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As long as I don’t get caught…

Ethical readiness for the workforce - are today's kids prepared? A recent national poll conducted by Junior Achievement (JA) and Deloitte indicates teens freely admit to unethical behavior today. A few of the key findings:

• 80 percent of teens believe they can make ethical business decisions when they join the workforce, yet
       o 38 percent think they have to break rules at school to succeed
       o nearly half believe that lying to parents/guardians is acceptable with 61 percent having done so in the past year.
• Only 25 percent said they would be very likely to reveal knowledge of unethical behavior in the workplace.

Because "moral courage is a missing piece in today's business environment" says Robin Wise, Pres/CEO of Junior Achievement - Rocky Mountain Inc.,  "we (JA) decided something needed to be done."

High profile national corporate scandals and public perception of business prompted a program where executives would engage local high school students on personal character and business ethics issues. This action, taken in 2002, was the genesis of Junior Achievement's local program "Capitalism with a Conscience" (CWC).

The goal of the program is to help high school students understand that ethics is doing what is right - even if no one is watching, even if it costs more money or takes more time, and even if it goes against the majority.

It also provides a unique perspective of corporate governance to area students by having executives visit classrooms to share their own basic values/beliefs, provide examples of ethics in day-to-day decisions, but also engage students in discussions on ethics in their school life and personal business dealings. It's a win for all involved - from business volunteers to teachers to students:

• Gary Lutz, volunteer from Wells Fargo believes that it might help "if kids could just understand that the unwritten rules of what happens between your buddies are not that dissimilar from what happens in business."

• "It's not only a unique opportunity to put yourself in front of students, but it's a way to give back without having to write a check" states Brian Addy, a volunteer from Ad/Venture Capital Management. He continues "we all face ethical decisions that are not necessarily profit oriented and we see it quite often in the news where people just lose their moral compass."

• "The CWC program helps bring the real world, with its relevant issues, up close and personal for the students", says Pam Cummings, teacher at Dakota Ridge Sr. High.

• Matt Nicolo, teacher at Thomas Jefferson High believes that "having a business professional come into my classroom and re-emphasize what I've taught makes all of the difference in their (students) retention of the material."

From a student's perspective, the following comments are typical of what is heard at the beginning of the session(s) but most are modified by the completion of the class (all students quoted wished to remain anonymous):

• " ...it's OK to give away the small stuff (e.g. soda vs. $200 gift card)."
• "...there's a big difference giving away stuff if it's from a large national chain (e.g. McDonalds) vs. a mom & pop."
• "...they won't know the difference - they charge $1.00 and it only costs them $.10."
• "...as long as I don't get caught."
• "...I don't look at it in the big picture - I'm just a kid."

JA wants to communicate to youth that the vast majority of business is conducted honestly, and that "business" is an honorable profession to pursue. "With CWC we hope to teach students a way to make decisions so they can act on their own values and confront unethical behavior in the classroom, in their jobs, and with their friends," Ms. Wise says. And it appears some progress is occurring: 22 percent of teens surveyed said they would act unethically if there was no risk of getting caught compared with 33 percent a few years earlier.

But there's still room for improvement. As a business person reading this, are you ready to influence our future leaders and provide them a foundation for dealing with Capitalism with a Conscience?

About JA

To create a generation of kids who are inspired to pursue higher education, are financially literate, are ready to enter the workforce, and possess an entrepreneurial spirit, JA serves as a link between the business community and education. Volunteers from the local businesses serve as role models, sharing their professional experiences with students. During the 2009/10 school year, 3200 dedicated volunteers will bring JA programs to 95,000 students in 525 schools through metro Denver, northern Colorado, and Wyoming. For more information on the different programs or to volunteer, visit www.jacolorado.org or call 303-534-JAJA.

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Triche Guenin

Triche Guenin is President of Partners Through Change, Inc., a process improvement firm that helps organizations become more efficient/effective in their day-to-day operations. She can be reached at 303-777-9680 or www.partnersthroughchange.com.



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