every area that matters;
- High regard in the surrounding community, impact on image and branding. This is the new corporate social responsibility with far greater and much more clear ROI;
- Employer-of-choice status. Current employees stay, new candidates stand in line to get in. Retention and recruiting are both greatly enhanced;
- Sense of community and a company culture that lasts anchored by social consciousness and a feeling of being a part of something that is truly worthwhile;
- A well-stocked, continuously replenished talent pool—highly skilled and eager job candidates. Barring economic meltdown, a surefire strategy that ensures sustainability.
Why would any leader say “no thanks” to a business proposition that can deliver those goods?
Closing the Chasm, Education to Real World
The education system needs an overhaul. While there’s plenty going on it’s mostly disjointed, independent activity. We need coordination, collaboration, common focus beyond common core and standard test performance, a shared mission that spotlights balanced whole-person development from infancy through senior years. We need better preparation of young people to ensure their success in the work world that awaits them—a world that needs more, and better qualified, highly skilled resources. Physical, mental, social and economic well-being is at stake.
Following is a grab bag of education issues. You can’t pick and choose which to tackle now and which to leave for later…this messy plate of spaghetti is what systems thinkers call a reinforcing loop: there are interrelationships among what appear to be unrelated issues. These are in no particular order, as each is connected to the others.
Education is out of touch with the needs of the real world, and is not providing well-prepared workers. Classroom material and teaching methods are outdated. We’re obsessed with STEM at the expense of social and emotional development. Students are disengaged, attainment levels low, dropout rate high. Professional development of teachers is incomplete and ineffective per teachers themselves. They are underpaid, overburdened, stressed out, burnt out. We’re destroying dedicated, passionate educators with a bad system that produces defective outputs. NCLB / obsession over standard scores and teaching to the test have failed.
Cost and a long payback period makes college a bad investment (Goldman Sachs proposes a new education model is necessary!). The relevance of a college degree for many positions is being challenged. Those who do graduate are unskilled where it counts in the private sector. Accessibility is the only hot education-related campaign issue (US), a secondary problem if the right stuff is not taught the right way.
The collective impact: lost productivity, economic decline and along with it lower quality of life, rising social issues including poverty, crime, drug abuse and unemployment, wasted human potential. Is the list incomplete, or too much? Overly harsh, or painfully accurate? Worth our attention, or carry on with business as usual?
We must address the systemic issues noted above and minimize the gap between education and workplace. The gap can be relatively easy to close…if all the players rally around the same flag and do their part. And there is incredible potential in aligning.
Next: a few starter targets.