At a time when America’s economic recovery is anemic and when millions are still without work, every job is precious, and the urgency of a better-educated and skilled workforce is real. Indeed, research has shown that by 2018, the U.S. will fall short of the number of workers with the postsecondary education and credentials needed to fill the jobs of the future.

That is why Corporate Voices for Working Families is pleased to announce today that it has been awarded a two-year, $1.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build on its successful workforce readiness initiative to continue leading business engagement in increasing postsecondary education attainment for low-income young adults.

Specifically, Corporate Voices will identify, document and catalyze innovative and scalable partnerships between community colleges and employers that enable low-income workers to achieve valuable postsecondary credentials. These “Learn and Earn” partnerships are especially critical today, when more than 75 percent of college students must hold down a job while going to school. Through flexible work options, tuition assistance and meaningful partnerships with community colleges, employers have a unique opportunity to become “empowerment points” to help young learners complete their education, build their human capital and become more competitive for the jobs of the future.

Stephen M. Wing, President of Corporate Voices, said:

We are gratified that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given Corporate Voices this opportunity to continue to expand our work to identify and highlight working models, build awareness and profile programs that are succeeding in moving low-income young workers into the business workplace…Entry-level low-income workers are often trapped–blocked from pursuing traditional education paths because they have to work and blocked from career goals because they do not have postsecondary certifications.

In October, Corporate Voices released a report, in conjunction with the White House Summit on Community Colleges, titled From an ‘Ill-Prepared’ to a Well-Prepared Workforce: The Shared Imperatives for Employers and Community Colleges to Collaborate. The report highlighted the imperative for partnerships between community colleges and employers to enhance workforce readiness skills and to increase U.S. college completion rates.

Corporate Voices has also published a series of micro business cases that spotlight “Learn and Earn” successes– businesses that are making significant contributions to their workers’ education through progressive talent development practices and through partnerships with community colleges. Highlighted businesses include: AOL, Verizon Wireless, CVS Caremark, Expeditors, Bison Gear and Engineering and Georgia Power.

If America is to “win the future” and meet the challenges of a competitive global economy, all sectors of society, especially businesses and community colleges– have a critical role to play in helping to ensure a strong talent pipeline for America’s future prosperity.