New research from Corporate Voices for Working Families documents the promise
of Learn and Earn partnerships 

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In an election season dominated by widespread worry over persistent joblessness and an anemic economic recovery, a new research report documents a promising path for America’s employers and workers.

A Talent Development Solution: Exploring Business Drivers and Returns in Learn and Earn Partnerships, examines the potential of “Learn and Earn” models—an approach that connects employers and education providers to give companies the skilled workers they need to compete, while helping individual Americans earn a postsecondary degree, marketable credentials, and a brighter economic future. The report is published by Corporate Voices for Working Families, a nonpartisan business organization that advances innovative policy solutions to the challenges facing working families.

Based on extensive research, A Talent Development Solution explores the business impact of employer-education partnerships, offering examples from some of the nation’s leading corporations, including IBM, McDonald’s, and Verizon Wireless. Through employer tuition assistance, accredited corporate training, flexible scheduling and other critical supports, these partnerships enable employees to continue their education while working to support themselves or a family. The report profiles 22 best-practice companies ranging in size, sector, location and type of education partner—most often, a single community college or a regional consortium of education providers who best understand their region’s labor market and can customize academic curriculum to meet emerging workforce needs.

It also documents how these programs are earning positive returns on investment for the companies supporting them. Beyond the primary impact—building a better-skilled talent pool—employers report these education partnerships yield improved employee retention, higher productivity, a more diverse workforce, and an enhanced reputation in the communities they serve.

“The primary lesson from our research is that Learn and Earn partnerships work,” said John Wilcox, Executive Director of Corporate Voices.  “They help American employers address a national skills gap that hampers business productivity and hurts our ability to compete. And these programs work for workers—many of them lower-skilled young adults whose life prospects will be sharply limited without a postsecondary degree or credential.”  Indeed, well-documented changes in the global economy are fueling demand for a more highly educated workforce.  An estimated two-thirds of job openings in the next decade will require some level of postsecondary education.  At our current pace of college completion, the nation will fall short of that mark by at least 3 million degrees.

A Talent Development Solution offers practical, concrete action steps for business leaders committed to ensuring their employees have the skills their jobs demand, while supporting the higher-education and career aspirations of the workers on whom their own success surely depends. In fact, U.S. companies already spend enormous resources—an estimated $485 billion annually—on formal and informal education and training. Employers have a vested interest in supporting solutions to their own talent needs and in building a workforce that is second to none in the 21st-century global economy.  In light of their successful record, Learn and Earn programs should be widely embraced and eagerly adopted by American employers, argues Corporate Voices.

The full report, including detailed case studies on each of the partnerships documented, is available here. An executive summary is available as well.

Corporate Voices’ Learn and Earn work is generously supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Follow Corporate Voices on Facebook and Twitter – @corporatevoices and the report’s hashtag #TalentDevelopmentSolution!

The current edition of Community College Journal features an article on mutually beneficial partnerships between community colleges and businesses. “Working With Industry,” by Ellen Ullman, relates how building these partnerships within communities can aid community colleges not only with funding, but also the development and implementation of programs of study that result in students completing and obtaining credentials with labor market value.

In the article, I shared key foundational steps for establishing these partnerships in a way that benefits businesses. These steps include the need to research regional economic imperatives, set clear goals between partners, and have a system in place to measure those goals. These essential elements to building successful business-community college partnerships in addition to others are described in more detail in Corporate Voices’ publication, Business and Community College Partnerships: A Blueprint – as highlighted in the article.

Businesses and community colleges each have strengths to contribute to these partnerships which Corporate Voices identifies as Learn and Earn models. Business partners can provide their real-time needs to academia and validate learning outcomes, often connected to industry-recognized credentials. This leads to improved job placement rates and greater visibility for the program. Community colleges, typically, are deeply connected to the regional economy and have the flexibility needed to expand curricula and programs as the needs of the region and its employers develop.

Through a Learn and Earn partnership, each member is able to meet several goals. Businesses are able to create a talent pipeline through which current and future employees receive 21st century workplace education and training. This leads to improved retention rates among employees, improved skill and education levels, and a boost in productivity. Community colleges receive validated curriculum, increased revenue, and increased ability to meet their student completion goals.

Corporate Voices is documenting these partnerships in a new report, to be released later this month, entitled A Talent Development Solution: Exploring Business Drivers and Returns in Learn and Earn Partnership. The report will describe Learn and Earn models as they help to bridge the skills gap for employers while encouraging and/or supporting current and future employees’ attainment of postsecondary credentials. Thus far Corporate Voices has documented over twenty such partnerships in our micro-case study series.

As Ms. Ullman succinctly states in her article, “The decision to work with industry seems like a no-brainer. Local businesses and corporations have a vested interest in seeing students succeed. And community colleges have a reputation for tailoring curricula to local needs.”  Corporate Voices sees the reasons to work with community colleges as equally compelling and encourages best practice companies to become Learn and Earn leaders.

To read the full Community College Journal article, go to “Working With Industry.”
To view Early Findings of the Learn and Earn report, go to A Talent Development Solution.

While many young Americans describe the receipt of a high school diploma as a moment in which all their hard work and commitment has finally ‘paid off’, their slightly older peers will be there to remind them that this ‘paid’ feeling is not to last.

Recently, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University surveyed 544 high school graduates who are not enrolled full time in college. Fully 73 percent of these young Americans feel that a college degree is a necessary step in securing a successful future, only half said they will enroll in college in the near future.

It is assumed that those who do not go on to pursue a college education will try their luck in the workforce. Yet the survey noted that only 37 percent of people who graduated between 2006 and 2008 currently have a full-time job. Of those who graduated only a few years later in what the study dubbed the ‘recession era’ (2009-2011), a mere 16 percent had found full-time employment. Another 22 percent were working part time, but most wanted full-time work.

The main reason given by those who did not seek a college education was economics. In fact, 80 percent of respondents cited an economic barrier to going to college full time. Whether it is due to the high tuition, the need to work to support themselves, or the responsibility of caring for family, many who desire college simply cannot afford it.

The Rutgers survey noted that many chose to enter the workforce instead of going to college because most of their parents had done the same. However, only one in ten surveyed felt that they were “extremely well prepared by their high school to succeed in their job after graduation”. Furthermore, less than half of high school graduates without a college education thought that they would have more financial success than their parents.

In a sobering outlook on their future, barely half of the youth surveyed believed they would find a job that could be considered the start of their career within the “next few years”. Similarly, close to the same percent believed that if this job were to be found, it would come without health insurance.

As a result of the formidable unemployment concern in a nation considered the richest in the world, less than half of 18-24 year old high school graduates not enrolled full time in college believe that the near future holds for them a job that would allow them “to lead a comfortable life.”

At Corporate Voices for Working Families, much of our work is focused on identifying and promoting employer-driven solutions to the challenges facing young adults like those surveyed here.  Our own research on this population is summarized in our 2011 report, A Profile of Young Workers (16-26) in Low-Income Families. The study highlighted the financial and educational shortcomings associated with employees from low-income families, and contrasts their experience with that of their peers from higher-income households.

Similarly, our work with the New Options Project, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, aims to align the hiring needs of employers with new sources of untapped talent—including young people lacking a high school diploma, but eager to find meaningful career opportunities that match their skills. Recently, the New Options Project launched a micro-site called Connecting Youth and Business to aid employers in creating employment and educational opportunities for underserved or “opportunity” youth. And our Learn & Earn initiative and related work around postsecondary completion, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to encourage innovative partnerships between employers, community colleges and higher education institutions to help today’s “working learners”—often low-income young adults—complete their education while holding down a job.  By advancing policy solutions like these, we are working with progressive business leaders to improve the lives of too many young people who have been left behind in today’s challenging labor market.