Why universal education is everyone’s job

Business people can help fill some teaching shortages with their own skills and experiences
By Christof Ehrhart |

Key takeaways

  • When partnering with educators, businesses should focus on their strengths: helping young people build up vocational and technical experience
  • Education programs like DHL’s GoTeach improve young people’s confidence in finding jobs and taking control of their futures
  • Mentorships and internships can also establish businesses as “employers of choice” for communities abroad

How can we extend the benefits of education to all children? According to the estimates of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 24 million children will never see a classroom. We often lament the lack of government funding and teachers in developing regions, but I believe that all businesses can—and must—play a major role in making education universally accessible. Doing so brings us benefits too, in both the marketplace and the communities we live in.

Giving youth more opportunities to learn with partnerships

Educators all over the world, especially in underprivileged areas, face a shortage of resources. Besides grappling with overcrowded classrooms and a lack of basic teaching tools, educators also lack access to training that would help them teach effectively. According to UNESCO’s estimates, less than three-quarters of primary school teachers are trained to national standards in a third of countries included in the UNESCO report.

We in the business world can make a difference to these numbers. There are four things we can support educators and young people with: experience, talent, time, and connections. Business leaders and employees can volunteer their time, sharing their professional experiences and personal journeys to prepare young people for their first steps towards the working world. Students get a glimpse of the professional opportunities that await them and will be able to understand how the lessons they are learning can be applied after they graduate. At DHL, we have been doing this under our GoTeach initiative, partnering with SOS Children’s Villages and Teach For All to bring education and employability to children with disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

“To truly make a difference, businesses should move beyond the ‘light touch’ approach of school painting and drawing competitions.”

Helping youth stay relevant in a changing talent market

Economic, social and technological trends are shaping the future of work, and consequently, the skillsets needed for success. According to a report by Economist Intelligence Unit, a key challenge for policymakers is ensuring that young people have the skills needed for success in today’s marketplace. With demand rising for non-routine, analytical skills — and also for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills — economies with the most STEM graduates (as a proportion of the overall labor force) will perform best.

Clearly then, access to education can only be a means to an end—and not the end game. Beyond helping young adults to successfully enter the workforce, the ultimate goal should be to imbue them with the relevant skill sets and access to training to survive the constant evolution of the workforce. This will help tip the balance of education in their favor, giving them a stronger footing when it comes to opportunities usually given to more privileged communities.

When businesses partner with educators to run classes and workshops or take a step further to mentor and coach individual students, young adults get to see the real-life value of what they learn in school. These lessons bring far more excitement to the classroom than typical textbook instruction. This genuine engagement can motivate young people to remain in school, harness new skills, and aspire to a myriad of different career options.

Businesses can provide vocational and technical skills, like STEM skills, that are invaluable for young people’s prospects

To truly make a difference, businesses should move beyond the “light touch” approach of school painting and drawing competitions. Instead, they should look at how to strengthen activities and provide tailored programs that help firmly position beneficiaries for a brighter future. These activities can range from job orientation that helps youth understand the job market to soft and basic skills training to enable access to the job market. By the time they join the workforce, students should be proficient in resume writing, using the latest business applications, business communications, and time management. Educators can also incorporate internships to expose young people to professional working environments.

Our GoTeach initiative uses this approach and has seen positive results so far. According to a 2015 evaluation report, GoTeach students were more confident about finding a suitable job, and reported more self-motivation and sense of responsibility for their own future.

A win-win proposition for all

Besides contributing to society, educational initiatives provide employees with ample opportunities for hands-on involvement, helping them find a purpose in helping others.

Such initiatives also provided opportunities for cross-learning among employees, enriching their professional lives and enhancing job satisfaction. Encouraged by the success we’ve seen, we intend to extend our partnership with Teach for All for another three years to continue our journey to expand educational opportunities. We are excited about the possibilities ahead, as we reaffirm our commitment to provide young people with the opportunity to access education, regardless of background or educational status.

Businesses also benefit from building relationships and investing into the lives of underprivileged young people. Training, internship, and mentoring opportunities give these young adults a taste of working with, and in, our businesses. If they find themselves encouraged and empowered by the experience, they will be much more likely to put their hands up to join the same business later on. That gives businesses a powerful inroad to finding and hiring loyal, skilled talent where it may not always be easy to identify, particularly in emerging markets.

We all have a part to play to educate underprivileged young people whether we spend most of our time in boardrooms, offices, or classrooms. By pooling together our respective expertise and resources, we can help spread the benefits of education to more people in society and ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to pursue the life they dream of.

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