Skills Gaps/Education Opportunity:

We are faced with a new economy "powered by technology, fueled by information, and driven by knowledge," says the DOL. "Technology combined with rising globalization is presenting additional challenges. As the number of high-paying jobs increases, well-paid, low-skill jobs are becoming hard to find. Globalization has made it easier for businesses to choose low-skilled workers at lower pay in other parts of the world. And technology has rendered many jobs obsolete here at home....All these factors have contributed to rising inequality in the U.S. labor market."4 Companies are taking the lead through their investments in education to help establish interest in math and sciences among children to ensure they are getting the exposure and skills needed to participate in the new economy.

There is not yet a level playing field in the workplace, in schools, or in society. Lack of access for certain groups, for individuals, is a lost opportunity for companies to benefit from what all the best and brightest have to offer.

The Cost to Society
Eric Adolphe, President and CEO (and Founder) of Optimus Corporation, believes the cost to society "is unimaginable." Adolphe remembers a time when he nearly had to drop out of college because he didn't have a place to live, or hardly the money to eat. When he needed it most, a NACME (see 'ABOUT OUR SPONSORS') scholarship allowed him to stay in school. Adolphe notes, "My scholarship investment was less than $7,000, but it gave me the opportunity to complete school. The investment in someone's education is small compared to the alternative costs to society." Remembering many of the kids that he grew up with in New York City, Adolphe acknowledges, "There are a lot of people more gifted than myself who never make it--not because of their lack of ability, but because of their lack of opportunity." Despite his considerable drive and desire, Adolphe might have been another statistic had he not been given the chance. Now running his own multimillion-dollar company, he is inventing new technologies, creating employment opportunities, investing in young talent, and contributing to a healthy economy. Dare we think of the missed possibilities of all those who aren't allowed to thrive?

The costs are felt nowhere more than in the high-tech industry. According to The National Association Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), underrepresentation costs alone are reflected in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), foregone salary, public support and the criminal justice system. A recent study by the Computing Technology Industry Association revealed that a nationwide shortage of information technology service and support staff is costing U.S. companies $4.5 billion in lost productivity and reducing the economy by $105.5 billion annually. One major corporation reported that about $170 million of the company's declining revenues are due to a shortage of engineers.5

A National Task Force on Minority High Achievement established by the College Board warns, "Until many more underrepresented minority students from disadvantaged, middle class, and upper middle class circumstances are successful educationally, it will be virtually impossible to integrate our society's institutions completely, especially at leadership levels. Without such progress, the United States will also continue to be unable to draw on the full range of talents of our population in an era when the value of an educated citizenry has never been greater."6 "There are 500,000 student graduates who don't fit the profile of an engineering student," says Dr. George Campbell, President of NACME and a former business executive with Bell Labs. "We believe that among that half million there is outstanding talent who would make excellent engineers if they were just well-prepared academically". The mistake we often make is thinking that everyone has equal opportunity--they don't, and we need to make sure they do.

Building Competitiveness Through Education and Access to Education
Investing in education is not a new or novel idea. Exxon, for example, continues a legacy started by the Rockefellers in the late 1800s when a gift was made to a small African American Academy that we now know as Spellman College. Edward Ahnert, President of the Exxon Education Foundation and Contributions Manager for Exxon Corporation notes, "Back in the 1940s Standard Oil of New Jersey was a charter contributor of the United Negro College Fund. Our company has always felt the way our nation could achieve its highest potential is through equal opportunity for everyone, but we are not there yet. We need to ensure we have representation in all the highest echelons of leadership in our society--in education, government, and business."

Today's business community knows it has a "big stake in the future of American education," states The Conference Board's Best in Class report. "In a time of accelerating competition, continuous breakthroughs in technology, and increased demands on people everywhere, companies realize that a well-prepared workforce is the best strategic advantage in the global economy." According to The Conference Board, Best in Class companies "embrace a similar mission" in their education initiatives:

  • to ensure that the U.S. workforce has the ability to produce at peak performance, and the skills to compete in the 'Information Age';
  • to sustain a competitive advantage for American business in the 21st century global economy;
  • to provide all students the opportunity for a superior education;
  • to restore a benchmark education system in America.7

We find many companies working to improve performance in the educational system--many of those directed to inner-city schools and communities where children are less advantaged.

Corporations are powerful entities in this country and often drive these education initiatives. But something becomes very clear in their success--they don't work alone. Dr. Sophie Sa, Executive Director of the Panasonic Foundation, explains, "We are really changing the way public education is done. It takes everyone--teachers, parents, businesspeople, union leaders, board members, government leaders and other organizations--working together."