Just last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s annual conference titled “Talent Forward – 18.” The all-day program was packed with attendees – so much so that there was standing room only in a ballroom-sized venue at the U.S. Chamber’s Headquarters in Washington DC. I wanted to share a few highlights of the day.

1) There are three distinct languages in the lexicon of workforce and jobs: the employer, the educator, and the job seeker. All of them use different dialects. And this is indeed a Rosetta Stone moment … to create new language synergies.

2) To that end, the US Chamber Foundation, with support from the Lumina Foundation, is creating a new data infrastructure to bring together the right tools, the right language, and the right job. With clearer signals, a job data exchange will be forthcoming.

3) There were corporate innovations in workforce development. Just a few of the companies who presented include:

McDonald’s– Clearly understands that their employees often are first-time workers, and as a company, McDonald’s has a priority to assist employees to stay and move up the ladder or to move on to new opportunities.

McDonald’s wants employees at their first job to understand customer service, and to listen, smile, be able to work under pressure, work alongside coworkers, be resourceful, and problem-solve. Their multi-tiered program entitled “Archways to Opportunity” – include some of the following:

  • English under the Arches: a program particularly targeted for employees who speak English as a second language.
  • High school equivalency online, paid for by the company, with 453 graduates—and growing
  • College tuition assistance: all employees have access to $2500. The company has partnered with colleges and universities around the country.
  • Academic advising and career services for employees and their family members.
  • Guidance to other career paths.

Cognizant– a Fortune 200 company has invested $100 million in new programs geared toward education in the digital economy. They have three tiers to their programs:

  • To train in digital literacy: to support and advise in growth with Cognizant volunteer coaches, and to “On Ramp” and place youth into jobs.
  • They have successfully graduated 1200 youth through this Pathway—first doing this with Maricopa Community College, and Arizona State University
  • This program has been so successful, clients are interested in following suit, and Cognizant is building this as a revenue model for duplication.

Walmart – in 2015, Walmart invested $2.7 billion in Walmart Academies – a combination of wage adjustments and training for their own employees. These are on-site training facilities, where first-time managers receive on-the-job practical, paid training.

Indeed, employees can learn while they earn. They are supervised and get comfortable with new technologies and management systems.

To date, Walmart has trained 250,000 employees, with a goal of training 200,000 more a year. Their takeaways: stores perform better, their employees have greater confidence, and there is a greater sense of pride and loyalty to the store. In the future, they want to link this training program to gain college credit, and they want to teach skills that allow their employees to have portable skills that will be with them in their future employment.

Indeed, if you are a company looking to expand your workforce training, there are a few pointers for getting started including:

  • be open to non-traditional sources of learning
  • be willing to stand behind it
  • be clear on what skills you are looking for
  • determine who are the right partners
  • consider how to replicate
  • identify the right education institutions, with reach
  • leadership committed to the initiative and to carry message forward

It’s heartening to learn all that Corporate America is doing for their teams, and that the US Chamber is leading a charge to inform and educate the business communities on the changing needs of the economy. As the executive from Pearson suggested, the next generations will most likely live to be 150 years old. If they spend 20 years learning, and 50 years in retirement, that leaves 80 years in the workforce for jobs that we don’t even know exist. Interestingly, one of the top job skills that crosses all sectors is that of a Librarian. Librarians need to know how to research, how to pivot and find information, and how to adapt to new knowledge. Never a dull moment!

I am thrilled that the corporate community is building robust programs with their tax credits, that they understand the skills learned in teaching to work, and that work is changing rapidly in the digital economy. What measures can you take in your company to Teach to Work? Please share!

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