How business can play its part in defeating poverty – and rebuild the public’s trust too

Paul Drechsler
Education comes out as the number one factor that can make the most difference (Source: Getty)
A huge amount of study has been undertaken into the causes of poverty, and the routes out of it. Time and again, education comes out as the number one factor that can make the most difference to people’s futures over the longer term. It’s no secret that more children from poorer backgrounds struggle in school, from primary to secondary, and the effects magnify with age. While organisations like Teach First and government interventions such as the pupil premium can help, businesses also play a vital role in tackling this, and they benefit directly from good education.

Companies can support teachers and head teachers, inspire young people, and offer up-to-date insights into the world of work. Some fantastic examples are showcased on the CBI’s Great Business Debate website. And in recent years firms have stepped up their game in secondary schools. Nearly three in four respondents to our CBI/Pearson education and skills survey had links to at least one school or college, from helping with careers guidance to providing work experience placements.

Careers guidance is one area where businesses can have a major impact, but a lot more can be done. Chief executives I speak with tell me that education is the best way to achieve long-term economic growth, competitive advantage and prosperity for all. More than two thirds of young people said they received no jobs or careers advice from employers, but 90 per cent of those who did said it was a useful source of information, a recent ComRes poll of 1,500 16-19 year olds for Whitbread and the CBI found.

There are some good examples – Business in the Community runs a programme linking 230 firms with more than 450 secondary schools. But on top of our progress engaging secondary schools, I believe that the next step is primary schools. Pupils are already thinking about what they want to do in life well before they get to secondary school – so making sure they’ve got access to the right information will be vital in helping them make the right decisions.

While nearly three in four firms have links to at least one school or college, this figure falls to less than one in four firms for primary schools. So it’s time for employers to make primary schools one of their primary concerns.

I believe we need to go beyond bilateral ties between business and schools, schools and parents, to a “whole community” approach which brings together schools, parents, firms, charities and others in the local area.

Today, as part of the Great Business Debate, the CBI’s trust in business campaign, I’m talking with colleagues from the RSA, Sky, Waitrose and the Institute of Directors about whether companies can be both profitable and responsible. Of course they can. Education is a great example of where businesses can help build trust by ensuring that its relationship with education is a two-way street.

Companies have a responsibility to help inspire and enrich children’s experiences – the benefits are too obvious and the downsides too great for this to be left to chance. Providing opportunities for young people to progress to higher skilled, high-paying jobs is just one way businesses can help, winning trust along the way.

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