by Kathy Hopinkah Hannan

National Managing Partner, Diversity and Corporate Social Responsibility

Businesses throughout the United States are facing a crisis: Many of today’s youth are unprepared to enter the workforce and our current educational system is overburdened and unable to bridge the gap between education and workforce readiness.

The Challenge.

According to research, an American child drops out of high school every 26 seconds. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that up to 95 million baby boomers will leave the workforce between 2010 and 2025. Only 40 million of the Gen X and Y population will be available to replace that seasoned, experienced, but nonetheless retiring, workforce. And, according to a recent study, businesses in the U.S. estimate that they spend a median value of $500 per employee on remedial training.

If left unresolved, this crisis will continue to expand, and affect communities and businesses across the U.S., threatening our ability to compete in a rapidly changing and global economy. As businesses, employers, and leaders, it’s in our best interest to invest in and prepare our youth to help ensure our future success.

The Opportunity.

Crisis yields opportunity, and the opportunity currently before us is one that all businesses can be actively involved and invested in—educating and developing tomorrow’s workforce.

There are several ways we can do this. As an example, our firm has made youth and education a primary focus of our philanthropic, community, and corporate citizenship efforts, targeting initiatives that support our business and future talent requirements.

After researching and establishing key public/private partnerships that are making significant strides in the education space, we decided to focus our efforts on children in grades K-12, with the goal of making a difference during the earlier stages of child development. Given the evidence of the impact these formative years have on overall reading and math proficiency levels, we believe our investment in programs that help children acquire these basic but critical skills is a wiseand strategic—one that will help us mitigate a shortage of qualified workers in the future.

Our public/private alliances in support of youth and education are highlighted by a commitment to several programs focused on, and committed to, improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth. It’s clear that our involvement in programs like Junior Achievement and Major League Baseball®’s Reviving Baseball in inner Cities™ (RBi™), and development of programs like KPMG’s family for Literacy, enable us to serve the children in our communities.

“As businesses, employers, and leaders, it’s in our best interest to invest in and prepare our youth to help ensure our future success.”

Through Junior Achievement, volunteers from businesses like ours go directly to the classroom to educate students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. Beyond the classroom, more than 1,000 KPMG volunteers in 20 cities across the U.S. participate in RBi, using the game of baseball to build self-esteem, teach the value of teamwork, and encourage academic achievement among kids in under served communities. And we’re especially proud of that. KPMG’s family for Literacy program has distributed more than 1 million new books to children in more than 70 local communities, enabling us to have an impact on childhood illiteracy.

While these programs have their roots in community service, they also work today to help us close tomorrow’s workforce readiness gap. Equally important, they have the added benefit of increasing the engagement and morale of our current workforce—our employees—who partner with us in these endeavors, giving their passion and their time to make these programs successful.

We believe investing in these types of programs is smart business because they provide children with access to resources and role models who can help them grow beyond the basics, eventually enabling them to excel in a variety of careers. Organizations should be invested in filling elementary and high-school classrooms, then filling the colleges, and then filling the workforce with viable candidates, because the 5-year-old who receives a new book from us today may be interviewing for a job with our companies tomorrow.