As education and workforce demands evolve for the 21st century economy, business leaders have a responsibility to help ensure the U.S. education system fulfills the needs of current and future students – those who will be employees and innovators of the 21st century. Our country’s business and education sectors must work together to prepare students in all subjects, especially science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Business Roundtable member companies recognize the challenge and are stepping up to assist, partnering with classrooms and after-school programs across the country to provide resources, employee volunteers and guidance on curriculum, all with the goal of equipping today’s students with the skills to become tomorrow’s innovators.

Oracle, the only U.S. corporation to host a public high school on its corporate campus, partners with Design Tech High School. This partnership creates direct pathways for Design Tech’s 550 students to gain valuable skills and experience, including student internships, mentoring by Oracle employees and technology classes to give these students an education grounded in design thinking and competency with technology.

In addition, Oracle Academy, a program of Oracle-sponsored computer science classes in high schools around the world, has served 6.3 million students. That includes including Zach Dinch, whose participation in Oracle Academy allowed him to develop computer science knowledge, learn programming and form a portfolio that helped him gain admission to Princeton. Zach is the first in his family to attend college.

Like Oracle, numerous leading companies are creating and supporting programs and partnerships that expand education opportunities. When Boeing employee Spring Beasley learned her daughter wanted to join her school’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics team, she was overcome with excitement. “At that first event, I saw Charlotte laughing and making friends with other team members,” Beasley remembered. “I saw her come out of her shell, and I knew I had to support this program.” She became an event judge, and then a mentor to the team. “Many of these girls had never picked up a drill, but there’s a lot of transformations that happen. That’s one of the things that I love about it: Suddenly these kids realize they can do really technical stuff.” Beasley joined 500 of her fellow Boeing employees in mentoring FIRST teams in 2019, competing in the Boeing-sponsored competition “Destination: Deep Space Nine.”

Boeing is not alone supporting FIRST programs. In 2016, for example, John Deere supported 460 FIRST teams. In addition to employee mentorship, Novelis donates $200,000 annually in aluminum products to the program. Several other Business Roundtable member companies, including Apple and Bechtel, provide additional support to FIRST.

Hands-on STEM learning programs like FIRST are an important start, setting students on a path toward opportunities that lead to well-paying careers—opportunities like internships and apprenticeships. Freeport-McMoRan partnered with Yavapai Community College to create a two-year apprenticeship in diesel, industrial and electrical mechanics. Freeport-McMoRan pays for tuition and books, as well as a good wage of $16-$18 per hour for two days of work per week. By the end of the program, apprentices have received 2,000 hours of training, absolutely free.

Improving education outcomes also means opening doors to opportunity where pathways aren’t as clear. “I thought I had a pretty normal upbringing,” said Detroit student Brittany Agee. “In my neighborhood, graduating from high school and going to college is really kind of out of the norm.” General Motors, through its Student Corps program, is working to change that. Partnering retired GM managers with local high schools, the program provides mentorship and training while helping students like Agee complete service projects and provide positive change in their communities. “It’s easy to say, like, ‘these kids in this certain neighborhood, they don’t want it.’ It’s not that they don’t want it, it’s that people don’t believe in them,” she said.

Finally, in an effort to provide students a strong pathway into the workforce, some companies have created classrooms and curriculum of their own. IBM helped launch the first P-TECH (Pathways In Technology Early College High) School in partnership with the City University of New York – City Tech and the New York City Department of Education. The P-TECH 9-14 school model, developed by IBM, helps young people acquire critical professional, academic and technological skills. Through hands-on learning and involvement with private partners, students get professional experience and, at the conclusion of their time at P-TECH, an associate’s degree. The program has rolled out to more than 100 schools in the U.S. and 125 more worldwide, developing partnerships with many other companies, like Business Roundtable member Stanley Black & Decker.

Improving education outcomes begins with expanding access to education at a young age and providing continuous opportunities to learn and grow into adulthood. Through their investments and initiatives, Business Roundtable member companies are creating these opportunities for future generations to pursue careers that will help them achieve their goals and keep America at the forefront of innovation.