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!

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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.

Corporate Voices for Working Families has joined Silicon Valley technical start up company, LearnUp, and the California Community College system to make a commitment at CGI America – an annual event focused on finding solutions that promote economic recovery in the United States. Our partnership announcement is a new commitment that aligns with the mission of CGI America “To develop solutions that address unemployment, prepare Americans to be competitive global citizens, and rethink current models that shape our economy and society.”

The partnership between Corporate Voices, the California Community College system and LearnUp unveils an innovative approach to address the nation’s troubling skills gap. Through LearnUp’s online job skills training platform, national employers are able to share training content with job seekers, including over 100,000 students at community colleges across California. The platform will enable students to gain the skills employers expect and require in today’s dynamic economy, track their progress on a “skills resume”, and connect directly with companies for job opportunities. Already, some of the nation’s leading employers, including Staples, Safeway, Whole Foods, Gap and KPMG—a Corporate Voices partner company–are using LearnUp’s tools.

“LearnUp has the potential to not only bridge the skills gap for employers, but to also offer content guidance to our community college partners across the country,” said John Wilcox, Executive Director of Corporate Voices. “Our members look to us for best-practice business solutions, and we think this partnership will help serve their most pressing talent needs.”

Corporate Voices’ expertise derives from a decade of research on how the business community can address the nation’s talent crisis and create a globally competitive workforce. We have long been a leader in identifying and promoting innovative “Learn and Earn” partnerships across the country that are doing just that-enabling individuals to continue working while pursuing and completing their postsecondary education. Our Learn and Earn micro business case study series documents a range of these best-practice partnerships across all sectors, often between businesses and community colleges. And, in a forthcoming research report, A Talent Development Solution: Exploring Business Drivers and Returns in Learn and Earn Partnerships, we explore diverse models companies are using to meet their bottom-line talent needs and to support employees working to advance their education and improve their skills. The report’s Early Findings and key recommendations were released last month.

“There’s a tremendous skills gap in the country,”Alexis Ringwald, co-founder and CEO of LearnUp recently said in a recent Forbes article. “Technology is changing so quickly it’s hard for a curriculum to adapt.”

“Working with LearnUp and Corporate Voices gives us greater visibility into the evolving skill sets and needs of a specific industry sector,” said Van Ton-Quinlivan, Vice Chancellor of Workforce and Economic Development of California’s Community Colleges. “LearnUp offers a fresh and innovative approach to how business and education can work together to close the skills gap,” Ton-Quinlivan said.

Creating these partnerships helps to bridge the skills gap for employers, while encouraging and/or supporting current and future employees’ attainment of postsecondary credentials with labor market value – the most significant benchmark for achieving economic stability. Corporate Voices is expanding this partnership to reach more businesses across the country. If you would like more information on joining the partnership please email me at pwalton@corporatevoices.org.

Total Rewards 2012Corporate Voices for Working Families’ member companies tell us that what “keeps them up at night” is how to retain top talent and ensure the future workforce, particularly hourly employees. Corporate Voices’ recent report, Across the Great Divide, reveals that more than half (53%) of business leaders say their companies face a major challenge in recruiting non-managerial employees with skills, training and education their company needs.

Connecting the strengths and needs of talent development with the visibility and influence of workplace flexibility can help solve companies’ recruiting and retention challenges. A commitment to align business strategies across the total reward spectrum, from talent development to recruitment and company benefits, can synergize mutual goals of growing and retaining a skilled workforce while having a positive impact on individuals and communities.

Last week, I was in Orlandopresenting at the World@Work 2012 Total Rewards Conference to discuss how businesses are merging workplace flexibility and benefits with talent development strategies meeting mutually reinforcing goals. I moderated a panel with Bright Horizons Family Solutions and Ryan, Inc. who described their use of flexibility to improve recruitment, retention while increasing productivity.  They each described flexibility as a key component of their best-practice work-life and talent development programs.

Partnering with an educational publishing company, Bright Horizons developed an online Child Development Associate credential which provides a high tech, e-learning venue for its teachers to obtain the mandatory credential. By using these learned skills in their everyday work, teachers receive a nationally recognized credential which can be articulated into college credit. Employees see the value of their education as they use the classroom skills learned in their everyday work environment and Bright Horizons gains the important distinction of having one of the most educated staffs in the childcare sector.

Ryan, Inc. offers flexible options such as increased maternity and paternity leave, military leave and flexible work schedules. As a result, they have seen retention rates among employees increase from 80% to 94% in the span of three years. These options not only allow employees to pursue their education, but have also resulted in greater job satisfaction and better client service.

Peggy Walton, my colleague at Corporate Voices, recently led a panel on a similar topic at Working Mother Media’s National Conference Supporting Hourly Workers which honors the Best Companies for Hourly Workers as determined by Working Mother and Corporate Voices. Employers spoke on how they are using accredited internal training as a way to jump start educational attainment of hourly employees who might not consider themselves “college material,” but are encouraged once they have credits on a transcript.

Peggy said during her panel that, “Partnerships should be forged, wherever possible, that leverage strengths of institutions served by companies and education/training providers, such as community colleges, to serve hourly employees.”

Through Corporate Voices’ Learn and Earn case study series, we identify how businesses are using flexibility and other employee benefits, such as tuition assistance, career navigation, etc, as drivers to enable working learners to have the latitude needed to both work and continue their postsecondary education. These Learn & Earn models help businesses retain talent while building and enhancing the skills of their workforce. By expanding and successfully implementing flexibility, businesses can engage a powerful means to improve the financial and human capital results.

Merging talent development with flexibility is just one Lean and Earn model that Corporate Voices has documented. In our upcoming research paper, to be released this summer, A Talent Development Solution: Exploring Business Drivers and Returns in Learn and Earn Partnerships, we explore the various Learn and Earn models best practice companies are using to meet their bottom line. The Early Findings of the document was released earlier this month at our annual meeting.

Only by strategically connecting business investments across departments, such as human resources, benefits, recruitment and talent development, can companies make such significant impacts on the educational attainment and skill levels of current and future employees.

For the past several years, Corporate Voices for Working Families has identified and promoted innovative Learn and Earn partnerships across the country. These partnerships between business and education providers help bridge the skills gap for employers while encouraging and supporting current and future employees’ attainment of postsecondary credentials with labor market value – the most significant benchmark for achieving economic sustainability.

Not surprisingly, employers and educators are not the only entities in the Learn and Earn conversation.  There are multiple stakeholders committed to seeing our country “Reclaim the American Dream” as expressed in the recent report by the American Association of Community Colleges, a dream that begins with adequate and appropriate skills for success.  Private and corporate foundations also play a pivotal role in goal-setting, research, replication and implementation of programs of study aimed at dramatically boosting the number of young Americans completing a postsecondary credential in the next decade or so.

Next week, at Corporate Voices’ 2012 Annual Meeting, I will moderate a panel of influential foundation leaders will share their perspective on the importance of postsecondary completion. This dialogue will focus on the broad economic and workforce implications of postsecondary completion and its importance to the business sector. Moreover, it will serve as a ‘call to action’ to a broad spectrum of employers with an important message:  Foundations have laid substantial resources on the table to research and promote programs of study that support talent development.  It is now time for more employers to ‘get in the game,’ by committing to deep partnerships in these programs as well. The discussion will feature Dr. James Applegate, Vice President of the Lumina Foundation; Ellen Glazerman, President of the Ernst & Young Foundation; and Dr. Parminder Jassal, Program Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

At the session, Corporate Voices will also release early findings from our comprehensive research on Learn and Earn best practices nationwide. The report, A Talent Development Solution: Exploring Business Drivers and Returns in Learn and Earn Partnerships, will provide employers with the practical knowledge and hands-on tools to develop partnerships of their own. Also documented will be the positive returns on investment companies can realize by investing in Learn and Earn initiatives. The benefits of successful programs redound not only to individual employees, but also to leading companies that are able to address a wide range of business imperatives by investing in the skills of their workforce.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success Strategy also focuses on developing more postsecondary graduates to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. They create and finance programs throughout the educational pipeline – from cradle to retirement.

The Lumina Foundation is the nation’s largest private foundation whose mission is to “expand access and success in education beyond high school, particularly among adults, first-generation college going students, low-income students and students of color.” Lumina recognizes that over 60 percent of tomorrow’s jobs will require at least some form of higher education.

The Ernst & Young Foundation’s main focus is to provide support to higher education institutions, particularly for people pursuing a professional services career in business.

Corporate Voices is grateful to each of these organizations for the thought leadership they have brought to the broader field of workforce development and postsecondary completion.

At a time when national leaders are looking to America’s more than 1,200 community colleges to help fuel an economic transformation, a new report from our colleagues at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) spotlights both great opportunities and serious challenges ahead.

Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future details community college “student success rates that are unacceptably low, employment preparation that is inadequately connected to job-market needs, and disconnections in transitions between high schools, community colleges, and baccalaureate institutions.” Considering the national imperative to add 20 million postsecondary educated workers over the next 15 years, these are serious indictments for higher education institutions tasked with preparing a globally competitive workforce and ones to which employers look for the next generation of talent.

Corporate Voices for Working Families commends AACC and its 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges for recommending a new vision for America’s community colleges.  Our corporate partners share the commitment to “Reclaiming the American Dream”. To be sure, U.S. employers have much at stake in the success of community colleges and the students they are educating for the workforce of tomorrow. Moreover, employers can—indeed, must—be a part of the solution, by helping to ensure that college coursework aligns with the knowledge and skills they require of their new employees, and by helping working students juggle the demands of school and their job.

As part of its “Learn and Earn” micro business case study series, Corporate Voices has documented a range of best practice talent development partnerships between businesses and education providers – frequently community colleges.  These Learn and Earn models help bridge the skills gap for employers, while encouraging and/or supporting current and future employees’ attainment of postsecondary credentials with labor market value – the most significant benchmark for achieving economic sustainability. Learn and Earn partnerships also provide real returns for these leading companies.

For example, AREVA, a global company that provides services, fuel, and engineering support to nuclear plants worldwide, partners withCentralVirginiaCommunity College on an Employee Training Program that produces graduates with an Associate Degree in Nuclear Support Technology.  These highly skilled, high-wage positions make a significant contribution to the centralVirginia regional economy, and supply a high-quality, entry-level talent pipeline to the employer in a fairly rural region.

In another Learn and Earn model, Bright Horizons Family Solutions LLC, the world’s leading provider of employer-sponsored child care, early education, and work/life solutions, created a blended e-training program to help teachers acquire a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. Through the company’s partnership withNorthamptonCommunity College inPennsylvania, Bright Horizons’ 18,000 employees around the country can enroll in the college’s online associate degree program, and have 9 academic credits honored from the CDA toward an associate degree. For Bright Horizons, the program is a win-win: Not only has it increased the quality of early child care services provided at its centers, but the credential is also viewed as a major contributing factor in reducing the company’s employee turnover rate by more than 50 percent.

Education-and-business partnerships like these create a model for ways in which community colleges can meet student success targets in connection with their regional labor markets.  Corporate Voices’ publication, Business and Community College Partnerships: A Blueprint, is a tool that helps guide the formation of these partnerships.  It is available at no charge on our website.

Corporate Voices agrees with AACC President and CEO, Walter Bumphus, who acknowledges that individual colleges have demonstrated success, but said, “We haven’t done a [great] job of replicating these practices across the country.”  Corporate Voices and its employer partners stand ready to join community colleges to replicate best practices like Learn and Earn, and support this initiative to “Reclaim the American Dream.”