TIME Business

Businesses Can Build the Workforces They Need

Rice is vice chairman of GE

"Most educational systems around the globe are not prepared for the future skills challenge brought on by digitization"

Maybe I am the last global optimist. I have worked across GE’s businesses around the world for more than 30 years. I’ve seen the difference that trade, economic growth and investment have made. When we’re investing in a country, one of the questions we ask ourselves is: Do we have the right people with the right capabilities? But in return, we get asked about the facility and job creation—never about skills and training.

Training and development programs are essential for building local capability and ensuring we achieve our long-term vision in every country we operate in. We need a balanced approach to address re-skilling for those in the U.S. and developed markets, and the vocational skilling needs of those in developing countries, to ensure our global workforce of the future is educated, resilient and flexible.

Most educational systems around the globe are not prepared for the future skills challenge brought on by digitization. As a business, we could throw up our hands and do nothing. But as optimists, we should instead double-down on being part of the solution.

Private companies must play a part in enhancing education and skills training in partnership with governments, other private companies and educational institutions.

Focusing on training and “upskilling” when the shovels go in the ground can lead to even more jobs over time. In established facilities, workers potentially displaced by tech can learn to operate robots and become comfortable with automation. Businesses can develop work-study programs based on company-tailored curricula. Or provide essential machines to universities or vocational programs so that students can learn them. Or even construct healthcare partnerships in India to skill 10,000 youth in their own facilities. I know this is possible—not just because of optimism, but because I see it happening at GE.

In this light, the goals of private companies and the people are the same: a business supports those whose jobs are impacted by technology. By combining traditional vocational with digital skills, it ensures those in developing markets have better livelihood opportunities. It creates loyal relationships with talent and a pipeline of resilient workers with flexible skills—ones that it and other companies will demand. More jobs are created. And everybody wins.

Read more articles from the TIME/Fortune Global Forum at the Vatican on the role of business in solving the world’s greatest problems.

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