We defined our company as a learning organization long before it became fashionable.
Xerox Canada was actually one of the first information technology companies to restructure to succeed and compete in the Nineties. We were able to accomplish this re-engineering as a result of the company's intellectual capital. The process was used to identify the company's core values, core principles and reconfirm our corporate commitment to quality. Quality became synonymous with continuous improvement which, in turn, lead to continuous learning.
To unleash this force, I had to rid the company of its hierarchial structure. I had to set in place a more fluid, responsive corporate model; a molecular business model that enabled continuous improvement and continuous learning.
Much of what we accomplish is done through dynamic teams that look horizontally through the business. Through business cells and innovative partnerships and alliances that give us the "velocity," which in fact may be our only sustainable competitive advantage in the future.
One of the quality partnerships is with education. Quality education is an important partnership of commitments and pursuits that is both individual and collective.
As I have said, education is a gift, not a charity.
In a learning organization, individuals are expected and are required to take ownership for their own development and for learning on a self-directed basis. Learning, therefore, is no longer a passive experience. Learning is no longer a take it or leave it proposition. It's a lifelong experience.
Learning in the traditional school system was about taking in information and regurgitating it. Learning as we know it and need it today, however, is a very different exchange; it's about enhancing capacity, about creating and building the capacity to create what we couldn't previously create.
Learning requires a new culture and a new environment. The new environment; the new nature of education is to be one of constant and rapid change as a stimulus for creativity and problem-solving. Schools become important resource centres. Students become more active and more responsible for the pursuit of their learning.
Education, the same as business is undergoing a requirement to re-engineer itself to be more flexible. But, it has to do so with clear, quality standards. It has to do so only after identifying its core vales, core principles and taking the best from its traditions. It also has to do so with a better understanding of and facility to meet its customers' needs.
The values of education have to be understood; have to be communicated and have to be received in a manner that ensures educators and students can help enhance the capacity of the re-engineered system to create its future.
Education is a gift to be viewed as an endowment, but not as a charity. It obviously is not "free."
When education is synonymous with lifelong learning and continuous, self-directed improvement, then the cost of being educated and having access to education will be an individual's commitment, an individual's responsibility and an individual's investment in one's self and in one's future. It will be a shared responsibility and a shared investment. It will continue to be shared by the state. The strategic partners will emerge from business, industry and other organizations who benefit from a skilled, motivated workforce.
As the CEO of a company that is dedicated to the principles of continuous learning, I come to the discussion of the values of school-business partnerships in meeting the economic challenge obviously with a clear bias.
While business cannot be expected to foot the bill for education, investment in knowledge and the nurturing and development of knowledge workers, however, is a business commitment and must remain a business commitment relative to that partnership.
In Canada and in the United States we have all been disadvantaged by thinking of education in terms of "inputs". We have measured the quality of education in terms of how much the state spends on providing education.
We have to measure education performance. We have to assess the return on education investment and with this natural business perspective, education should remain within the domain of state responsibility, but accept business and others as partners in keeping and developing a curriculum that is flexible; a curriculum that meets changing requirements and that even anticipates changes and skills that will be needed.
At Xerox, we believe this and we have entered into a number of education partnerships. I would like to share with you the nature and mutual benefits of a few of these partnerships.
Xerox, is one of a number of companies participating in a North York Board of Education program called, Partners in Education. This program pairs a North York school with a community industry, business or public organization. The program uses the expertise, talent and idea power of participants the program partners to collectively strengthen the educational experience of students and to link the workplace and the education experience for these students. It is not an apprenticeship program.
Students are benefitting from the program in a number of ways. They enjoy what they call job shadowing, which is shadowing employees at partner organizations over a work day period. Some tour state of the art research and development facilities and actually participate in experiments. Some participate in corporate training seminars conducted by business partners. And, of course, many benefit from summer work and company scholarship and student sponsorship initiatives.
And teachers benefit from work exchange opportunities that permit them to work in a business relevant to curriculum responsibilities. Companies, such as ours, benefit from the opportunity to contribute to the curriculum review and curriculum restructuring.
The benefits are obvious and the most notable are an improvement in retention of potential school drop- outs, improved student motivation and access to support for students who may not get encouragement from home situations. There's also better access to scholarships and bursaries and a chance to measure-up: a chance to actually see how knowledge they are getting will be used and is used.
The other thing students and educators see is that learning cannot be passive and that it must be constant.
We have also participated with a number of colleges in Ontario and with a number of national and provincial educator associations. Together, we have to make sure graduates have the skills needed to adapt to the world they live in; that they are presented with choices, that their education opens doors and that they are able to make a contribution.
Clearly, schools cannot meet the new education challenges alone. Nor can business afford to be taxed by footing the bill for education or by being penalized by not having access to a skilled workforce.
At Xerox our annual learning or training budget is in the millions of dollars. We see it as an investment and a requirement with a tangible return on investment. We see partnering with education as having a tangible ROI too.
The other thing we have accomplished in these partnerships is a perception shift. We have helped educators realize that their product is not students, but rather their curriculum. We have introduced information technology into the classrooms and lecture halls and we have made quality a commitment and part of a new continuous improvement culture.
We can turn education into a lifelong learning partnership.
Why? Because we have to.
Government and business leaders recognize that the cost of ignorance is far greater that the cost of education. Ignorance can bankrupt us.
I am a strong believer than business has a role to play in strategic school-business partnerships. We have a role to play in helping educators determine if the curriculum reflects or responds to current and future needs of students and employers. Together, we can all create a stronger economy by applying the principles of lifelong learning and learning organizations through education.