June 2011


Corporate Voices' partner companies and friends stand in front of the U.S. Capitol Building during the 2011 Annual Partners Meeting

On June 15-17, Corporate Voices held its 2011 Annual Meeting and 10th Anniversary Celebration (view photos)– marking a decade of success in shaping corporate and public policies affecting the lives of working families. Over 100 leaders from the business, public policy, non-profit and research communities gathered at this convening to discuss issues critical to the future competitiveness of American business– including workplace flexibility and the role businesses play in helping workers obtain college degrees and helping disadvantaged youth integrate into the workforce.

This meeting occurred at a time when our national dialogue is focused on how to stimulate slow economic and job growth, and highlighted what best-practice corporate leaders are doing to build a stronger and more competitive workforce for the future.

At a bi-partisan Congressional Briefing on June 15 that was held in conjunction with the annual meeting, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) commented that the issues that Corporate Voices and its partner companies are engaged in are more important than ever, even though the dialogue on Capitol Hill is currently dominated by a debate over the size of the federal budget. She said,

“We’ve been colleagues and collaborators in this effort to bring the corporate community into policy discussions to improve the lives of working families. We need your corporate voices at this time. We have an environment where cutting spending is the order of the day. We need business to make its voice heard on key issues like early education, K-12 and higher education. It is important that businesses are engaged in crafting policies that help working families.”

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) echoed Rep. DeLauro’s comments, emphasizing that even as the economy recovers, investing in the training and education of our workforce will be necessary for our long-term ability to compete on the global stage. She said,

“Nearly 30 million people will need a postsecondary education in 2018…In addition to an infrastructure deficit, we have an education and a skills deficit…The challenge we have is to bridge that skills gap. We need to invest in skills and careers, from K-12 to college completion and beyond to build a strong talent pipeline…This is fundamentally about where we want middle-class families to be in decades to come.”

As John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, said in a panel focusing on postsecondary education and Learn and Earn best practice models later in the meeting,

“To right the ship, and to meet President Obama’s college completion goal by 2020, we will have to support the work Corporate Voices is doing—thank God you exist!”

Indeed, with a skills gap preventing employers from hiring the talent they need and hindering workers who want to find suitable jobs, Corporate Voices is focusing, through its Learn and Earn initiative, on documenting and sharing best practice examples of how employers are supporting talent development and college completion among their workers. Through Learn and Earn talent development models, businesses take a leading role in investing in the value of their workforce while also helping people complete their postsecondary education and increase their value in the labor market.

Four new case studies that Corporate Voices has published in its Learn and Earn series document the partnerships that the Health Careers Collaborative, PG&E, Walmart and the Western Association of Food Chains have cultivated with community colleges and other education providers to train their workforces and make significant contributions to college completion.

A skilled and well-educated workforce is increasingly important for businesses to be able to compete internationally, and for workers to be able to progress in their careers. As Celia Swanson, Senior Vice President for Talent Development at Walmart U.S. said,

“While a college degree is not required [for many of our positions], we believe a college education is needed to prepare future leaders in our organization. Education is the single biggest advantage we can give workers in the 21st century.”

On a panel titled, “Investing in Skills Development and Education: Creating Opportunity” speakers also addressed how employers could play an important role in helping to integrate into the workforce the 4-6 million disadvantaged youth that are not in school or at work. Mike Wiggins, Executive Vice President for Human Resources at Southwire, described how his company supports 12 for Life, a cooperative education program that helps increase high school graduation rates in communities and helps at-risk youth have a better chance at work and life.

During a private White House briefing on June 16, senior White House staff addressed Corporate Voices’ partner companies, and emphasized the central role that workplace flexibility needs to play in harnessing the talent of our workforce and helping mothers, fathers, students, caregivers and mature workers balance the demands of work and life. Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, said at the briefing,

“With Baxter International estimating a return on investment of $1.73 for its work-life programs and with more than 2,500 employees at Ernst & Young using a flexible work arrangement, there is clearly demand in the marketplace for flexibility…If we want to win the future, if we want to be number 1, we have to invest in people. Flexibility is the best way [to do that]—it’s good for communities, families and the country.”

Highlighting Corporate Voices’ efforts to expand the use of flexibility in the business community through its national workplace flexibility campaign, Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff for the First Lady said,

“Your Statement of Support for Expanding Workplace Flexibility is so important for our national economic competitiveness. I challenge you to continue your national flexibility challenge to the business community.”

As part of leading the national workplace flexibility campaign to spread awareness about the positive business and employee benefits of flexibility, Corporate Voices has conducted focus group research on the use of flexibility across a variety of sectors, has documented success stories of flexibility best practices and has updated research on the business impacts of flexibility, both globally and domestically.

In a listening session on the final day with Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, Corporate Voices’ partner companies had the opportunity to share their experiences with their workforce training programs and their relationships with educational institutions. She said,

“It’s important for us to discuss the challenges in preparing students for high-wage, high-demand and high-growth job sectors. You have the corporate voice that you’re bringing to the table—and that’s very important.”

After hearing about the numerous partnerships that companies like H-E-B, Boeing and others are cultivating with colleges to train their workforces, Ms. Dann-Messier suggested that a viable and useful role for government would be to: help reduce barriers to industry-education partnerships, and to have the Department of Education play a central and active role, in partnership with Corporate Voices, to support the scalability of local successes by acting as a national convener of best practices. This approach could harness national networks and help to create state or regional strategies to support wide-scale change. We will report on progress on this convening in the weeks ahead.

The positive discussion about innovative business practices that are shaping the future workforce and workplace was encouraging, and Corporate Voices looks forward to building on these successes in the weeks and months ahead.

As the economy continues on its slow road to recovery, now is the time to focus the national dialogue on how to ensure robust, sustainable growth for our future prosperity. Recent news of slow economic growth during the first quarter of 2011 and news that  unemployment in May edged up to 9.1 percent have renewed a sense of urgency to find economic and political  solutions to stimulate growth and job creation.

As President Obama began the week meeting with his Jobs and Competitiveness Council in Durham, NC to discuss initiatives and policies to accelerate hiring across the nation, Corporate Voices will  hold its 2011 Annual Partners Meeting and 10th Anniversary Celebration  in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday June 15-17 to address what best-practice corporate leaders are doing to build a stronger and more competitive workforce.

Corporate Voices’ Annual Meeting comes at a time when many Americans think the business community should take an active part in these issues. Indeed, according to a recent poll commissioned by Workplace Options and conducted by Public Policy Polling in May, 56 percent of working Americans think that the business community has a responsibility to address challenges and issues that affect working families and communities.

Business leaders, policy makers and thought leaders will gather at Corporate Voices’ Annual Meeting to discuss and analyze innovative corporate policies and practices that are shaping the future workforce to help ensure a skilled talent pool–necessary for our future economic competitiveness.  Experts and representatives from leading businesses will address how Learn and Earn talent development models are helping businesses invest in the value of their workforce while also helping people complete their postsecondary education. In fact, Corporate Voices has just published four new case studies documenting the partnerships that the Health Careers Collaborative, PG&E, Walmart and the Western Association of Food Chains have cultivated with community colleges and other education providers to train their workforces and make significant contributions to postsecondary education completion.

Speakers at Corporate Voices’ Annual Meeting will also discuss how companies are creating new pathways to employment for young people and “untapped talent” on a panel titled, “Enterprising Pathways to Work.” This issue is increasingly important to the American public, as the Public Policy Poll indicated that 59 percent of Americans would buy from a business that did more to help disadvantaged young Americans.

The Annual Meeting will also feature a bi-partisan Congressional Briefing on Wednesday where Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA, 25) will give keynote remarks. The briefing will create an opportunity to address how public policy can support innovations in the private and non-profit sectors to build a stronger and more competitive workforce. It will also address how we can harness corporate best practices to support talent development and college completion.

At a private White House briefing on Thursday, White House staff will discuss critical issues to the nation’s future growth, such as workforce readiness, education and workplace flexibility.

We will provide blog coverage of topics discussed after the annual meeting, with analysis of how private sector innovations in workforce development and work-life balance are helping to improve the quality of life for working families, and how they are contributing to America’s sustainable recovery.

Corporate Voices’ 2011 Annual Meeting and 10th Anniversary Celebration was made possible by the following sponsors:

Gold
Baxter
CVS
Marriott

Silver
AOL, Inc.
Bright Horizons Family Solutions
Ernst & Young
Johnson & Johnson
KPMG

Bronze
H-E-B
The TJX Companies, Inc.

On Thursday, the Department of Commerce reported that the economy grew at a slower than expected rate in the first quarter of this year. GDP growth was only 1.8 percent, compared with 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. This slow down in economic growth reflected lower consumer spending, a decrease in federal government spending and a surge in imports.

Seizing on this news of anemic growth, both the administration and Congressional Republicans responded by announcing their plans to spur economic growth and job creation.

President Obama’s plan focuses on reform to create a 21st century regulatory system, and calls for a government-wide review to eliminate unnecessary, redundant and costly regulations, while at the same time protecting the health and safety of the American people.

This effort to reduce burdensome regulations and reporting requirements would save hundreds of millions of dollars annually for companies, and would eliminate millions of hours of paperwork and red-tape, according to White House officials. The scope of the reform is vast, and touches on regulations across departments and agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Energy and Health and Human Services. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are also undertaking efforts to identify and eliminate unnecessary regulatory requirements.

Cass Sunstein, the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said in a speech Thursday:

“I hope that this process might inaugurate a broader, less polarized, more evidence-based conversation about how we might promote economic growth and job creation while protecting the health and safety of the American people.”

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress proposed a plan that would also aim to ease regulatory burdens on businesses to spur productivity and job growth, however their plan emphasizes a lowering of personal and corporate income taxes. Their plan also focuses on strengthening patent protection, increasing domestic oil production and making large cuts in government spending.

The administration’s plan builds on President Obama’s State of the Union Address where he emphasized the need for ensuring the competitiveness of our economy. It also follows the Executive Order he issued in January ordering federal agencies to review existing regulations, with the goal of balancing the interests of protecting public health and safety with creating an environment conducive to business. The plan was also announced just before President Obama indicated he would nominate John Bryson, former chief executive and chairman of Edison International, to become the next U.S. Secretary of Commerce. This latest move further emphasizes the President’s commitment to fostering growth and job creation.

At a time when the national dialogue is focused on the need to stimulate growth in the economy, we should also consider other innovative ways the business community can take part in creating a more productive and competitive workforce, and how public policy can support businesses in doing so.

Engaging the business community in advancing policies and practices to strengthen our workforce and to improve the quality of life for working families is something that Corporate Voices for Working Families sees as critical to our ability to compete in a global economy.

Business practices like offering flexible work arrangements, supporting nursing mothers at work, educating low-income workers about tax benefits and investing in the training and education of workers all serve to make our workforce more competitive. Stephen M. Wing, president of Corporate Voices for Working Families, said:

“In an economy which has experienced dramatic demographic shifts over the past decade, work-life and talent development programs are becoming more about creating effective workplaces for the future and adopting successful business strategies.”

Updated research from Corporate Voices documents the positive business impact–both domestically and globally–of creating flexible workplaces, especially regarding improved recruitment, retention, reduced stress levels and employee productivity. And a recent Corporate Voices report illustrates the many innovative ways companies are partnering with community colleges and local governments to increase the training and skill base of their workers, and documents the imperative of doing so.

While documenting the business case for these kinds of programs is needed, businesses also need resources, practical guides and tools to adopt best practices. That is why Corporate Voices has published:

  • Healthy Babies Make Happy Moms, and Excellent Employees!” a workplace lactation toolkit to help employers comply with federal law and implement lactation programs to support hourly, nursing mothers at work
  • 2010 Employer Guide,” which provides companies with tools to help employees take advantage of tax credits and other benefits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Medicaid and other benefits
  • A series of Learn and Earn micro business case studies, which document best practice examples of how and why businesses partner with community colleges to help low-income young adults complete their postsecondary education.

As we continue to engage in the national dialogue about economic growth and job creation, let us also keep in mind how the business community can shape the competitiveness of tomorrow’s workforce and our future economy.

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