For years corporations have partnered with high schools and colleges to make sure there are enough skilled workers entering the workforce. But baby boomers’ pending retirement has enhanced the need for skilled workers, and more companies are getting involved earlier in the education process — in some cases as early as preschool.
The U.S. Department of Labor projects that between 2010 and 2025 as many as 95 million baby boomers will leave the U.S. workforce, with only 40 million members of Generations X and Y to replace them. To compensate for this demographic shift, the Labor Department estimates employers will have to spend up to $109 billion in additional recruitment and training costs to ensure there are enough skilled workers to fulfill their organization’s mission.
Consider PNC Financial Services Group Inc., which launched its PNC Grow Up Great initiative in 2004 to help teach science, math, arts and financial education to young children.
“The children that we are helping today may be our future employees and our future customers,” said Sally McCrady, deputy executive director of PNC Grow Up Great, “and we want them all to have the best start to become the most productive citizens possible.”
PNC and other corporations are trying to reach students as early as possible to mitigate anticipated training and development costs, and studies that track low-income preschool students show these investments are worthwhile.
In a 2011 analysis, “The Case for Investing in Disadvantaged Young Children,” University of Chicago professor James Heckman wrote that students “demonstrate substantial positive effects of early environmental enrichment on a range of cognitive and non-cognitive skills, schooling achievement, job performance and social behaviors, long after the interventions ended. … An estimated rate of return (the return per dollar of cost) to the Perry Program [a longitudinal study tracking the success of low income preschool attendees] is in excess of 14 percent.”
PNC and like-minded corporations also have partnered with business groups such as Corporate Voices for Working Families and Change the Equation, both of which promote corporate involvement in education.
In 2009, Corporate Voices and CEO association Business Roundtable released a policy paper, “Why America Needs High-Quality Early Care and Education,” calling on both public- and private-sector decision makers to commit further resources for early care and preschool to bolster future workforce readiness.
“More and more businesses today are working to minimize the continuing widening skills gap, and there are those with a more strategic, long-term business strategy who are looking at the early school years,” said John-Anthony Meza, Corporate Voices’ vice president of workforce readiness. “If we don’t have impact in those early years, then we will continue to see a growing decrease of graduation rates. We have to start from the ground up.”
PNC’s initiative is a $350 million project developed in conjunction with Sesame Workshop, the Fred Rogers Co. and the National Head Start Association. PNC gives grants to fund preschool programs, develops early childhood educational materials and encourages its employees to volunteer in preschool programs.
To date, PNC has granted $55 million, including $6 million to 14 regional science centers in its Grow Up Great With Science initiative, which enabled the centers to provide professional development for teachers and enhance children’s science activities.
Sesame Workshop also helped PNC develop Math Is Everywhere kits for Head Start and the pre-K programs of public school districts. The kit includes a DVD that encourages children to explore math in everyday settings. The program also comes with a parent/teacher guide with practical examples incorporating math conversations every day and a storybook featuring Elmo with suggested activities.
The effort paid off: In a 2011 survey of program participants, 97 percent of parents using the English version and 89 percent using the Spanish version reported the program increased the amount of time their child spent on math-related activities.
Further, 56 percent of the teachers using the program in English and 43 percent of those using it in Spanish said they would change their instructional approach as a result.
PNC also has granted $12 million to 42 local nonprofits such as YMCA branches and Junior Achievement chapters and libraries to teach financial education to preschoolers and their families. As part of this effort, Sesame Workshop created another kit for PNC called For Me, for You, for Later: First Steps to Spending, Sharing and Saving, designed to introduce children to basic financial education concepts. Both kits are available at PNC branches.
To date, roughly 26,000 PNC employees have volunteered at early childhood education centers, and employees have donated more than 466,000 items for use in classrooms.
KPMG LLP, an audit, tax and advisory firm, also partners with Corporate Voices. It has donated books to more than 300 elementary schools, preschools and nonprofits as part of its Family for Literacy program, according to Kathy Hannan, KPMG’s national managing partner of diversity and corporate social responsibility.
All of KPMG’s offices raise funds and collect new books for the program. The company collaborates with Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit First Book to distribute the books, and KPMG employees — as well as their spouses and other family members, KPMG retirees and interns — are on hand to read to children. The firm has started collecting data through First Book on the impact of its program on literacy rates.
KPMG also has a charitable campaign called Blue for Books, in collaboration with pro golfer Phil Mickelson. As the official hat sponsor for Mickelson, KPMG in March introduced a new KMPG blue hat; for every hat sold, a 100 percent of the profits are donated to First Book to distribute new books to children.
“We feel that programs like this might develop new accountants for us in the future,” Hannan said.
First Book also partners with Target Corp., Barclays PLC and Cheerios, a brand of General Mills Inc., to distribute books to low-income children.
Change the Equation, a coalition of nearly 100 corporations, was formed in 2010 as a philanthropic and advocacy organization promoting more effective K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. Linda Rosen, Change the Equation’s chief executive officer, said along with a list of member companies, it has funded expansion of similar programs.
“We’re trying to help our companies identify high-quality programs in which they can invest, with assurance that they can get a return on their investment,” she said.
One member corporation is Siemens Corp., the U.S. subsidiary of Germany-based Siemens AG. Its foundation has a K-12 program called Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, which works in conjunction with Discovery Education, the National Science Teachers Association and the College Board, according to Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation.
Funded by Siemens, students are judged by the teachers association and the College Board on projects related to sustainability. Harper-Taylor said they also receive interactive digital tools from Discovery Education. The winners are awarded prizes, all funded by Siemens, which have included field trips to Costa Rica and Alaska.
Elementary classroom winners in the Siemens program are awarded a “green” goodie pack for each student, a one-hour Discovery Education assembly for their school and a $5,000 grant for their school to further green initiatives.
“For example, how to recycle, how to be conservative on the uses of energy, carpooling — really starting those early learning opportunities, practices and habits for what they can do as individuals to make an impact on keeping the world sustainable,” Harper-Taylor said.
To date, 3,118 school districts have participated in the Siemens program, which it conducts to eventually attract more workers to its workforce, particularly its green energy units, such as wind farms and biomass power plants.
“Starting with K-12 is a good place to attract more workers to green businesses,” Harper-Taylor said. “… This is good not only for Siemens’ future workforce, but also for all industries.”
Companies that want to create early education programs to foster greater workforce readiness should first consider building upon their existing education initiatives — those already in place for high school and college students. PNC’s McCrady recommends extending such programs to younger students.
Companies also should enlist the help of a community partner that can provide them with the support they need to make their initiatives successful, Corporate Voices’ Meza said.
Corporate Voices recommends that companies working with a community partner first develop common objectives for early education initiatives, secure buy-in from senior leadership, develop valid measurements of impact, then communicate the impact on the company’s objectives to pertinent business divisions — including communications, operations, human resources, finance, training and development.
“This type of strategy is able to assist a business in coordinating their financial and human capital investments, connect them to the overall business objectives and ensure these are leveraged to create a larger return on investment for the business and a greater impact in the community,” Meza said.
Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a California-based journalist. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.