Business: Partners for smarter education

Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) to the OECD

©David Rooney

When a company makes a decision to invest, one of the most important factors is the quality of the workforce. Every entrepreneur is aware of this; business literature is rich in accounts of capital investments that went wrong because of some mismatch with the local labour pool. Governments, businesses, people: we all lose when that happens. We all gain from a good match.

And once in business, education and training of employees remain key to competitiveness. Employees are a company’s most important asset, since they make the mix of resources and circumstances available to a company work best.

Facing today’s global and complex marketplace, companies need to be able to respond rapidly to change – this requires employees who are flexible and adaptable to demands for new skills. Firms are always looking for young people who combine good basic training with professional and personal flexibility and scope.

Business looks for the same potential in their employees that young people look for in their educational institutions – meeting quality standards of education; preparing students for a future employment landscape that will be continually changing; staying ahead of the curve in the technology area; and offering courses that lead to promising career opportunities. It is a competitive world, with changing demands. Young people rely on their institutions to assess those demands and build them into a flexible curriculum. There is a clear need to prepare students with the technical, cultural and social skills they will require throughout their professional careers.

Business can help. Many companies are deeply involved in helping educational institutions with the assessment of attributes that employers will be looking for in their recruits in coming years. They consider the skills that will be in demand; the breadth of education required for different areas of work; the timing of opportunities and the number that are likely to become available. It only makes sense for business and educational institutions to share this information, and it certainly makes sense to serve the decision-making process of students. Many companies have no problem in justifying the value gained by being part of this exchange. My former company was deeply involved from the top down in a broad range of initiatives of this kind. This was never thought of as an additional obligation to be put in the public relations window, but rather as a critical continuing effort to help ensure that the necessary number of people, with the right level and flexibility of skills were available to meet the company’s needs.

The question is not whether or not business, in anticipating changing business environments, can anticipate needs in education. This is something that comes out of any sound business’s longrange planning exercise. The question is more about whether solid, interactive relationships can be established involving government, educational institutions and business. These relationships, of course, take work. And we must stay with this year after year as confidence is built up in the ongoing value of putting this vital effort into the process. While government has the primary responsibility for initial education, business needs to work with governments and educational institutions to assist in providing clear goals for education that prepares students for today’s global market. In secondary and higher education, this includes working together with schools to promote an understanding of the current state of the industry through measures such as internship programmes, teaching exchanges, provision of case materials, opportunities for company visits and engagement in career guidance. From a business perspective, instilling basic skills and competencies, using a modern curriculum, attractive teaching materials, career guidance support and highly qualified and enthusiastic teachers is essential. However, preparing students to continue learning throughout life should be the major goal of both initial, and also higher, education.

BIAC is in the engine room of public policy shaping at the OECD. We consider the development of human and social capital to be one of our common strategic priorities. Quality education, incorporating the flexibility needed for achievement, is an essential ingredient to realising the benefits of sustainable economic growth and should remain a top priority for all.

BIAC is the voice of the business community at the OECD. Visit or contact: Vanessa.Vallee@Biac.Org

©OECD Observer No 242, March 2004

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