By Sara Toland

Corporate Voices for Working Families has been following with great interest the recent media blitz focused directly on our country’s public education system through:

  • Target® announcing a contribution of $500 million to launch a nationwide reading initiative
  • The announcement that Facebook’s CEO and Founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is donating $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey, public school system.

Why all the focus on the public education system?

Geoffrey Canada, CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams (September 27, 2010) put it best when he said:

“problem [we are the] only remaining superpower in the world and we’re moving toward a third world education system . . . we are not in the top 10 [in education], not even the top 20 . . . need to do something dramatic.”

This direct tie between the quality of education our youth are receiving and our future global economic status is imperative for all citizens to understand.  A quality education not only develops young people intellectually but it serves as one of the crucial factors in ensuring achievements through post secondary work, employment and in life.  Superintendents from across the country agree as stated in a public manifesto (Washington Post, October 10, 2010):

“ . . .until we fix our schools, we will never fix the nation’s broader economic problems.”

There is a serious education and skills gap in our country.  Corporate Voices for Working Families, along with national partners, produced research focused on employers’ perspectives of the education and skills gap and found that employers report that nearly half (42 percent) of high school graduates lack the skills they needed to make a successful transition to the workforce.  Even among those recent college graduates, employers say only 24 percent have an “excellent” grasp of basic knowledge and applied skills.

So what can be done to improve the education and talent development pipeline?

Many of the recent education events have spurred conversations nationally and locally on reforms that need to take place within schools, such as a stronger focus on hiring and retaining quality teachers – this debate and potential solutions is highlighted specifically in recent research by McKinsey and Company, an international consulting firm, released in September 2010.  Although attracting and retaining talented teachers is essential for the public school system to succeed, Corporate Voices and other national partners have been focusing on ways to improve supports for the future workforce both inside and outside of the K-12 education system through the development of private and public partnerships.

Corporate Voices, as a member of the Ready by 21® National Partnership, believes that all leaders  – nonprofit, government, business, foundation – in the community need to ensure that youth have the supports and engagement opportunities available in school and out of school in order to be ready for college, work and life.  It is essential that these local leaders develop community-wide vision and goals for youth and families that are focused on ensuring that there are no gaps in services and supports across the cradle to career education and workforce readiness pipeline.

In order to develop these goals and work closely together, the private and public leaders in the community must build partnerships.  Corporate Voices recently produced three items focused on building partnerships:

o      The most recently released report highlights best practice partnerships between employers and community colleges.  This paper explores the innovative collaborations between employers and community colleges, and finds that they can and do play a positive role in increasing workforce readiness skills and college completion rates.

o      The other released tool and webinar highlights business and education partnerships in the K-12 system.  This tool delves into the benefit of these partnerships, tips for engaging educators and business leaders, and a case study illustrating these partnerships in action.

o      Finally, a business engagement menu details the various opportunities for business leaders to get involved and build partnerships with community organizations.

Through our workforce readiness platform and our three main areas of work: Learn and Earn, Ready by 21 and Alternative Pathways for youth, Corporate Voices creates bridges between public and private entities ensuring that all stakeholders are coming together to find solutions that span the education and talent development pipeline from cradle to career to ensure the U.S. remains competitive.   As our national leaders focus on education and its impact on the economy, making sure that business and community leaders are partnering to produce a skilled and prepared workforce is essential.