Category Archives: Education

Re-conceiving Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility for Education

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(This contribution also appeared on CSRwire)

During their learning journey, individuals acquire knowledge and skills that ought to be relevant for their prospective employment. The provision of their education is the responsibility of national governments. Yet, business and industry seldom offer continuous professional development and training to their human resources that supplement formal education (although they are rarely involved in setting outcomes of curriculum programmes). Very often, companies have to respond to challenging issues such as skill mismatches where candidates lack certain competencies that may be too deep to bridge through corporate training courses. Perhaps, global businesses may compensate to a certain extent as they can shift their operations elsewhere to tap more qualified employees. However, the constraints on their growth can be halted by the broad impact of inadequate education and training in some industries or regions. Therefore, corporations may possibly become a key player in addressing unmet needs in education. Several companies have the resources and the political influence to help improve educational outcomes which will in turn help them to nurture local talent. Leading businesses are already devising Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility (CSR) programmes that are actively supporting education across many contexts:

For instance; Cisco (a provider of networking equipment), has created more than 10,000 networking academies in 165 countries. 4.75 million individuals have improved their employment prospects as they attended training to become network administrators. At the same time, these individuals have increased the demand for Cisco’s equipment. Similarly, SAP and Verizon have often partnered with local universities and education institutions in order to deliver courses, career coaching and customised degrees on site for employees. The companies have discovered that employees that pursue such programmes are more likely to remain loyal to their company. Naturally, it is in the interest of employees to attend educational programmes that may ultimately lead to their career progression and better prospects. Moreover, continuous professional development and training may considerably reduce high employee turnover. Interestingly, SAP employs people with autism in technology-focused roles. In doing so, SAP concentrates on these individuals’ unique strengths. This way, the company can gain access to a wider pool of untapped talent that will help to foster a climate of creativity and innovation. In a similar vein, Intel has also invested in training programmes and partnerships that strengthen education. The company has recognised that its business growth is constrained by a chronic shortage of talent in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) disciplines. Through programmes like Intel Math and Intel Teach, the global multinational has delivered instructional materials, online resources, and professional development tools for hundreds of thousands of educators across the United States. The students’ have acquired STEM and other 21st century skills, including critical thinking with data as well as scientific inquiry. This is a relevant example of a corporate business that has successfully addressed its workforce needs. Intel has recognised specific skill gaps in its central areas like technology and engineering. Accordingly, the company has committed itself for further investment in education. The company has created higher education curricula in demand areas like microelectronics, nanotechnology, security systems and entrepreneurship. Undoubtedly, Intel’s efforts affected millions of US students. At the same time, the company has increased its productivity and competitiveness. In addition, there are many big businesses that contribute in stewardship, charitable and philanthropic causes. In the past, the GE Foundation has supported systemic improvements in urban school districts that were close to GE’s business. These investments have surely helped to close the interplay between corporate sustainability and responsibility (CSR) and corporate philanthropy, while strengthening GE’s long-term talent pipeline.

In a nutshell, this contribution redefines the private sector’s role in the realms of education. It posits that there are win-win opportunities for companies and national governments as they cultivate human capital. Indeed, companies can create synergistic value for both business and society. In the main, such a strategic approach can result in new business models and cross-sector collaborations that will inevitably lead to operational efficiencies, cost savings and significant improvements to the firms’ bottom lines. Notwithstanding, the businesses’ involvement in setting curricula may also help to improve the effectiveness of education systems in many contexts. Businesses can become key stakeholders in this regard. Their CSR programmes can reconnect their economic success with societal progress.

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How Education brings Social Cohesion and Economic Growth?

Who would argue against lifting people out of poverty? Today, education transcends curriculum programmes. It provides opportunities for social mobility as individuals are rewarded according to their merit.Interventions in the realms of education may play a significant role in shaping key performance indicators for social outcomes. This short contribution suggests that education may create a fair, just and equitable society for all. Thus, the notion of social cohesion and its constituent elements; social inclusion, social capital and social mobility are some of the concepts which are increasingly being addressed by stakeholders in education.

With better education there may be implications for economic growth, job creation and competitiveness (OECD, 2009). The Ministry of Education and Employment together with the University of Malta and other vocational institutions have always strived in their endeavours to address skill gaps (and mismatches) in the labour market. A lot of discourse has been made about how Malta’s productivity and competitiveness may be improved through active labour market policies and initiatives. For instance, more participation of women in the job market, flexible working arrangements, the provision and affordability of child-care facilities as well as out-of-school centres may possibly help to bring more social cohesion and a better living for all members of society. In addition, lifelong learning and employment opportunities are also vital elements of any social cohesion agenda. Through education and training, individuals will acquire knowledge and cultivate skills and competences which are relevant to their employers. Consequently, educational outcomes will influence social inclusion, social mobility and social capital as illustrated hereunder in Figure 1.

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Figure 1: The Components of Social Cohesion (OECD, 2011)

The schooling experience itself impacts social cohesion as it shapes and transmits common values that underpin social capital and inclusion. Education has the potential to bring social cohesion through civic and societal engagement. To my mind, how children are schooled may impact on their sense of belonging to a society. It is important to realise that certain instruments that reduce opportunity costs of continued education can possibly improve student attainment levels. Young adolescents who leave education and training prematurely will lack the necessary skills and qualifications which are essential for their employment prospects. It may appear that, Malta is responding to the contentious issue of early school leaving (ESL) through the provision of ongoing training schemes as well as employer incentives. The Employment and Training Corporation is also using the European Union’s Training Aid Framework (TAF) which is co-funded through the European Social Fund to strengthen the employability prospects of the Maltese work force. In a nutshell, this programme sponsors students, employees and unemployed individuals to train themselves in areas which are required by the labour market. The Ministry of Education and Employment has always been committed to increase the number of students in higher education. Interestingly, Malta’s National Reform Programme under the Europe 2020 Strategy has yielded some preventative measures against ESL, including; the implementation of the “National Curriculum Framework”; the provision of more opportunities for vocational education and training (VET) in compulsory education; the strengthening of the existent “Validation of Informal” and “Non-formal Learning” as well as the development of new forms of teaching and learning, such as “e-Learning”. This programme posits that intervention measures include; a review of extant measures with a focus on school, parent, teacher collaboration, the development of a multi-stakeholder approach to address the needs of particular groups of students at risk of ESL and the further strengthening of guidance throughout compulsory education. As a result, this reform programme has set clear and measurable targets in this regard, as it emphasised the importance of effective delivery and visible results. Apparently, stakeholders in education are committed to taking steps to improve the provision of training, skills and qualifications. Year after year, the smallest EU state is raising the quality of its education and training systems to encourage a greater participation of its workforce in the labour market.

Malta has recognised the importance of reducing its number of unqualified school leavers. Lifelong learning, ongoing training opportunities and continuous professional development can offer valuable support to more vulnerable people. Measures including; better access to childcare, more flexible working schemes and employer incentives are surely helping individuals, particularly women to return to work. This short contribution suggests that the pursuit towards continuous improvement in educational scale and social progress can create a virtuous cycle of productivity outcomes and economic growth.

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