10/20/2011 04:02 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2011

National Work and Family Month: Changing the Work-Life Conversation

As we celebrate National Work and Family Month this October, working families across America are struggling to balance the competing demands of work, family, care giving and, in many cases, pursuing their education. This struggle is made all the more challenging against the backdrop of anemic economic growth, rising tuition and health care costs, and high unemployment. Work-life conflict is no longer an issue confined solely to working mothers, but how a diverse group of working mothers and fathers, caregivers, nursing mothers and students balance the dual demands of work and life. This is now an everyday concern for working families and businesses in America.

In this context, therefore, employer programs that support work-life balance and an employee's educational and career goals are critical to ensuring job satisfaction, increasing recruitment and engagement, and building a strong future talent pipeline. Programs like these are also increasingly important for today's working learners, who find themselves juggling not only work and family, but also the challenges of working while pursuing higher education. The future competitiveness of our economy, and the economic security of working families, depends, in part, on the training and education of these working learners to meet the talent demands of employers.

That is why Corporate Voices for Working Families, a national nonprofit business membership organization that creates and advances corporate and public policy solutions that help improve the lives of working families, has in recent years focused on identifying and encouraging best practice workforce readiness and post-secondary completion programs. Our corporate partners recognize that by creating talent development models that invest in the skills and education of their workforce, often in partnership with community colleges, employers are playing a unique role in helping working learners complete their college credentials, thereby strengthening the quality of the labor force.

For example, Learn and Earn talent development models, such as those led by KPMG, CVS Caremark, UPS and Walmart, as well as those created by small businesses such as Crest Cadillac and Applied Scientific Instrumentation, are first-rate examples of innovative collaborations that are uniting industry and education to train workers for the jobs of the future. Corporate Voices has developed these micro-business cases as part of its Learn and Earn and post-secondary education work, which seeks to identify, promote and 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 working.

Corporate Voices' Learn and Earn series also documents successful partnerships, such as those led by Toyota and the Health Careers Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati, which train workers in STEM fields such as health care and automotive technology. Given that STEM jobs are projected to grow rapidly over the next decade, partnerships that prepare workers for industry needs in this sector are critical to the ability of a large segment of the workforce to take part in any future economic recovery.

And, more broadly speaking, as the majority of the jobs of the future will require at least some post-secondary education, Learn and Earn partnerships will increasingly define successful business practices of the future. As more and more businesses understand that providing supports for work-life balance and education also help meet bottom-line business needs, encouragement for Learn and Earn and other workforce readiness programs will grow, helping to scale local successes into a nationwide trend. This, in turn, will help ensure that America leads the world in college completion rates and enhance our ability to compete in a global economy.

So, as we celebrate National Work and Family month, let's keep in mind how the work-life conversation is now changing to include the needs that working learners face in today's economy, and how the employer community can play a positive role to meet those needs, in a way that supports their profitability and their long-term sustainability.