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Developing the Future Workforce

 -  6/10/11

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Organizations worldwide are making it their mission to develop the underprivileged and under-skilled into a stronger workforce.

For example, Deloitte, an international accounting and consulting firm, has an initiative called Deloitte21, which reaches out to the underserved throughout the world to give them the skill sets needed to get a job in the 21st century.

Heather Hancock, managing director of brand and communications at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL), worked on a similar initiative in 2001 in the U.K. This helped teens from ages 16 to 18 improve their skill set and employability. So far, 16,000 have gone through the program.

Definitions of underserved differ by country, said Nick van Dam, chief learning officer of global talent at DTTL. According to van Dam, the company has defined the underserved as those who are facing barriers to achievement and opportunity limiting their ability to compete and thrive in the 21st century economy. These barriers can be caused by socio-economic status, their education, the occupation of their parents, gender, immigration status and the language they speak, among other things.

“You need to look at underserved in a local context in terms of achievement,” van Dam said. “In the U.K., as an example, a lot of people in universities and colleges [are] not necessarily employable — they needed specific skills. Other geographies, again, there are different challenges. A challenge can be that kids don’t complete high school, as an example. It’s different country by country. We really look at the local context to see what we can do and how we can help.”

Hancock said Deloitte21 has tried not to create “one single dogmatic program.” She said it is run in a more distributive fashion and enables member firms to “do the right thing with the skills they’ve got in their local circumstances.”

Education investment firm America’s Edge estimates that in the U.S., 60 percent of new jobs created will require skill sets held by only 20 percent of the population. Van Dam said this is not a unique problem. Many other countries are facing similar challenges.

“It’s a U.S. statistic, but if you look at other countries, they have similar challenges. People are graduating who cannot necessarily be employed,” van Dam said. “For example, in India, only 25 percent of Indians are considered employable by multinationals. The same applies for Russia. [There] it’s close to 20 percent.”

In the U.S., Susan Burge, president of the Burge Group, an education consulting firm, directed the School to Work initiative, which was federally funded between 1998 and 2001 in the greater New Orleans region spanning seven parishes. The initiative was affiliated with the regional chamber of commerce. It went on to become a nonprofit, which closed its doors in 2007.

Its efforts were focused on high school children and developing career-related academies in high school linking students to their chosen career paths. Students were then given shadowing experiences and internships during summers. The program would help teens decide if they wanted to pursue a career path. The career paths available included hospitality and tourism, financing and accounting, legal and law enforcement, health care and medicine, among others.

After graduation, the students could go to college or head straight into the workforce. “Today, it is imperative that kids are prepared with much higher-level skills to go in either direction,” Burge said, adding that companies are telling educators graduates need to be hireable, trainable and retainable.

“I’m of the mind that not all kids are going to choose to go to college,” Burge said. “If kids are going to be successful in any area they’re going to have to have excellent reading and technical skills.”

Natalie Morera is an associate editor at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at