The pandemic has brought to light a number of our economic and social challenges and disparities. Education ranks at the top alongside the economy and healthcare. The unequal access to education and online learning has been an eye-opener, highlighting the geographic and socioeconomic discrepancies in access to broadband and computers.
As a nation, we spend a lot of time and money to make sure everyone is going to school, but I don’t believe that enough time is spent on evaluating what exactly is being taught in schools. We need to focus on the actual curriculum and what kids, our future workers and citizens, are actually learning.
The bottom line is that businesses and our economy are directly and indirectly impacted by the burden of education curriculums that do not adequately get young people ready for the workforce. Students grow up to be employees in every industry, and our current curriculums are often uneven in preparing young people for careers, whether through college or vocational training.
The Correlation Between Business And Education
Education outcomes are directly dependent on the quality of the curriculum and teaching. One of the challenges in the U.S. is that standards are set by the state, not nationally. Pew research shows that the U.S. ranks 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. The data also shows that American students still lag behind their global peers in reading and critical thinking.
Since the 1970s, curriculum standards have undergone a transformation, and in many cases, I’ve observed that the quality has decreased as a result of the convergence of various technological and political factors. Technology often focuses on the mechanics of conveying learning material but doesn’t address the quality of learning content. Some school boards have customized and modified learning content to align with local beliefs and perceptions, creating even more variations in curriculum and diluting the integrity of the educational material.
Businesses are increasingly paying attention to the local curriculum quality. A December 2020 survey of CEOs noted a key recommendation to consider national curriculums with a business focus. Businesses can’t be effective and communities can’t be revitalized if curriculums are mediocre.
Whether they are staffing for various positions or expanding in new states or countries, the curriculum quality and standards determine both the quality of local employees as well as a firm’s ability to attract skilled labor to a particular location. My company has observed that businesses are finding that they need to offer basic skills training just to ensure that employees have the tools and processes needed to do a wide range of jobs, utilizing critical-reasoning skills to baseline knowledge in STEM and the social sciences.
We know from our experience with global firms, especially those with customer-facing employees, that whenever we provide learning on global business practices, culturally attentive customer service or cross-cultural team building, we need to incorporate basic elements of the social sciences. For example, due to variations in K-12 education curriculums, not all employees have had access to the same facts on history, and enabling employees to learn the why behind a fact can be more effective in helping behaviors evolve.
Having a workforce whose core foundational knowledge is inadequate and inconsistent affects how businesses communicate, innovate and respond to opportunities and challenges, which ultimately impacts the bottom line.
How Companies Can Help Their Workforces
Business leaders can help enhance the knowledge base of their workforce in several key ways.
First, select and invest in local communities that champion curriculums that support critical thinking and fact-based knowledge and integrate strong STEM, humanities, and curiosity and reasoning skills. Businesses have the choice when it comes to office locations, and once they’re established, they can get further involved through local education programs.
Second, advocate for lifelong learning within the company, including existing teams and when onboarding new hires. When investing in employee training, select curriculums that integrate and encourage critical thinking, mental flexibility, diversity of thought and the ability to rethink assumptions as well as deepen fact-based knowledge to reinforce skills and team building. For example, when looking at multicultural or diversity programs, make sure that any discussion of communicating and managing effectively includes providing the historical context of cultures and societies — not just a list of do’s and don’ts. If we come into the workplace with different versions of history, it’s critical to create a common, factual baseline to find a productive path forward. Nurture a learning mindset within the company culture.
Third, business leaders can join efforts to ensure that future employees are learning the same fact-based knowledge and developing active, open-minded critical thinking regardless of where they grow up. In my opinion, national curriculums are the most efficient, cost-effective and inclusive way to ensure that future employees are equipped with skills and knowledge for personal and business success.
We all recognize the value of learning. Now, companies recognize that they have to invest even more to provide a wider variety of curated learning options that help create a baseline of information and skills so their workforce can compete effectively around the country and across borders.