As businesses cut staff, Junior Achievement adapts

When HSBC Bank USA announced it was moving 400 jobs out of Delaware last month, the news didn’t just affect HSBC employees.The nonprofit Junior Achievement Delaware has a partnership with HSBC. The bank supplies volunteers and funding to help JA teach students how jobs and money work.

“It’s very difficult when you look at things like what just happened with HSBC. Situations like that keep happening here and there and it all adds up,” said Rob Eppes, president of JA.

Eppes said JA has very strong community support from many Delaware companies, but cutbacks have made it tougher to recruit volunteers for programs, especially those that require multiple visits to classrooms. “It just gets more challenging when there are fewer people doing more work, especially if it’s a situation where there have been personnel cuts, because, then, someone might not want to raise their hand to volunteer, because they don’t want to be seen as someone who can leave the office for a few hours. They don’t want to be seen as not necessary, even if they have the agreement of their employers,” he said.

“It just gets more challenging when there are fewer people doing more work, especially if it’s a situation where there have been personnel cuts, because, then, someone might not want to raise their hand to volunteer, because they don’t want to be seen as someone who can leave the office for a few hours. They don’t want to be seen as not necessary, even if they have the agreement of their employers,” Eppes said.

Eppes said companies are still willing to allow staffers to teach JA classes, but the days of sending an executive to work on a JA telemarketing campaign for two weeks are gone. “You don’t have a lot of businesses, that have people on the bench,” he said. “Everybody has just gotten more lean.”

Delaware companies still send about 900 volunteers to JA annually. As Eppes puts it, “The giving-back aspect of what businesses do shines through in a place like Junior Achievement.”

JA also has more than 500 people who volunteer when their children are involved and Eppes said JA tries to woo parents who like what they see to volunteer in other programs.

JA serves approximately 16,000 kids from Kingswood Academy to Tower Hill School.

“What we’re trying to do is create a foundation for children to be critical thinkers and collaborators and be creative in their approaches to problem-solving,” Eppes said. “We’ve to a lot of blank canvases that we’re dealing with.”

He said JA’s most recent study survey showed that, among kids who said they were not going to graduate high school when they started JA programs, 13 percent said they were going to graduate when they finished the programs. Among kids who said they did not expect to go to college, 25 percent later said they thought they’d graduate from a two-year college.

Next up:
• Eppes wants Junior Achievement to play a part when the state mandates financial literacy standards for grades K to 12.
• He wants JA’s turnkey programming to be offered to students before they must make choices under the new Delaware Pathways program that will compel children to choose a course of study before ninth grade.
• He hopes JA’s entrepreneurship competitions and other turnkey elements can be incorporated as the Delaware Business Roundtable’s growth agenda moves forward. n

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