10/05/2010 05:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Putting People Back to Work Means Teaching Skills to Succeed

Amid encouraging signs that the global economy has once again begun to grow, the International Labour Organization last week issued some sobering news. The UN work agency said global employment will not recover to pre-crisis levels until 2015 if current policies are pursued. The agency said 22 million jobs still need to be created to return to pre-financial crisis job levels.

Putting millions of people back to work is the special expertise of the private sector; governments cannot possibly do it alone. But it is no longer enough for businesses to simply create jobs, we now must create a skilled and flexible workforce, as well.

Last month, my company, Accenture, announced plans to train at least 250,000 people around the world by 2015 on the skills needed to get a job or start a business. In our efforts, we're not alone. Companies like Marks & Spencer in the U.K. have set a goal of offering 500,000 employees in their clothing supply chain with education and training in healthcare, worker's rights and, where possible, literacy and math. (Marks & Spencer calls their sustainability program Plan A because "There's no Plan B.") Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women initiative will provide "underserved" women around the world with business and management education.

Our own Skills to Succeed initiative teams us with some of the world's most knowledgeable NGOs, like Oxfam, Junior Achievement and Women's World Banking, to ready people for the job market. In Africa, for example, we've partnered with the Canadian-headquartered Enablis which just accredited its 1,000th business person in a highly successful, continent-wide entrepreneur's network.

And in Brazil, where official unemployment stands at more than 8%, with youth unemployment in urban areas much higher, we've partnered with two local agencies, Rede Cidada and the Committee for the Democratization of Information, to create Conexao, now part of YBI. Some 13,500 young people have been trained in everything from rudimentary computer to job-ready technology skills. About 3,500 have already found jobs.

At the moment, Accenture employees are engaged in more than 80 other initiatives in our local markets around the world.

Skills to Succeed is not a weekend project peripheral to our business. All activities are done on Accenture time. It's real dollars and the pro-bono time and skills of our talented people, not just their good will on Saturdays.

While the initiative reflects the individual core values, culture and character of Accenture, the program says something greater about the nature of any private sector program that strives for sustainability and success. It is the outgrowth of what we do for a living.

Developing skills to help people get jobs, build businesses and improve their communities is one of the top three issues our clients tell us they care about. So the program aligns both with our client concerns and our core skills. We've tried to be extremely disciplined in our focus on teaching employment-readiness and business- and market-building, including the use of technology in business development. We've made sure to set goals that are realistic but at the same time stretch us. We've focused on building partnerships and programs that are sustainable. We've set some very clear and specific performance outcomes that we can measure.

Over the next three years, we'll be spending something on the order of $100 million, part cash and part pro-bono work by our employees. That's substantial for a company like ours. But if our efforts can help reduce the time the ILO says it will take to put people back to work, if it will speed the global economic recovery in some small way, then it will benefit not just the newly employed worker or Accenture. Skills to Succeed will benefit us all.