Lifelong learning is about more than skills. It’s about people, opportunities, and connections.
I grew up in Western Sydney, in a Lebanese Australian family whose spoken and written English was poor. My parents, especially my father, ensured l grew with a passion and curiosity for learning. He always told me “don’t worry if you need to catch up, as long as you keep learning and don’t stop.”
My mum didn’t complete primary school and didn’t know a word of English when she came to Australia but what she lacked in knowledge she showed in compassion and action. All my volunteering and charity work is because of her.
I spent a year teaching myself English because the teachers, at the time, didn’t really seem interested. For many around me, learning was quickly replaced with a rebellious attitude and a tendency to reject authority.
I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t throw away my education and instead used this anger to push through the barriers and the setbacks. I did get suspended in my final year of schooling but managed to get into university, and worked hard alongside to cover the fees, the books, the train fares, and the petrol to get to the station.
My family saved up and sacrificed many things to finally buy a computer; looking back, the day the ‘big toy’ arrived was the day that made my career in tech possible.
My point is that kids should not have to waste their time playing catch up. It can be incredibly frustrating to always start so far behind – without access to STEM learning, without digital devices, without the right connections. That’s why having mentors and people around you that can help harness that anger towards something constructive rather than destructive.
Lifelong learning is not just about helping others learn how to read or write. It is about facilitating opportunities for people to connect with others that can guide them to continually develop and grow their knowledge, competencies, and character. Lifelong Learning happens across a lifetime and should be available to everyone regardless of their background, age, or gender.
I’m grateful that many years later, while at KPMG, I was able to finally afford to go back to university and study a Masters in Philosophy, something I always wanted to do but couldn’t justify spending money on. I also signed up to become a mentor through the Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN) a not-for-profit organisation that brings businesses and schools together to address educational disadvantage. I’m grateful for the flexibility that work provided so that I could be both a student and a mentor. It has allowed me to contribute better and more authentically to the firm.
I think the greatest privilege is to be a student. It is the only role that is truly lifelong, and every person should get this opportunity. Let’s make it a bit easier for these kids so that they put energy in excelling and thriving as students and as people, not in having to catch up all the time.
KPMG’s Lifelong Learning Action Plan
As Lifelong Learning Manager in KPMG’s Corporate Citizenship team, I have seen first-hand the impact that the firm’s 16-year partnership with the Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN) has had.
Through my role in Corporate Citizenship, I get to meet so many passionate KPMG people who sign up to become ABCN mentors, like Boutros Zalloua. We first meet as ABCN mentors for the ABCN Innovate STEM program in 2018, and connected again last year, with a shared vision to develop a sustainable model to improve employment opportunities and outcomes for high potential young people from low socio-economic and diverse backgrounds. Over 3,300 people from KPMG, like Boutros, have given their time and skills as ABCN mentors to help guide and shape the futures of 11,500 students.
I’m incredibly proud to have been involved in the development of KPMG’s inaugural Lifelong Learning Action Plan 2022 – 2026, which sets out bold commitments over the next five years, to be delivered alongside our people and community partners.
1 Increase the diversity of people in STEM-related careers
2 Help to reduce the digital divide
3 Collaborate to enhance educational outcomes and close the skills gap
4 Transfer relevant skills for the future of work
I’ve seen the positive impacts that come from pairing corporate mentors with students from low SES areas, and seeing relationships form and confidence grow on both sides.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and ABCN programs really open up different possibilities; connecting students to careers they would never have considered before.