Business Investment in Early Childhood Education = Future Skilled Workforce

By Kathy Gurchiek May 18, 2016
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Want to build a talent pipeline? Invest in early childhood education. That’s the message of ReadyNation, an organization of 1,400 business leaders who believe that quality education for young children is the foundation for a skilled workforce of the future.

James Spurlino, president of Spurlino Materials, has had trouble for the last 10 years filling positions at his Middletown, Ohio-based construction supply business.

“I’m talking positions that would require a high school diploma and some amount of vocation training, education—two years or less—are by far the vast majority of my employees, and the ones that I’ve had trouble employing whether unemployment rates were 10 percent or 5 percent—and they’re less than 5 percent in Ohio,” he said during a March 2016 panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

“This is a global competitiveness issue,” as well as a fiscal and moral issue, said Spurlino, an advocate for employer investment in early childhood education.

The idea has gained traction among groups such as the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW), a nonprofit affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Global competition for human talent and innovation, long-standing educational achievement gaps, low high school graduation rates, and the pending retirement of 77 million Baby Boomers have placed tremendous workforce pressures on American business,” according to an ICW position paper titled Why Business Should Support Early Childhood Education.

The first five years of life are the most critical in the development of a child’s brain, and there are economic advantages to investing in early childhood development for disadvantaged children, according to research by James Heckman, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Also, by age 5, children are “developing social skills that are the types of skills that we require in the future workforce—like making good decisions, the ability to have empathy—that are really just hard to develop in a workforce,” said Stephanie Doliveira, J.D., vice president of HR at Sheetz Inc. in Altoona, Pa., and a member of ReadyNation.

“Most of these children are going to end up working in our communities ... so you’re investing back into your own community, you’re investing back into your own state,” she told SHRM Online.

Sheetz, which employs about 17,000 people in six states, is planning an onsite day care center for employees at its Blair County, Pa., headquarters, but there are other ways employers can invest in early childhood education. HR professionals can educate employees about the importance of quality day care and connect them with resources in their community, she said. This education might consist of holding a lunch series for new parents on developmental milestones to watch for in their child, hosting a seminar about the importance of reading to young children or providing the names and websites of quality child care providers in the area.

“There’s no guarantee at a local day care that [children are] getting an education; they’re being babysat. That’s where the HR leader can be helpful ... [by] talking with their employees to see that there is a difference between day care and quality early learning,” Doliveira said.

Sheetz also partnered with its local chamber of commerce to put together a group of educators, business leaders and government leaders to discuss this issue on a very local level. It’s also looking into making scholarships available to employees to help pay for day cares that offer high-quality educational curriculums. Doliveira advised HR professionals to partner with their organization’s chief financial officer to investigate available tax credits for such scholarships.

 Other ways organizations can invest in early childhood education:

  • Give employees information on the importance of parent engagement, sponsor family literacy events and provide educational brochures.
  • Offer employees opportunities to volunteer with local schools to read to children.
  • Partner with other organizations. Doliveira has served on the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission for eight years; similar groups exist around the U.S.

 The following are some notable initiatives by other employers:

“It is usually so surprising that business leaders would be advocates for children,” but these young children will enter the workforce in about 12 to 15 years, Doliveira pointed out. “It’s the right thing to do for your community today, but it’s also the right thing to do for your future workforce.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

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