Sustainable Development Goals, Small Business, How Can You Contribute? Goal 4, Quality Education

Education is the key to a better life. Everyone agrees! The UN has also set a goal, known as SDG 4, Quality Education, to ensure people globally have access to quality education.

The benefits of a sound education are countless. It raises people from the poverty line, enables them to make informed life choices, be independent, become more aware of their surroundings, support their families and aspire to become more than just an employee. Despite the awareness of what education can do, the literacy rates across the globe are poor and there is a shortage of skills in many industries.

Emerging economies are starting to realise the potential of educating their masses and investing in infrastructures to address this key issue. Over the last 15 years, China and India for example, have experienced a huge growth in their economy and raised millions from poverty.

When I talk about education though, it is not just the conventional ways of schooling that are vital, it is education in a broader sense. The responsibility of providing basic education and literacy should rest with governments.  Our role in business should be to contribute beyond it.  Teaching life skills, raising awareness and running programs to benefit people and subsequently communities is where we should focus.

So how can your business contribute towards goal 4?

Experts predict that there will be a skills shortage in manufacturing within the next 10 years. With Brexit looming, the skills gap will be felt widely across many sectors in the UK. I recently visited an engineering firm to carry out a sustainability audit. One of their major customers is looking to drive sustainability throughout their supply chain, so this became the opportunity for the firm to engage in environmental and social issues.

Following the 2009 recession, the engineering firm saw their business plummet. They lost sales and subsequently lost most of their skilled workforce. The last 4 years have seen the business steadily grow – partly due to a weak Sterling and sales in export.

During the conversation we briefly touched upon their experience of struggling to find a skilled workforce. Whilst their sales started to pick up, their workforce was dwindling.  To meet the shortfall, they have been reliant on Europe, which filled some gaps, but not all.  Brexit has been a concern. So to overcome it, the business has made two distinct changes:

1. Investment in robots to carry out jobs such as precision cutting, welding etc.
2. Upskilling existing staff to manage the robots and run the day to day functions of the factory.

The result has been faster output, a safer working environment, resource efficiency and retention of skilled staff.

The engineering firm is just one example of the many firms looking to capitalise on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to bridge the gap between the supply and demand of workers. It is a contentious debate as AI makes everyone nervous. It made me nervous until I visited this firm. Whilst, not all, many businesses I realised, will turn to AI to fulfil the gap left behind by people.

So what can you do locally? To ensure that tomorrow’s workforce is ready for the working environment and upskilling existing staff, education centres should be your first port of call. A number of schools are eager to work with businesses on school placement opportunities, colleges want businesses to offer student projects, and the government offers apprenticeship levy schemes. Make use of these programs.

Technology is rapidly changing how we do business.  So upskilling staff and providing tomorrow’s generation with an insight into the working world will be key to ensuring that we have a skilled future workforce.

Recently, I’ve been impacted with a story about a young Nepalese girl who died due to infection as a result of an age old tradition of sending menstruating females to what is known as a ‘period hut’. Whilst this may have been the only option in the past, it saddens me that this is still practised in many rural parts of the world.  Cultural beliefs, lack of sanitation facilities, products and information about ill health are a few reasons why females are still subjected to this type of life in rural areas.

Earlier I mentioned that we should view education in a broader sense and this is where it comes into effect, your contribution on a global level. Your business can partner up with a NGO to support small scale educational projects. Whether you decide to donate financially, purchase educational/training materials, or contribute towards awareness raising activities, all of these efforts enable such messages to have a far reaching impact and provide a better life for those living in hard to reach areas.

*Did you know?

  • Enrolment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91 percent.
  • Still, 57 million primary-aged children remain out of school, more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In developing countries, one in four girls is not in school.
  • About half of all out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas.
  • 103 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 percent of them are women.
  • Globally, 6 out of 10 children and adolescents are not achieving a minimum level of proficiency in reading and math.

*Source: UNDP

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