August 2011


This post was contributed by Donna Klein, Executive Chair and CEO of Corporate Voices for Working Families. It was originally published in the Huffington Post.

As anxiety about sluggish economic growth mounts and as calls for job creation become more urgent across the country, policymakers are looking to regional solutions to offer insight into national plans for a way forward.

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a field hearing in Greenville, South Carolina last week titled, “Reviving Our Economy: The Role of Higher Education in Job Growth and Development.” Educators, business leaders and public officials gathered at the hearing to discuss the challenges facing the regional economy, and the innovative partnerships colleges have created with businesses to meet industry needs and to strengthen the quality of the local workforce.

The hearing was held at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), and was very timely. The regional unemployment rate in the Carolinas remains around 10 percent, which is well above the national average. People are struggling to find jobs, even while businesses face challenges finding local workers with the appropriate skills they need, especially in the manufacturing and high-tech sectors.

Seeing the national issue of the skills gap exemplified on a local level is significant for me, as a new resident to South Carolina, having spent over twenty years in the Washington, D.C. metro area overseeing diversity and work-life initiatives for Marriott International, Inc., and then founding Corporate Voices for Working Families. Corporate Voices is a national, nonprofit business membership organization that creates and advances innovative corporate and policy solutions that help improve the lives of working families. It has identified the skills gap as one of the most pressing issues facing business competitiveness and the economic security of working families today.

According to “Across the Great Divide,” a report Corporate Voices published earlier this year in partnership with Civic Enterprises, more than half (53 percent) of business leaders say their companies face a challenge recruiting employees with the education and training their company needs.

Through its Learn and Earn initiative, Corporate Voices seeks to close this skills gap, which threatens our nation’s future economic prosperity. This initiative identifies, promotes and encourages innovative partnerships between employers and higher education institutions that help people complete their postsecondary education.

Partnerships like these are critical to strengthening the quality of our workforce. As James Barker, President of Clemson University said during the hearing,

“Today, more than ever, higher education needs to work closely with government and private industry to ensure that our graduates are well-prepared for the immediate job market and for their future roles as leaders of our companies and our communities.”

Two specific examples of partnerships between education and industry discussed at the hearing were Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research and its collaboration with BMW and Michelin in South Carolina, as well as Forsyth Tech’s collaboration with the National Association of Manufacturers in North Carolina.

These partnerships and what they result in—a better prepared workforce and educational systems that are responsive to the needs of employers—echo the findings of Corporate Voices’ series of Learn and Earn micro business cases. Partnerships like the Health Careers Collaborative, and those supported by Bison Gear and Engineering Corporation, the Western Association of Food Chains and UPS show that across industries and companies of different sizes, employers and colleges are discovering that collaborations to help workers complete their education while working make business sense and help workers maintain a competitive edge in the economy.

This is even more critical at a time when so many working learners—often low-income young adults—face significant barriers to completing their higher education. Challenges balancing work and school, along with the rising costs of college tuition, make educational and work-life supports a powerful part of employer efforts to strengthen their talent pipeline, while helping workers achieve economic security.

If we are to meet President Obama’s challenge of having America lead the world in college completion by 2020, we need to cast a spotlight on successful partnerships like those in the Carolinas and those documented in Corporate Voices’ Learn and Earn series. Scaling and replicating these partnerships across the nation will help close the skills gap, and put us on a firmer footing for long-term economic growth and development.

Donna Klein is the Executive Chair and CEO of Corporate Voices for Working Families. She currently lives in St. Helena Island, South Carolina.

Obama Administration proposes new jobs initiative for veterans, including tax credits for employers.

Overshadowed by the recent heated negotiations over America’s debt-ceiling and deficit reduction measures, over the past weeks a litany of reports announcing critical economic indicators have painted a grim picture of our fragile economic recovery. The Commerce Department reported that GDP growth in the second quarter of 2011 was only 1.3 percent, while first quarter growth was revised down to 0.4 percent. At the same time, consumer spending—which fuels over half of our economic growth—fell in June for the first time in two years. The July jobs report, released Friday, showed lackluster growth in the jobs market, reporting that only 117,000 jobs were created last month. This is a fraction of the number needed on a monthly basis to significantly reduce unemployment to pre-recession levels.

Amidst these alarming indicators, the Obama administration is swiftly pivoting to the key issue of job creation. At the Washington Navy Yard on Friday, President Obama announced a series of measures to spur job creation for America’s veterans—a segment of the population that faces unique challenges re-integrating into civilian life and the workforce. There are approximately one million unemployed veterans today, with the jobless rate for post 9/11 veterans at 13.3 percent, higher than the national average. Matt Flavin, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and current Director of the White House Veterans, Military Families and Wounded Warrior Task Force said in a blog post last week,

“We have an obligation to make sure our veterans are able to navigate this difficult labor market and success in the civilian workforce.”

That is why President Obama announced his targeted plan to help ensure that veterans have a place in the workforce, and that employers understand the value of hiring veterans. The plan builds on Joining Forces, the national initiative to support military families spearheaded by the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden, and proposes the following business incentives:

  • A new Returning Heroes Tax Credit for 2012 and 2013 for hiring unemployed veterans, with a maximum of $2,400 for every unemployed veteran hired and a maximum of $4,800 for hiring a veteran  who has been unemployed for six months or longer; and
  • A two-year extension of a Wounded Warrior Tax Credit that gives businesses a credit for hiring veterans with service-related disabilities (maximum of $4,800 per veteran), and increases the credit for firms that hire veterans with service-related disabilities who have been unemployed for six months or longer (maximum credit of $9,600). This credit currently exists within the framework of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program.

A number of Corporate Voices’ partner companies, including AlliedBarton, Bank of America, Citi, CVS Caremark, TJX and Verizon Wireless already have existing hiring initiatives for military spouses and veterans. Best practice companies such as these serve as models for the wider business community and are testimony to the value of hiring highly skilled veterans.

As President Obama announced this jobs initiative, he said,

“Today we’re saying to our veterans: You fought for us, and now we’re fighting for you—for the jobs and the opportunities that you need to keep your families strong, and to keep America competitive in the 21st century.”

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a recipient of Corporate Voices’ 2010 Best of Congress Award, is sponsoring a similar bill that has companion legislation in the House, signaling that this initiative has bi-partisan support. Corporate Voices will continue to monitor progress on this hiring initiative for veterans and what it may mean for your business.

If you are a corporate partner of Corporate Voices and have a hiring initiative for veterans but were not mentioned in this post, please let us know so we can highlight your leadership in the future.

Read more about President Obama’s jobs initiative for veterans, including a challenge to the private sector and government-wide efforts to improve career training and education for veterans transitioning back into civilian life on the White House blog.

This post was originally published on the MomsRising blog by Stephen M. Wing, president of Corporate Voices for Working Families, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week.

As we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, 170 countries will be taking part in activities to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding to maternal and infant health around the world. This year’s theme is “Talk to Me! Breastfeeding—a 3 D Experience,” and focuses on using communication to break down barriers and to encourage sectors outside the health care field to participate in the breastfeeding dialogue. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has specifically chosen to engage youth as a valuable ally in increasing intergenerational communication about breastfeeding.

Another valuable ally in this public health movement, however, is the business community. Building on this year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Week, a critical way to enhance communication across sectors and create awareness for breastfeeding is to engage employers. Communicating with and engaging the business community is especially important given that the workplace is a significant barrier to breastfeeding for women, especially those in hourly, low-wage positions.

We know that 77 percent of mothers in retail or lower-wage jobs give up breastfeeding after returning to work, despite its health and business benefits. This is because continuing to breastfeed at work is so difficult– especially for those who don’t have access to a clean or private place to pump milk, scheduling flexibility to do so, or supportive managers and colleagues.

Health care reform was intended to address this problem last year– for the first time, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to require employers to provide nonexempt nursing mothers with reasonable break time and a sanitary, private space, that is not a bathroom, to pump milk at work.

The rationale for this amendment was based on the benefits of breastfeeding to working families and businesses. Given that mothers with infants are one of the largest and fastest-growing segments in the workforce, particularly in lower-wage industries, helping to support nursing mothers at work is a priority for the economic security and health of mothers, infants and working families in America.

We also know that there is a business case for breastfeeding. Best practice employers have long known that work-life supports like lactation programs improve bottom-line results. Businesses that support nursing mothers have realized cost savings of $3 for every $1 invested in breastfeeding support. Through improved recruitment, retention, productivity and lower health care costs, supporting nursing mothers at work makes good business sense.

As a human resources consultant at PNC Financial Services Group, one of Corporate Voices’ corporate partners, stated, “At PNC, providing breastfeeding support has a positive business impact through an increase in prospective qualified applicants, employee productivity, retention and reduced absenteeism. It also is simply the right thing to do. From corporate policies to administration by managers, PNC’s culture advocates for and accommodates a working mother’s need for a lactation room.”

While the new federal lactation law spotlighted an important health issue and helped remove the workplace as a barrier to breastfeeding, there is still much to be done to educate businesses about lactation programs and workplace support for nursing mothers. This is because even after passage of the law, only 28 percent of businesses have lactation rooms. And, according to a survey commissioned by Workplace Options and conducted by Public Policy Polling, 57 percent of people are not aware of the new federal workplace lactation law.

It is therefore evident that to help ensure successful implementation of the law, we need to help make tools and resources available to employers to educate them about the benefits of breastfeeding, and about how to set up successful lactation programs.

That is why Corporate Voices for Working Families released an updated version of its online workplace lactation toolkit earlier this year. This toolkit offers free, high-quality and up-to-date guides to help employers comply with the new lactation law and establish lactation programs. Titled “Healthy Babies Make Happy Moms and Excellent Employees,” the toolkit includes:

  • Employer talking points to help facilitate a conversation about breastfeeding
  • Lactation room checklists and worksheets
  • Breastfeeding resources fliers
  • Breastfeeding tips and techniques in 21 languages
  • Break Room and Lactation Room posters
  • Success stories, and more.

Features of the toolkit, like the Employer Talking Points, will support the communications theme of World Breastfeeding Week by helping to facilitate a workplace friendly conversation about breastfeeding between employers and employees. Recognizing there may be a stigma attached to starting a conversation about a very personal issue at work, these talking points encourage supervisors to break the ice, offering words of encouragement and letting expecting mothers know that lactation support will exist for them.

By making these tools and resources available to employers, Corporate Voices is working to close the gap in lactation support, and help working families and businesses become healthier and more competitive in the 21st century. Hopefully best practices in American might encourage wider lactation support for mothers around the world.

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