Blog December 3, 2019

Early Childhood as a Global Workforce Imperative

By Jerry Maginnis (Retired Partner Council Chair and Former Philadelphia Office Managing Partner, KPMG LLP)

I enjoyed the opportunity to be a guest speaker at a unique business leader event held in Mexico City on October 22, 2019 to discuss the importance of investing in early childhood education. This convening of executives, entitled “Business, Families, Human Capital: Advantages of Investing Early,” was the first of its kind for Mexico.

The FEMSA Foundation graciously hosted the event, bringing together Mexican executives from more than 25 companies across the country. Other supporters included CitiBanamex, CMN, IMCO and ReadyNation International. The purpose was to learn more about the value of early childhood investments from a business perspective. This new framing is crucial to a better understanding of why investing in the earliest years makes sense from an economic and workforce-development standpoint.

This is a critical conversation because, through my experience with KPMG, I’ve learned that early education is a global workforce imperative. Across sectors and across nations, business leaders must support investments in quality early childhood experiences in order to lay a foundation for educational and career success that will help create the skilled workforce of tomorrow.

Research, both domestically and around the world, has shown time and time again the potential value of early childhood programs. In fact, a comprehensive review of 56 studies across 23 countries found impacts on health, education, cognitive ability, and emotional development.

The potential return on investment is significant, and it’s no wonder: children experience a period of unique brain development during the earliest years, and resources used to reach them during this special time can create profound, long-lasting positive impacts.

What we know from the data is that the learning gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children shows up as early as nine months of age. Even more alarming, disadvantaged children can begin elementary school already up to 18 months behind their more-advantaged classmates. Beyond that, the research also tells us that a child’s early math proficiency predicts their later academic success, even as late as high school.

Quality early childhood programs can help kids become better students, improve academic outcomes, and, ultimately, pave the way for more successful careers.

Wanting kids to succeed in school and life is what drew me to early childhood education as a business imperative in the first place. I’m proud to say that KPMG has made important contributions in this effort as well.

For example, over a decade ago, we collaborated with a nonprofit named First Book, and formed KPMG’s Family for Literacy (KFFL). KFFL’s goal is to put new books and educational resources in the hands of as many children from low-income families as possible. I’m happy to report that we’ve donated over five million books to children in need in several nations around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, China and India.

That’s just one very specific example of how businesses can use their power in this space. There are numerous ways that business leaders can get involved in addressing early childhood education as a priority for current and future workforce development, the economy, and competitiveness.

Certainly, advocacy is one of these ways. A business leader could function as a lead messenger for a campaign combining media placement and meetings with lawmakers designed to win specific policy victories. I have done this at the state level for years as a member of the Early Learning Investment Commission in Pennsylvania (a Governor- appointed body) and at the federal level with ReadyNation. But there are other ways for leaders to get involved, beyond corporate responsibility and advocacy, regardless of industry sector or nation. Some of these ways include the following:

  • Support employees through family-friendly policies and practices.
  • Communicate about early childhood education through customers or suppliers. Or, as a social-media “amplifier” or influencer, use online platforms to raise awareness or convey information directly to large audiences by boosting material generated by others.
  • As speakers/presenters to key audiences including the media that are concerned about the economy and education.
  • Social innovation, impact and/or entrepreneurship (thereby generating revenue while contributing to the social good).

I was grateful to be able to share these ideas, along with some of my personal experiences and passion for early childhood education, as a part of the Mexico City event. It was an honor to join pediatrician, author and ReadyNation Brain-Science Speakers’ Bureau member Dr. Laura Jana, MD, as well as ReadyNation Global Director Daniel Frank, in discussing these topics. And I was delighted to hear from featured company leaders in Mexico talk on a panel about the impact of their respective family-friendly policies as tools for talent attraction, retention and productivity. Those panelists were highlighted as representative case examples provided in a new report from IMCO on the topic.

I’m hopeful that the event helped to encourage dialogue, elevate the national conversation in Mexico, and effectively (re)introduce the notion of early childhood education as a business issue relevant to companies of all sizes.

We’ve known for a while that the global challenge of early childhood education is too big for any one company - or any one nation - to solve. Events like “Business, Families, Human Capital: Advantages of Investing Early,” and the work of organizations like ReadyNation, are helping to move the cause of early childhood forward, which will not only help children as they learn and grow, but will be essential to the development of the skilled workforce all of us will need in the years to come.