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Upping the Ante: We Need You to Join the UpSkilling Movement

By: Jaime Fall and Kathy Mannes

One year later, it’s nice to see progress being made.

Last year, the Obama Administration launched an UpSkill movement to encourage employers and others to invest in frontline workers. Last week, Lumina Foundation, Aspen’s UpSkill America, and CAEL’s Business Champions hosted an event to celebrate the progress toward this goal, which is reflected in commitments from companies as well as labor, community colleges, workforce providers, and other public and private partners.

There was a lot of good news. Companies reported on innovative and practical solutions that make it easier for workers to advance in their careers. Upskilling addresses the pain points—aligning supply and demand, finding and retaining talent, and increasing productivity—that keep employers up at night. At its best, upskilling provides solutions to increase access and opportunity for the people who need it most.

Elliott Masie, Chair, The Learning CONSORTIUM, reconvened a group of leading employers who made original commitments, including Wegmans, Hilton, Xerox, and Walmart. All had launched effective, comprehensive upskilling strategies. And all acknowledged that they need help from partner organizations to reinforce the business case and take their efforts to scale.

The need for data is clear. As Kimo Kippen, Chief Learning Officer and Global Brand Ambassador, Hilton Worldwide, is apt to quote, “In God we trust, all others must bring data.” The event was timed to coincide with the release by Lumina and Accenture of an ROI study that supports the benefits of tuition assistance, especially when it is considered as both a benefit and a talent development strategy. We have a significant opportunity to help companies increase the number of people using this benefit while showing companies how to reap the dividends.

Companies in the audience have made investments that are paying off. The recently launched McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity program is a model for company-wide upskilling that has major impact, including making online high school diploma and workforce credential completion available to all employees through the Career Online High School.

The final speaker, Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President of the AARP Foundation, reminded us that upskilling is an opportunity for all ages, including the growing numbers of older workers. She urged us not to overlook this growing group of workers, and to use upskilling to give them a springboard to new skills.

JFF is working with Lumina Foundation to help motivate employers to assist their employees and others get the meaningful skills and credentials they need. The power of employers will be featured at Voices for Opportunity and Economic Mobility, JFF’s June Summit, where we will discuss the role of upskilling in meeting the challenge of economic mobility.

We have upped the ante and seen an increase in employers using their resources and creativity to upskill their workers. But there is much work to be done. As Pam Tate from CAEL summed it up, “You can’t do well unless you do good for your employees.” We hope you will add your voice and ideas to this conversation by joining us at the JFF Summit in June to continue to celebrate and move upskilling up. And we encourage you to stay in touch with the UpSkillAmerica movement at UpskillAmerica.org.