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Upskilling in America: Meet Two Women Who Upgraded Their Careers

Take a look at Marilu and Kendra’s stories to see exactly what happens when you give hardworking Americans the leg up they deserve.

Right now, America has more open jobs than at any point since 2008. They pay well and they’re a surefire pathway into the middle class. But not enough hardworking Americans have the right skills to fill them. 

So President Obama and Vice President Biden kicked off a new public-private effort to help hardworking Americans get ahead at work through a new initiative called Upskill. Together, employers, educators, tech innovators, unions, training providers, cities, states, and non-profits are turning entry-level jobs across the country into stepping stones to the middle class.

It’s a great idea — and it works in practice. Take a look at Marilu’s and Kendra’s stories to see exactly what happens when you give hardworking Americans the leg up they deserve: 

Meet Marilu Flores-Huerte: “My life has changed. I’m very, very happy. I love every minute I’m at work.” 

Marilu, 34, started out in the health care industry as a cashier and receptionist at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. She made $24 an hour, and struggled to provide the financial security she wanted to give her kids and her family. So she set her eyes on becoming a cardiac sonographer for Kaiser.

A member of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West, she used the joint employer education fund to complete her college prerequisites and a cardiovascular ultrasound program at City College of San Francisco. Her training program provided tuition assistance, a stipend to replace wages she lost from reducing her work schedule, counseling, and other services that were critical to her success. In 2014, she became a certified cardiac sonographer at Kaiser, doubling her wages.

Her next goal? Becoming a nurse practitioner. “I see a lot of cardiac patients that keep coming back to the hospital, in large part due to their diet and lifestyle,” she said. “I want to teach patients about their conditions and help them stay healthy and out of the hospital.”  

Meet Kendra Holmes: Turning Passion into a Career

Kendra has worked for Gap, Inc. for 14 years, holding multiple positions — from Merchandise Specialist all the way up to Store Manager. She got there through the company’s Ascend Program: a talent development program that launched in 2009 with the goal of cultivating a deeper bench of diverse talent with leadership potential. Participants complete a year-long curriculum designed to develop business and leadership skills and abilities through group learning, independent projects, and consistent mentorship from senior company leaders. Now, as a store manager, Kendra has turned her passion for the merchandise business into a burgeoning career. 

Read more about how upskilling America can help put 24 million low-wage, hardworking Americans on a path to fill hundreds of thousands of better-paying jobs and to attain their own version of the American Dream: