'Early childhood development is the compelling economic social and moral issue of our time. It helps provide children with the opportunity they deserve to develop their natural abilities. It is also the most effective way to build a workforce and customer base we need. Investing in young children's healthy development is a financial and social imperative for any country.'
John Pepper, former Chair and CEO of Proctor and Gamble, CEO Task Force on Early Childhood
Cited in Watson,S, Frank,D., Krumpos,K Business Leaders Actions To Support Early Childhood. Paper for Ready Nation 2015
Every year LEYF celebrates Global Enterprise week by hosting a debate. This year we focused on why childcare needs business and business needs childcare. Business leaders from every country have similar concerns - recruiting and retaining the best employees in order to create a thriving and innovative workplace. One way to recruit and retain the best staff is to provide a family friendly environment and help staff access good childcare. The first step is to make childcare part of the business infrastructure.
The debate was hosted by Bain and opened by the Secretary of State for Business, Sajid Javid MP who began his speech by reminding us of the value of childcare businesses to the GDP of £4.9b, employing over 2million people and supporting one million children who attend nurseries so their families can work and therefore contribute to the Government coffers. He was also keen to remind us of the importance of social businesses like LEYF balancing both business acumen and social impact. A point later affirmed by panellist Jonny Myers of Clifford Chance, who was representing Social Business Trust in his role as one of six corporate companies (Permira, British Gas, Bain, EY, Thomson Reuters, Credit Suisse and Clifford Chance) which contributes £1.7 million annually in cash as well as support to help successful social businesses scale up and make an even greater impact.
Of course, the Secretary of State was not going to escape without someone asking the big question about how the Government intended to fund the policy of extending the 'free' childcare offer to 30 hours, when the current 'free' offer remains significantly underfunded to such a degree that the sustainability of many childcare businesses is in jeopardy. His reply was to confirm that the Government promise, as identified in their manifesto, suggested it should be fully funded but he also cautioned that we would have to wait until we hear from Mr Osborne at the Autumn Spending Review.
The panel was wide ranging; Chaired by Eleanor Mills from the Sunday Times. As a working mother she was well versed in the challenges facing businesses to become more family friendly but also recognised the importance of childcare to poorer families highlighted in the recent Rowntree report.
We had invited Danone as an example of as company eager to be family friendly and Ann Evans, Head of Social Innovation spoke elegantly about how the company wanted to be compassionate in how they supported staff not just in terms of childcare but also the wider caring responsibilities of the family. The IPPR report "Maternal Breadwinners" presented by Giselle Cory showed how families have changed and companies need to understand this in order to support the growing number of two breadwinner families especially in the South and the growing numbers of lone parents.
Jo Ann Feely Global Client Partner from Alexander Mann HR Solutions reaffirmed the benefit of flexible family friendly option in terms of staff loyalty, motivation and retention. She noted that children do better if they see their parents work and daughters do particularly well. Giselle and Jo-Ann both commented on why it is right that companies understand how they effect children's lives through the service they offer in terms of wages, working hours and maternity and paternity leave offered to working parents of children.
Neil Carberry from the CBI reminded us that businesses need to start giving people the capacity to manage their own lives and change the thinking about the future of work. As long as we see flexible working as a benefit we won't make progress.
Flexible and family friendly workplaces were discussed not just in terms of childcare but also the growing need to provide care support for older relatives as we move into a society with higher proportion of older people in need of care and support to enable and them to remain as fit and independent as possible. This fits well with the LEYF multi-generational business model which recognises the importance of all generations understanding and supporting each other from an early age. We would like to see nurseries and elderly homes built on shared spaces and extend our practice of engaging and working together with local elderly people. Although as a member of the audience pointed out, we cannot and should not rely on grandparents as the alternative childcare option. We cannot build an economy on this.
Dr Sara Watson from the US organisation Ready Nation reminded the audience about the wider implication of the importance of early years for the long term benefit of children and society. She leads a membership organisation of 13000 business who together are better able to advocate for children and take action to create conditions that will help young children thrive, fulfil their potential and become productive adults. She alluded to overwhelming evidence which shows that children who have a very good start are better prepared for school and life, a point further reaffirmed by Neil Carberry with his comment that nothing predicts the growth of our nation better than how we raise our children.
The CBI report First Steps sets out their education campaign which reinforces the research identified by Ready Nation that parental engagement and home learning matters to education performance throughout school and long into the future. Stark evidence referenced was that in the US only 25% of young people aged 17 to 25 would qualify to serve US military. The rest could not meet the physical, behavioural or educational standards for service standards similar to those many employers use. So, contributing early to ensure children are likely to have the skills to help them succeed as adults seems like a sensible long term business strategy.
Looking back to looking forward there is learning to be had in this field along the way; this is not a new concept. I am sure some of our Victorian philanthropic employers were having a wry smile and may even be saying, 'I told you so,' as they listened to the debate while we figured out how to be family friendly employees . While these workers could expect a job for life in return, modern employers have to consider a different contract. For example only 20% of the current workforce will have the skills for the 60% of jobs in the next 10 years.
What we learned from our debate was that while there is no promise of a job for life, businesses can provide an enriched experience that goes way beyond the office wall. Understandably their contribution to families is good for business, good for employers and good for society.