How scalability and corporate strategy alignment can make employer education programs more equitable

As this country’s economy and workforce recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are still struggling to hire high-quality workers for in-demand jobs. One solution, which I covered in an earlier post, is to expand talent pools and reassess our traditional, and at times limiting, ways we think of formal skills training.

Another method is providing education or training programs to upskill workers and close skill gaps. I use the term “programs” here purposefully. Compared to mere “benefits,” which can be offered blanketly and broadly to workers without much thought, education programs should be designed, executed, and continually measured with great intent. Two ways employers can ensure this is to be mindful about a program’s scalability and its alignment with business needs.


Greater scale, greater access

Programs that skill talent after they land a job aren’t new. Our businesses are filled with executives who come through programs similar to this. But those programs have been reserved for “high potential” talent coming from preferred schools or preferred backgrounds. But these classes should be available to workers at all levels. That’s because workers in these programs gain their most durable and impactful skills, like executive presence, presentation skills, storytelling, business modelling, and leadership. If access to this type of curriculum wasn’t so limited, an abundant talent pool would be created for the rest of the organization. 

The good news is that these development opportunities are scalable and L&D is well-rehearsed, in certain segments, at building skilling motions that tightly follow hiring activity. Capital One, for example, uses its Capital One Development Academy program to hire graduates of non-tech programs and immediately enroll them into boot camps to upskill them into tech roles. Through this six-month program, the company pairs mentorship and skill development to expand its tech talent pipeline to be more diverse and inclusive.  

In 2020, Microsoft, Humana, and other partners banded together with the city of Louisville, KY, to found FutureLou. Their goal was to address the data-fluent talent shortage in the city by pairing Louisville residents with over 20 education and training providers. In its first year, FutureLou provided robust education programs in business intelligence and tech skills for both pre-hire and post-hire offerings. Through the program, more than 700 credentials were earned in 2020. Participants are 49% women, 30% self-identify as minorities, and 41% never attained a bachelor’s degree prior to engaging. Because of this program, tech providers can secure adoption-ready workers for their platforms, while employers can secure talent for their initiatives in a highly collaborative approach.

Through local community colleges, Amazon has built an entire network of AWS education programs, which helped companies drive the adoption of their products through formal learning channels. And when Adecco acquired upskilling provider General Assembly for $412.5 million, it also appeared to be a play at bringing hiring and upskilling closer together. The outplacement and HR consulting service Lee Hecht Harrison was part of General Assembly’s portfolio, further supporting the notion that the acquisition was an effort to ensure that talent has the skills needed for the Future of Work.


Advancing corporate strategies with upskilling

Companies should think about talent as a continuum. By leveraging L&D, content providers, and higher education partners, companies can provide additional frameworks that complement the skills employees can learn on the job. Talent Acquisition and Talent Development teams must collaborate to find and hire talented degree seekers and college “stop-outs.” The teams must identify potential and provide them with the training and stackable degree programs they need to further grow into their roles, This is especially important as universities struggle to respond to the pandemic. This will result in a program that is more relevant to business needs, and an experience that is more personalized for learners, since it focuses only on the skills needed to develop. 

While many organizations are focusing on tech roles alone, some savvy and engaged companies have already redesigned their corporate education programs to align with other strategic priorities, including their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Chipotle, for example, expanded its tuition reimbursement program in 2016 to include Paul Quinn College. By having the country’s first urban work college and one of the oldest HBCUs, Chipotle is improving the way it supports its diverse workforce. 

Since launching the revamped program, 8,000 employees have enrolled in classes, with participants being 7.5 times more likely to move into management. By lifting frontline talent into high-demand management roles and changing the way it hires and trains workers altogether, Chipotle builds diversity into its future leadership ranks. 


Weathering future storms

By expanding the accessibility of training programs to more workers and designing them in a way so that these programs help advance key business moves, companies give themselves the tools to not only weather this pandemic, but have greater success in the long run. In the same way that companies that are more gender and racially diverse outperform their peers in innovation, there will soon be a clear competitive advantage for companies that think progressively about hiring and upskilling their workforce.

Embracing this shift will guide us to a more sustainable hiring solution — one that opens doors for millions of new workers and creates a stronger, more equitable workforce in the process. And while it’s always great when such programs can help solve key business challenges, when it comes to Talent Development teams in particular, there is no greater measure of success than the internal mobility for all workers.

Note: This is the second excerpt from “Don’t Hire Skills—Hire to Skill,” published on April 30, 2021 in TD Magazine. Read the first excerpt here and the full article here

Written by Matthew Daniel
Principal, Employer Solutions

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