28 Mar 2013, West New York, New Jersey, USA --- Teacher and students using digital tablet --- Image by © KidStock/Blend Images/CorbisAt any moment, there’s a primary-school student hard at work learning the fundamentals of reading, writing, and mathematics. However, for nearly 124 million children worldwide, this is only a dream that seems too far out of reach. Yes, this is a heartbreaking statistic. At the same time, what does it mean for the workforce of 2030?

Unfortunately, it means quite a bit of uncertainty when it comes to stabilization of the global economy. According to Matthew Randazzo, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, “Innovation and technological advancement knows no boundaries or nationalities. However, this alarming trend further restricts who can access the 21st-century knowledge economy, contribute to the global economy more broadly, and drive innovative solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges.”

Success in this increasingly digital economy requires innovation that is quick, creative, and productive. To achieve this state, businesses need to acquire diverse skills and backgrounds. But first, the emerging workforce (Gen Z and those coming up behind them) must access quality education that can help them build a skill set relevant to this highly digital world.

“Fewer educated people, especially in STEM fields, will drive up labor costs by dramatically increasing competition for STEM-proficient workers and will further widen the opportunity gap between developed and developing nations. Over time, this not only destabilizes the global economy but it has the potential to further destabilize peace and safety in both developing and developed countries,” warns Randazzo.

4 opportunities businesses should consider when planning for the 2030 workforce

Teachers, education consortiums, governments, and nongovernmental organizations cannot secure the education of every school-age child on their own. Business executives of all industries need to join the cause by influencing education policies and investments.

Here are four items that you can put on your philanthropic agenda that can help significantly impact education on the global stage.

1. Help educate girls in every corner of the world.

For reasons rooted in culture, religious, or socioeconomic status, tens of millions of girls are not allowed to be educated. As a consequence, they are unable to obtain basic literacy and math skills needed to work in today’s economy.

For nations that do not change their policies to mandate schooling for all, it is a lost opportunity for future growth. For every extra percentage point of educated girls, a nation can experience a 0.3% bump in GDP. Women earn 10%–20% more income for each additional year of secondary education. Plus, they are more likely to reinvest in her family and immediate community, lifting everyone around her out of poverty and controlling her destiny.

2. Incorporate liberal arts into STEM education.

In her book Now You See It, Cathy N. Davidson, a professor at Duke University, predicts that 65% of children entering grade school this year will eventually work in careers that have yet to be invented. However, STEM education alone will not prepare them for the 2035 workforce.

When students also learn about history, philosophy, art, and culture, they become better global citizens that are tolerant of different perspectives and can incorporate their understanding and appreciation into their innovations. “Gone are the days when employers hire very narrowly focused STEM experts. Instead, they’re looking for STEM experts who can also communicate effectively, lead teams, inspire trust and confidence, navigate social and cultural nuance, and connect more broadly with the world around them,” suggests Randazzo.

A great example of how a liberal arts education can influence technical knowledge is Steve Jobs’ love of calligraphy. By understanding how the brain reacts to certain fonts and visual effects, he was able to design the Macintosh with a user experience unparalleled at the time – and the rest is history.

3. Change the perception of education from a cost to an investment for the future.

When children are educated now, a better future is on the horizon. For example, 50% more children will be immunized and have better healthcare. Moreover, by doubling the percentage of youth with secondary education from 30% to 60%, the risk of political conflict and war can be potentially cut in half. So instead of debating the high cost of education, the business community can help change the conversation to focus on how much it will cost us in the future if we do not properly educate children today.

“The future of work depends on employees well-versed in individual content practice areas – such as engineering, law, and business development – as well as a host of skills that transcend any one workplace or career path. Those skills include critical thinking, creative problem-solving, written and verbal communication, and the ability to work collaboratively,” advises Randazzo. “Additionally, key personal attributes are critically important when navigating the modern workplace: grit and determination, reflection, and flexibility in the face of constant change.”

4. Democratize education with technology.

In a world where conflict happens on any given day, millions of children living in refugee camps do not have access to a dedicated place for education. This is where the digital economy truly shines. By connecting them to mobile technology, Internet-enabled channels, and gamification, every refugee child can experience elements of the classroom that make e-learning accessible and interactive.

This approach helps ensure that quality education is available to everyone – even if they live in a remote location. More important, it provides the opportunity to work for companies at a good living wage while living as a refugee.

The bottom line: Every little bit counts

Although these ideas may seem lofty and unachievable, Randazzo encourages businesses of all sizes to joins forces with these four pieces of advice:

  1. Put your philanthropy to work in organizations that have measurable outcomes. Whether you are giving $500 annually or $5 million, don’t think of your contribution as an extension of your marketing budget, but as an opportunity to improve education.
  1. Focus your energy, volunteerism, and philanthropy in the area you care about the most. Determine what issue you are most passionate about and go deep. Too many businesses “hedge their bets” by making small donations of time and money across a variety of issue areas.
  1. Don’t be afraid to engage on related policy issues. Talk with your legislators and policymakers about the issues that matter most to your business. Your voice is important – use it!
  1. Don’t stop talking about it. Leverage your voice further through your trade or business association, chamber of commerce, or another organization that is weighing in on these issues.

Explore how your business can impact the 2030 workforce by doing your part to make quality education more accessible. Listen to “Technology and Education: Empowering Youth Worldwide,” presented by SAP Radio.