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The President's Upskill Initiative: 1 Year Later

Employers nationwide have answered the President's call to train frontline workers with the skills to earn higher-paying jobs.

Last year, President Obama called on companies to expand education benefits and training opportunities to provide their workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education. The logic behind his call was clear: there are about 24 million Americans working full-time who are earning less than $28,000 per year. The majority of these workers are struggling to get ahead because they lack the basic reading and math skills to get into higher paying jobs. And investing in these workers can not only help more hardworking people to move into the middle class, but also help companies that are struggling to find workers for “middle-skill” jobs.

The vast majority of funding for job training comes from employers: the federal government spent $17 billion on training in 2013, while U.S. employers spent an estimated 25 times that amount. Unfortunately, employer investments in job-training have fallen in recent years, and workers with lower levels of education are far less likely to receive on-the-job training than those who have more schooling.

Last April, in response to this challenge, the White House hosted an Upskill Summit, where over 100 employers employing 5 million workers responded to the President’s call to action with commitments to help their low-wage, frontline workers train for better jobs with bigger paychecks. Just a year later, these efforts are showing results. The Aspen Institute’s Upskill America Initiative reports that participating companies have upskilled tens of thousands of frontline workers.                                                                                                   

Here are just a few examples of what we’re seeing from employers:

  • Commitment from LearnUp to provide 500,000 jobseekers with access to training. To mark the 1-Year anniversary of the White House Upskill Summit, LearnUp, a skills coaching platform, is announcing a new commitment to provide, by 2017, 500,000 job seekers with access to training to get hired and build careers with 365 by Whole Foods Market, Sheetz, Inc, and The Fresh Market.
  • CVS Health Apprenticeship Program. In the past year, over 800 CVS Health individuals successfully completed apprenticeship-related instruction and training in South Carolina, Michigan, and Indiana. All of these workers earned credentials and were promoted to higher-paying positions. Looking ahead, CVS Health plans to develop or expand Registered Apprenticeship programs in a number of other states as part of its commitment to double its number of apprenticeships over five years.
  • Anthem and College for America. In less than a year, Anthem has enrolled more than 1,500 associates in College for America, to work toward earning their first college degrees online. Based on this program’s success, Anthem has created the Anthem Learning Network: a free, online program that provides more than 50,000 associates access to 1,000 courses and exams for over 100 professional certifications.
  • Chipotle Tuition Assistance Program. At the Upskill Summit, Chipotle committed to expand and promote their tuition reimbursement company-wide. In the summer of 2015, they announced that tuition assistance eligibility would expand from salaried employees to include all part-time workers. Less than a year later, more than 1,200 employees have received some level of tuition reimbursement—and Chipotle reports improved recruiting as a result. For 2016, Chipotle projects that the number of employees receiving tuition assistance will almost double.

The Administration has also taken steps to train low-skill, low-wage workers to upskill into better jobs. The Department of Education launched a new pilot, which allows financial aid to be used for partnerships between colleges and non-traditional training providers, including immersive training and short-term certificate programs that can be important pathways for low wage workers to quickly get the skills needed to move into better jobs. For example, Houston Community College is working directly with employers to design curricula that teach students the skills that the employers need—and to establish job pipelines in air-conditioning and refrigeration, commercial truck driving, welding, and other high-demand areas.

The federal government is also implementing upskill practices for its own employees—with apprenticeship programs across the federal government, as well as agency programs to connect nontraditional applicants to training opportunities.

Over the past year, collaboration between government, private companies, and philanthropic organizations has led to significant progress. But the scale of this challenge shows that we have more work to do. In the coming months, we will continue to work with the Aspen Institute’s Upskill America effort to expand the number of businesses getting low wage, frontline workers prepared for better paying jobs and to continue to channel federal investments to employer-based training like apprenticeships.

Helpful links:

The Department of Education has released a new analysis on the Survey for Adult Skills here.                                                                                   

Find more information from the Department of Labor on how businesses can engage in the workforce system here.

To learn more about what outside groups and employers are doing to support upskilling, click here.

For more details on commitment updates, please click here.