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Public Education as Corporate Social Responsibility

By July 27, 2023April 2nd, 2024No Comments

Talent is a huge concern for all companies. Skills requirements continue to grow even as executive leaders worry that they don’t have the right capabilities in house.

According to McKinsey (2021), 65 percent of companies acknowledge having a skills gap today. That number reaches 87 percent when we look out 5 years. A recent study from PwC found that only 40 percent of employers are currently investing to upskill their workforce.

As a Forbes article about that study pointed out, “Quite simply, the labor force doesn’t have enough people that are qualified to do the jobs that are being recruited for.”

And the problem is about to get much worse.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the average math score for 13 year olds fell 9 points from the 2019 school year to the 2021 school year. This is the largest drop since the federal government started tracking in 1978. 

Those kids will be graduating from high school in 5 years and college in 10. What are the chances that they will be prepared for the jobs companies will be looking to hire them for?

Thanks to the pandemic shutdowns, children lost the equivalent of one third of a school year’s worth of knowledge and skills. Even two years later, they have not recovered from that loss.

Remote learning was part of the problem, but the negative trend continues even with students back in the classroom. Students made less academic progress this past school year (2022-2023) than in a typical pre-pandemic year. They have absolutely no chance of making up lost ground if they can’t even keep pace with where they were before the pandemic.

The Socioeconomic Gap Widens

Working class communities and communities of color had been making educational progress over the last few decades, but the COVID-induced lapse in learning erased all of those gains. 

Students at schools in communities with high poverty levels spent more time learning remotely during the pandemic, losing more ground that will be harder to make up. According to an article in The Week, “By 2022, students in the most impoverished communities lost 75% of a year in math, more than twice the decline of students in more affluent districts.”

This may be explained by factors such as access to high speed Internet, parent availability, and even higher health impact from the virus itself; but explanations are not solutions – especially for the students in those communities.

While access to funds didn’t prevent learning loss, lack of access to funds did make losses worse. Ultimately, working class communities and communities of color suffered more loss, making pre-existing academic gaps worse.

The Tragedy of the Missing Children

While some children received a sub-par virtual education followed by a struggle to catch up, others are just GONE. 

Stanford University recently collaborated with the Associated Press and found that K-12 public-school enrollment declined by 1.2 million students from 2020-2022. Those losses were heavily weighted towards elementary school aged children.

Two-thirds of those children went to private schools, started homeschooling, or simply moved without updating their records. That leaves hundreds of thousands of kids that are missing from the educational system. According to the AP, approximately 230,000 kids are missing nation-wide. 150,000 are from California alone, and 60,000 from New York.

Those numbers are wildly unacceptable. As concerned as we may be about tracked learning loss, child loss is worse. Students who have not been in school since 2020 are undeniably behind. And that doesn’t even address the lack of opportunities they have had for social and emotional development. They may never be able to catch up, creating a burden that they will carry for their whole lives and robbing communities and companies of their valuable contributions.

Long Term Cost of Learning Loss

Today’s students could ultimately earn around 10 percent less than those who graduated just before the pandemic. The lower long-term growth related to such losses may lower the annual GDP for the rest of the century by 1.5 percent.

We can talk about learning loss, but it is not really a loss. Students never learned the material to begin with, preventing them from growing. The curriculum hasn’t adapted, and the impact will compound as these students progress.

Fewer high school graduates are enrolling in college as well. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate enrollment fell 4.4 percent in the fall of 2021. This includes an unprecedented 13 percent drop in first-year enrollment. Two-year institutions experienced the greatest loss, with an 18.9 percent drop in first-year enrollment compared to the fall 2019. 

The top two communities of decreased enrollment were Native American (9.6 percent) and Black (7.5 percent). First year enrollment saw a 23 percent decrease in Native American students, 20 percent Hispanic students, and 19 percent Black students. So much for the diverse workforce that so much effort has been invested in.

This is a problem that will plague us into the future.

A new Korn Ferry report found that by 2030, more than 85 million jobs could go unfilled because there aren’t enough skilled people to take them. By 2030 that talent shortage could result in about $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenue. 

Based on what we are hearing about students’ social and emotional health, corporate soft skills are in question as well. 87 percent of public schools reported that student social-emotional development had been worsened by the pandemic. 

In 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported feeling persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. This is a 13.5 percent increase from 2019 and a 50 percent increase from 2011. 22 percent of students seriously considered attempting suicide from fall 2020; 18 percent made a plan; and 10 percent attempted suicide.

Those future professionals will be in no position to navigate complex project dynamics, use nuanced influencing techniques, or read others well enough to negotiate effectively. Even communications skills – listening as well as speaking or writing – will be in sharp deficit.     

Is Education failing Corporate America or is Corporate America failing the education system? 

Companies must take steps to address this complex and tragic situation as part of established corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.

Look at the communities your facilities are located in. Your employees’ kids go to school there. Your prospective employees go to school there, too. It is worth fighting for those schools and the system they are a part of.


  • Send leaders into the schools to inspire the kids about the benefits of success, both mental and material. 
  • Help them make the connection between what they are learning today and how that positions them for future success.
  • Partner with teachers to provide support and reinforce the importance of their efforts.


  • Find out what schools need in terms of staffing, supplies, or access to resources.
  • Much of that is probably a drop in the bucket for many companies but will change many lives with one effort.


  • Companies should make a commitment and stay involved beyond one transaction or event. Education is an ongoing journey.
  • Use metrics to hold schools, teachers, and students accountable, and to guide corporate involvement. How will your company help move the needle on graduation rates, GPA, etc.?
  • If you are involved at the high school or college level, can you create an internship program? Will that program encourage students to continue their education?

If your company is thinking about your talent program 10 years out (you should be) then today’s middle schoolers will be part of that workforce. 

Children are the future… but we are failing them in the present, whether they are missing out on fundamentals, bearing the burden of a disadvantaged community, or slipping between the cracks of society.

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