US coffee chain operator Starbucks on Monday announced a generous education program by offering tuition-free online college classes at Arizona State University for some of its employees. Amazingly, at least to Taiwanese employers, the workers participating in the “Starbucks College Achievement Plan” are not required to stay with Starbucks after finishing their studies.
This would be unthinkable for Taiwanese firms, which prioritize making profits for shareholders, instead of taking care of employees, or their communities. In Taiwan, most companies offer only job training and some skills-enhancing programs after working hours, and few award scholarships to excellent employees to further their education.
Those that do so attach conditions that employees must stay with their employers for a longer period of time. Only a handful of workers are eligible or willing to enroll in those programs, given the limited help from those classes in terms of skills or payrolls.
Local employers often complain that they are not getting enough talent, whether at entry-level or senior positions. They also complain of a huge and long-running mismatch between supply and demand in the job market. They say a high percentage of college graduates do not fit the positions they offer because they lack skills or sufficient knowledge.
Local enterprises count on the nation’s shabby education system to fix the talent problem, rather than trying to find solutions within the companies.
Local electronics companies suffer the brunt as they have stopped paying employees stock bonuses due to new unfavorable accounting rules.
Lately, industry representatives have called for their resumption and urged the government to make it a rule because paying stock bonuses was a big draw for jobseekers, as it helped workers accumulate wealth fast.
It is also the most economical way for technology firms to reward employees.
Now it seems to be a pipe dream for companies to rely entirely on the education system or the government to broaden the talent pool in light of the bureaucratic inertia of the government and the short-sighted nature of local students and their parents.
Here is an example: The government encouraged vocational schools to expand into colleges, with the aim of cultivating more professionals. However, the results have had the opposite effect, because those colleges produce unqualified college graduates who cannot fit industry needs.
The government budgeted NT$239 million (US$7.97 million) for job training this year, but only for small, local businesses that employ fewer than 50 workers.
Local companies should do more themselves to broaden their talent pool. This is the very least that companies should do to boost equity return for their shareholders.
However, there is something more important for corporate executives than simply gratifying shareholders or investors: It is social responsibility.
Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz said in a video posted on the company’s Web site about its new education program: “We can’t be a bystander and we can’t wait for Washington” to solve the growing inequality within the US.
“And I strongly believe that businesses and business leaders must do more for their people and for the communities we serve,” Schultz said.
US college students face skyrocketing tuition and towering student debts totaling US$1.2 trillion now.