The data in support of this are very clear:
- Over a billion children globally have suffered from ‘education poverty’ during the pandemic. The World Bank and the OECD reckon that 1.6bn children worldwide were out of school at the peak of the pandemic in 2020. Some of these managed to navigate remote learning successfully. But many didn’t as they didn’t have access to digital learning resources and lacked the support at home and personal resilience to learn on their own (World Bank, 2021; OECD, 2020).
- We’ve got the makings of a youth unemployment pandemic on our hands. All around the world, young people have been hit hardest by Covid in the labor market. For example, in the UK, over 800k people left company payrolls over the past year, and nearly all of these (80%) were under the age of 35. Linked to this, World Bank data show that youth unemployment rates are generally 2-3 times higher than average rates, with some countries having shockingly high rates (e.g. nearly 60% in South Africa, World Bank, 2021).
- Employers can’t find the skills they need to invest, grow and create jobs. PwC’s 24th Annual CEO Survey found that three quarters of top business people globally said finding the right skills was a massive threat to their businesses. Likewise, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2020 report found that 94% of business leaders reported that they expected employees to need to develop new skills on the job, a sharp uptick from 65% in 2018.
The business community has an important role to play in responding to the crisis...
I reckon business often takes a hammering in the press and public policy debates in the UK; sometimes portrayed as greedy, self-serving and not interested in the greater good.
In my experience there are definitely business people out there with dodgy motives and bad behaviors - but I’ve also worked in other sectors, and the same was true there. And, in my experience, all of the forward-looking businesses worth their salt these days are driven by higher order aspirations that go far beyond the bottom line and commercial gain.
In PwC, we call it our ‘Purpose’ - ‘to build trust in society and solve important problems’.
In this context, it’s fair enough to ask what role the business community has in responding to the current education and skills crisis. We’re not educationalists. We don’t do pedagogy (albeit the emergence of business “Academies” like these PwC ones in Northern Ireland and Singapore are driven in part by a frustration amongst employers with the outputs from existing systems).
But surely there’s a role for business in responding to this crisis? I’d argue with an emphatic ‘yes’, and so would many out there in the real world! For example, my close PwC colleague Quentin Cole has led some brilliant research on the Future of Government, including a survey of 4,000 people in the UK; this found a that lack of skills is the number one barrier to social mobility in the UK, and there's a strong message too from the public about private sector businesses stepping up in response.