THE BLOG
01/23/2015 05:40 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2015

'Skilling Up' Americans for a Better Economic Future

During the State of the Union this week, President Barack Obama called for a renewal of economic opportunity in America. The Aspen Institute has partnered with the White House and national business organizations to recognize leading employers that provide expanded career opportunities for their workers; promote the widespread adoption of business policies and practices that increase economic opportunity; and cultivate education and workforce development efforts that support and advance these initiatives.

Read below to learn more about a new initiative called UpSkill America and what employers can do to increase the skill level of working Americans.

As the economy continues to improve, many employers are struggling to find skilled workers to fill the jobs they are creating. At the same time, tens of millions of frontline American workers in low-wage jobs could be trained to fill more skilled roles but lack a clear career path. These workers are only half as likely as their higher-skilled colleagues to receive career-relevant training.

We recognize the critical need to help frontline employees - from food service workers to daycare providers, from health care workers to construction laborers - obtain new skills. That's why we created UpSkill America, an employer-led movement to expand economic opportunity for American workers.

We need more American business leaders invest in effectively upskilling their workers. Leading the way to the middle class for more hardworking Americans is good for business and good for America.

UpSkill America's three-part mission is to:

  1. Recognize leading employers that provide expanded career opportunities for their workers
  2. Promote the widespread adoption of business policies and practices that increase economic opportunity
  3. Work to cultivate public-private education and workforce development efforts that support and advance these initiatives

Based on discussions with employers, we found that employer-provided training is a significant factor in promoting opportunities for frontline workers to learn more, contribute more, and earn more over time.

Here is what more businesses can do:

1. Increase investments in frontline workers to pave the way for job progression and better pay.

• Put money toward developing the "foundational skills" necessary for career advancement, including ESL or adult literacy programs offered in easily accessible formats.
• Shift training funds to equip frontline workers for success in higher-paid, supervisory and/or technical positions.

2. Encourage more frontline workers to take advantage of higher education benefits.

• Allow full-time, part-time, and hourly workers to be eligible for existing benefits.
• Reduce financial barriers by paying upfront cost of tuition rather than reimbursement, and cover mandatory registration fees.
• Guide workers to leverage their benefits by promoting prior learning assessments that help workers earn credit for what they have learned on the job, or directing workers to high-quality competency based programs.

3. Recognize and reward frontline workers' on-the-job training and skill mastery with promotions and incentives.

• Let workers know what on-the-job skills they need to progress into managerial and/or technical roles, and create financial incentives that encourage employees to acquire them.
• As possible, allow employees flexibility in their schedules to attend classes or training that they need to progress.
• Guide workers to online tools that allow them to build, grow, and demonstrate practical skills to enhance their career--at any time and from anywhere.
• Connect workplace learning to education benefits by making workers aware of the ability to earn college credit for their learning so they can efficiently earn credential that can qualify them for new positions.
• Create an easy-to-understand picture of potential career paths and the education or training needed to get there.

4. Work with other employers and partners so that frontline workers' learning and training leads to marketable and industry-recognized credentials that can generate higher pay.

• Recognize and award national credentials or badges that companies value and reward with higher wages.
• Create partnerships with two- and four-year colleges that enable your workers to earn credit towards a certificate or degree while continuing to work.
• Work in partnership with employers of all sizes to develop training and career programs.

5. Create new or expanded apprenticeship and other work-based learning programs to complement other training investments.

• Align a new apprenticeship with the skills that are most in demand in the market and that leads to higher wage opportunities upon completion.
• Offer registered apprenticeships to your frontline workers in order for them to advance to more senior-level roles.
• Partner with education and training organizations to offer internships, co-ops, and other work experiences for students and job seekers.

6. Offer scheduling flexibility or stability--and related supports--to frontline workers that allow them to succeed at training, higher education, and career advancement.

• Provide schedules in advance and provide stable and consistent hours for hourly or frontline workers.
• Implement a policy where workers can request work hours that allow them to take classes and attend training sessions.
• Connect workers with mentoring and advising that can help them make wise decisions training or education and career advancement.