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Transforming the Role of Business in Education

November 10, 2014

Helen Steel, Executive Director of the Shared Value Project, shares her insights and reflections from the recent conference ‘Transforming the Role of Business in Education’, held on 29 October 2014 at Stanford University, California, hosted by FSG, the Shared Value Initiative, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review.


At a conference last week at Stanford University in California, the Shared Value Project joined more than 150 education providers and business leaders to explore the role that shared value can play in transforming education. The focus of the discussion was on youth unemployment and builds on a research paper released by Shaved Value Initiative and FSG in 2013 The New Role of Business in Global Education, which examined the current global crises in education and the shortage of skilled labour.

Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor at Pearson opened the conference with some startling facts. Globally it is estimated that 781 million 15-24 year olds lack basic reading and writing skills. Of those same young people 290 million (almost a quarter of them) are neither in school nor working and are deemed economically inactive. The consequences of this are economically devastating and it is estimated, for example, that illiteracy costs the world US $1.19 trillion per year.

This provides a massive challenge globally and had us thinking about the situation in Australia and the role that corporations should and can play locally in assisting to solve the problem. Whilst Australia generally ranks well for both literacy and numeracy skills a study conducted by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in 2014 found that the global financial crisis has had a scarring impact on job prospects for Australia’s youth. Youth unemployment is now on the rise with trends estimating it will be at 13% by year-end and as high as 22% in some of the worst affected regions.

The report challenges business to consider the opportunity a global economy offers and identifies areas for cross sector collaboration including ‘work ready’ and ‘work experience’ programs, internships and coaching. Perhaps, as was suggested at the conference, it is also time to revisit apprenticeships and innovate them to meet current needs.

Whilst there is much work to be done here and abroad to address the problem of youth unemployment, a shared value lens helps us understand that long term investment in young workers can only be of benefit to the economy and society.





Image credits: Stanford University