The need for education is clearly essential—for all of us. But perhaps we need to educate business first?
Let's start with some numbers: In a Weber Shandwick survey from 2001, 80 percent of the highly educated in the U.S. considered switching brands if a company was negatively portrayed in the media. In Germany, this stood at 75 percent, in the U.K. at 66 percent, and in Italy at 42 percent. And this was 10 years ago.
The economy—and business—is changing. For many companies, the past few years have brought time for introspection and part of this change has been refocusing on employee education and training.
Recently, while discussing the state of American education, Justmeans writer Reynard Loki, offered an excerpt from the 2009 report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation titled With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them.
"Are there ways that businesses can help part-time workers to pursue higher education, perhaps by providing access to health benefits or by offering more predictable working hours so that would-be students can more easily schedule their classes? Part-time work is often seasonal or otherwise vulnerable to the business cycle and other economic ups and downs. Would more secure part-time employment options be a game changer for some students?"
His point: America has fallen from leading the pack to No. 9 in the proportion of young people with a college degree.
While Loki makes some great points, the essential question is this: What can senior leadership really do to better this defeatist statistic? Support more colleges? Give more money toward higher education? Create more internship programs?
The solution might be simpler than we think. For example, why not develop in-house programs for employees who want or need more education by giving them better conditions and opportunities to pursue them?
These programs will obviously work for young people but current employees could also use some motivation to work beyond what’s expected—and with better qualifications. Whether they are rolled out as mentoring initiatives with an emphasis on exchanging skills and knowledge or an integrated and structured network of training, they can contribute measurably to a more collaborative work culture.
1. You Cannot Innovate Without Investing in Employee Development
An immediate example is ROFF, a Portuguese IT consultancy with about 400 employees, which was recently voted the Best Portuguese Company to Work in 2011 by the Great Place to Work Institute. Invested heavily in innovation, for ROFF, employee training is essential. Each employee has a personalized training plan in line with their career plan and job function. Technical training is conducted internally by qualified employees, but complemented by external training, as necessary.
2. Brain Drain: Without Motivated Employees, You're as Good as Dead
Delta Cafés is a group of companies specializing in coffee roasting and commercialization, including transportation, processing, distribution and marketing. In 2005, they created the International Center of Post-Graduation (Comendador Rui Nabeiro). The Center, besides implementing training programs for the whole group, also develops similar programs for its community.
The main focus of the employee development policy in place at Delta Cafes is centered on giving them more tools to innovate and allowing them better grounds for adapting to environmental and management changes.
While these initiatives are in place at most companies today, it is necessary to note that Delta Cafes is located in one of Portugal's most interior region, characterized by its exclusivity to agriculture, few jobs, low-skilled work and an aging population. With the younger workforce increasingly immigrating to the cities for better career opportunities, the company's initiatives have become significant in altering the professional landscape of the community.
When the region becomes an inviting and robust economic hub, it will be in large part because of Delta Cafés holistic initiatives. Albeit long term, the company expects significant return on this investment: A committed workforce, a rejuvenated customer base, and that ever so evasive trust in the community.
3. Do You Really Know Your Employees?
I've discussed Portugal-based, international retailer Jerónimo Martins before for its unique employee-facing project called Internal Social Responsibility. This project was started with the objective of developing a brand image by learning everything about its workers from how they live and what their needs are to what they value the most.
This came about from a realization that education is a key component of their employees' happiness and wellbeing. Today, they are not only implementing projects that support their workers' educational pursuits, but also identifying potential trainers for future programs.
4. Using Technology for Leadership Development Has Never Been Easier
On a multinational level, Siemens—that has about 1,200 employees in Portugal alone—promotes and develops training programs for its work force. This has involved investing in specific training courses for individual employees as well as entire organizational units, like the Siemens’s Leadership Excellence Program for management. These are developed by the global Learning Campus department who are in turn supported by the online Global Learning portal.
These examples are just four of many more companies that are a testament to the power of in-house training and education as business development opportunities. Creating employee engagement at different levels is one sure way of implementing stronger CSR strategies while helping build better corporate culture and a more qualified and motivated work force.
Most importantly, these companies prove that CSR is not just some external project but one that begins internally with a lens on your most important stakeholder group, your employees.
--By Bruno Slewinski
Bruno is a marketing professional with a focus on customer service and currently conducting research for his master's thesis on sustainability. He lives in Portugal and hopes to work more closely on role in CSR and sustainability issues, or as he puts it, "find his own place in a sustainable world."
Justmeans:Collegiate CSR: Economy Needs Grads, the Private Sector Needs Help
With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them
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