taking the role of Industry beyond ESG

Excellent sources of Learning,
that command Future Defining Themes
through Sustainable Consumption & Production,
are 1st-line Partners in Education.

During the entire OPEDUCA Project, the involvement of the world of work proved to be a key value for the effectuation of transdisciplinary learning, skill development and a true understanding of future relevant competencies. School-industry cooperation was found mutually beneficial while it became ever more evident Industries' full transition capacity in the realm of sustainable development has only begun to unfold. While CSR efforts are channeled through separate departments or are even partly outsourced, the potential of learning and development remains untapped.
More effective contributions of industry to education and knowledge development in a broader societal sense appear to be challenged by procedures and barricades installed by intermediate layers of representing firms and a multitude of hired hands - clouding a company's CSR proposition. Consequently, taking the perspective of school-based education, initiatives in the realm of Technology promotion (ICT but certainly STEM), Entrepreneurship and Climate are still mostly found to be stand-alone, add-on if not cuddly activities next to schools' curricula. 
There is immense potential to deliver CSR much more efficiently and effectively through ESD (Education for Sustainable Development), a strategic proposition we refer to as 'ESD Based CSR'. Sharing the conviction that sooner or later the only way of making a profit is by being sustainable (Sijbesma, 2020), there is a profound reason to more closely look at a more structured and consistent approach to industries’ partnership in ESD beyond contemporary CSR and HRM efforts. 
On this page, we first briefly recollect general values for industry-education cooperation from the perspective of the student, the school and a company's HRM, sharing a critical look at the organization of CSR in school-industry cooperation in order to strengthen the future discourse. 

Paul Polman urges to bring more young people to the table, fast

Reflecting on the indispensable role of busineses in Sustainable Development, Paul Polman calls for a reform of our global financial architecture, for senior executives to do more to lead vital partnerships for change and:
... Third, is bringing more young people to the table, fast. The young activists I met in Sharm were sharp, determined, and sick of being patronized. They are powerful–as employees and consumers, as our sons and daughters, as the next generation of leaders, and as voters. Many are frustrated with the political process and look to the private sector to empower them in a new, intergenerational alliance that has an impact on the real economy. Here too, businesses can act: put them on boards, on panels, in leadership positions, and in every room where decisions affecting their futures will be taken.

and the
World of Work
in favour of the Student

As found in practice, namely through many year long experience with OPEDUCA BusinessClass and the contributions of companies in OPEDUCA Flight for Knowledge, closer connections to the world of work, specifically Industry, offer students access to relevant data and information, the application of knowledge, the meaning of competencies and the value of cooperation and work. At any level (from primary up to and including higher education) the learning process benefits from the meaning giving practical context. Insights gained in society’s value- and income-generating capacity are seen to contribute effectively to a new generations' awareness of sustainable development as their understanding of the world of (un-)sustainable consumption and production unfolds. They are observed to generate a foundation for the design and development of own concepts and ideas, begin to envision how they would choose, rule, regulate, produce, trade and handle goods and services, (be-)come the Entrepreneurs of a more prosperous future in each Dimension of Sustainable development. Earlier and professionally structured connections between the worlds of schooling and work effectively contribute to the generation of knowledge that underpins future wisdom. Wisdom informs action in the course of sustainable development, whether as an employee, entrepreneur or informed consuming citizen. 

School-Industry Cooperation
Schools for the Real

From the perspective of the schools, values complementary to the student's learning process manifest themselves as opportunities arise to, amongst others:

• make schools less dependent on costly external consult and pre-defined,
- avoid misconceptions in the fields of STEM and Entrepreneurship,
• provide direct insight and a better understanding of the competence gap between school and work,
• rationalize the relevance of knowledge, competencies and transversal skills,
- provide for the professional development of teachers and school leaders,
- expand the range of educational partnerships through a company’s own network.

Industry's role
in Education is Business as usual

Obviously, a company's HRM can benefit from closer cooperation with schools, as it is practiced for ages (take the German 'Meister Geselle' concept and long before the Guilds during the middle ages).
Bringing a transition in and through industry to effect can obviously be approached through the inflow of educated employees on every level to steer cause and course. However, such a longer-term gradual approach risks the assimilation of incoming talent in the current state of affairs. Under the banner of ESD Based CSR we target to further a company's core business on the path of sustainable development by ways of a proactive Educational Partnership with the entire range of (formal) education. Investing in education not only doubles back as partnerships offer the opportunity to work directly on the improvement of skills of future entry-level workers (MacDowell, 1989) but also of those already enrolled. Also when it comes to future decision-making and leadership, change in management education can be seen as a prerequisite for achieving integrated views and practices in order to strive for CSR and sustainability (Waddock & McIntosh, 2009). A company's decision-making will have to build on multi-dimensional leadership including transformational and servant capacities (Stead & Stead, 2017), values wrought in the course of a person’s development that cannot be taught in later life.
Speaking of information and learning objects, it is regarded a prerequisite to integrate (new) employees in the knowledge management of the organization. Dove-tailing this both in concept and practice with formal education, one can consider a ‘work-ready-plus notion'; students not only being competent and able to use skills and knowledge correctly under a given set of conditions but also capable to adapt to and incur change having higher levels of personal, interpersonal and cognitive intelligence (Scott & Eussen, 2020) An idea that includes being sustainability literate, change implementation savvy, inventive and entrepreneurial. 

It takes true-hearted companies to see through the b(r)ush

CSR and Education
Beyond the Green Paint

Industries’ contribution to ESD holds more potential than effected thus far, building on the complex conviction that:
• industry is an indissociable part of society's fabric of society,
• its huge apparatus represents substantial natural and human resources,
. companies can be regarded as bodies of applied and front-end knowledge,

Also given its use of resources and scarce means in the realm of (un-)sustainable production, induced by doubtful choices and volumes of consumption, the industry represents a formidable transformative capacity that invites for a coupling between learning through school-based education and companies' learning and development.  

Whereas the OPEDUCA instruments are effective to enrich and harness the students’ learning, they also provide for a gate-keeping function, securing only suitable companies with an appropriate organization and knowledge-sharing infrastructure can manifest their CSR this way. The effectuation of ESD-based CSR in the realm of ESD-based Education safeguards the integrity and quality of education in the following ways:

  • Validation of data i.e. sources
    If more than one company contributes to exploration of data, validation becomes engrained in the process. Furthermore, distributed contributions disperse influence and cross-validate.
  • The Sum of OPEDUCA Regions
    The multiple application of the OPEDUCA-instruments in various regions involves Partners in Education from alike sectors which provides opportunity for critical comparison of contributions.
  • A clear and clean investment in Society
    As the OPEDUCA Concept sees to ongoing learning pathways from younger age on, from a time-perspective contributions of industry to students’ learning processes is more objective as the ‘pay-off’ will not fall to a specific companies' present interests.
  • Fairness for Students' Findings
    Students are able and should be continuously encouraged to ‘dive’ into matters while they continue to question phenomena. That way they will per definition come across what marks todays’ industry as (un-)sustainable - ergo, only companies with nothing other than the fairest intentions to the cause can and will be a Partner in Education.
  • The protection of the integrity and independence of formal education
    Data, information i.e. values can be corrupted due to insufficient insight and understanding of both school and companies - presently, initiatives in the fields of STEM, ICT and other educations that are pressed upon schools can effect learning in ways undetected. The perceived downside of industries’ involvement in education is not to be regarded futile, it should however be seen against the background of presently unstructured i.e., uncontrolled influence which can be overcome through ESD based CSR.
  • The Openness of an OPEDUCA
    The effective involvement of industry in school-based education requires such openness and in-depth understanding of a company’s whereabouts, activities and moral, one cannot engage halfway. Certainly not when understanding the open character of an OPEDUCA. The stronger the involvement of companies and the wider the spread and variety across sectors, positioned open to each other, the more likely their support is authentic and qualitative.
Making School - Industry cooperation Work

Keeping Close to Values

Overviewing industries' contribution to sustainable development en especially education,
we broadly decerned 4 levels and interpretations of CSR:
. The explanation and mitigation of undesirable consequences on one’s business.
. Generating future-friendly businesses.
. (re-)Arranging (the core-)business to serve sustainable development.
. Adding value(s) beyond the present, using position, seize and influence.

These levels of CSR paralleled with the degree in which companies effectively contributed to ESD and schooling. 

Not every (potential) partner from industry is as authentic as likely perceived. Yet, we observed that in the realm of ESD companies are hardly truly scrutinized for their authenticity and inert educational values. Especially companies perceived as ‘sustainable businesses’ and/or presenting themselves as entrepreneurs in sustainability’, were trusted with relative ease. While it remains to be seen if and in how far newly crafted enterprises now profiling themselves as (leading) examples in sustainable entrepreneurship are actually so. Whether it concerns firms in coffee, chocolate, clothing, local food or alike sectors, marketing hard to differentiate themselves from traditional (unsustainable) industries, schools as well as researchers and policy advisors regularly needed to be pointed out some hardly differ from their 'unsustainable' counterparts where it comes to net profit margins and the (abundant) use of scarce resources.

To benefit from each other's competencies and qualities, it is essential both schools and companies keep close to their added values and goals, built on authenticity instead of PR-driven exposure. The rate of success strongly depends on the direct logical coupling of students' learning content with the primary business i.e. connecting it to the core of the company's added value chain and doing so through the involvement of first-line staff i.e. experts, the dedicated support of the CEO being essential. ESD Based CSR should be nested in the company's primary organization and, unlike common CSR, not as an antenna twitched to the organization structure, whether as a staff department or a separate Foundation. 

The efficacy of a company’s involvement appeared related not only to the way it interprets and organizes its CSR, but most strongly to the people i.e. personalities directly involved. 
Whereas smaller companies are obviously required by nature to connect on a more personal level, larger industry is generally seen to place ‘education matters’ in the hands of HRM with an eye on the longer-term availability of a qualified workforce or in a separate department annex Foundation. Overviewing 48 midsize to larger companies worked with, it can be tentatively concluded that a higher i.e. stricter organization level restricts and limits a company's effectiveness as Partner in Education. We thereto inquired with students in both Flight for Knowledge and BusinessClass and analyzed companies’ contributions in each case (during visits, presentations, jury membership, etc.). Whereas a person’s dedication to the course proved important in general, participation from those in a company’s core business was definingly most effective, from the CEO-level (25%) over line management to the practical workforce (total 35%). Specialist staff (Finance, Legal, etc.) and Marketing made up for another 27% while in only 13% of cases (the) CSR(-organization) as such was a distinct quality.

The widest gap between intentions and effective practice appeared when support activities were conducted by a designated department or Foundation working with well-rounded programs. Such especially in case these were ready bought or further outsourced to third parties. In some cases companies appeared not sensible for the argument of costs (own staff topping outsourcing- and delivery costs) nor for well-wrought quality considerations; the perceived attractiveness of the support tool or instrument dominated the choice. Consequently, there is substantial opportunity loss in the effectuation of a company's educational potential. An effect strengthened in each case when schools demonstrated little critical attitude towards the offerings, trying to make up for their own deficiencies in certain areas and welcoming any free support offered no matter its origin or way of delivery. As a result, in most of these cases products of all sorts were used mostly temporarily to then end up on a pile of likewise materials i.e. disposed of. In general, CSR budgets are seen to be spent on logistics and staff-costs, therewith only partly contributing to the activity at hand i.e. presented (Zoë Schreurs, 2021).

Visualisation of the positioning of ‘ESD-based CSR’

A company's value as a Partner in Education can be established in parallel with efforts to close the gap between schooling and work and dovetailed with existing HRM efforts to (re-)educate present employees. Like students and newly hired personnel, also those already active in a company will be more and more challenged to operate in a setting characterized by lesser-defined problems, contradictory information, informal collaboration and more abstract, dynamic and highly integrated processes. Seeing the concept of competence is strongly associated with the ability to master such complex situations (Westera, 2001). 

A constructive step towards a more thorough and effective school-industry cooperation follows from regarding students more profoundly as future entrepreneurs and employees embodying transition(-capacity). It is advised to fold formal education and company-based learning together beyond the realm of vocational schooling. Aiming at a more fluent and better fitting reconciliation of competencies generated in practice with those developed through education. Referring to the well-known German ‘dual system’ of apprenticeships, the dovetail should be longer i.e., reach ‘back’ further in school levels and applied broader. Obviously, this is congruent with the attraction of more educator capacity for schools the OPEDUCA concept proposes.

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For academic reference and publications: Eussen, J. F. G. (2022). ESD-based education - - ISBN 9789464235906