We’ve heard it for years from the nation’s employers—in CEOs’ speeches and op-ed pieces, in companies’ annual reports, even in advertisements: “At XYZ Corp., our single greatest asset is our people.”
Far too often, of course, such words are merely that: words … high-sounding slogans uttered only to burnish a company’s brand.
Fortunately, a growing number of America’s companies truly practice what they preach. Not only do they recognize the immense value inherent in the talent of their employees, they’re working actively and creatively to foster that talent.
That commitment—to support workers’ efforts to deepen their knowledge and sharpen their skills through education and training—is increasingly important. In fact, it is critical to our nation’s future.
More and more of today’s business owners point to the stagnating effects of a growing skills gap. They bemoan the lack of qualified candidates for the increasingly demanding jobs they must fill—jobs that require more high-tech skills and higher-level thinking than ever.
Certainly, those concerns are valid. The skills gap is real, and a high school diploma—for decades the ticket to a steady job and a middle-class lifestyle—just doesn’t cut it these days. And let’s face it: It never will again. Advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, big-data analytics, instantaneous global communication—all these advances, plus cultural and technological innovations we can now only dream of, make higher-level learning an absolute necessity.
Simply put, the road to economic success and security now merely begins with high school graduation. Economists tell us that more than 95 percent of the jobs created since the recession ended in 2011 have gone to those who have earned a credential beyond the high school diploma.
That trend shows no sign of changing, and America’s employers are taking note. Each year, they spend $170 billion on formal education and training programs for their workers. These efforts take many forms, including tuition-assistance programs, on-site classes, apprenticeship and mentoring programs, and educational partnerships with colleges and universities.
Supporting these talent-development efforts is inherently the right thing to do, of course. But it’s not only the workers who benefit. Companies that invest in educating their workers are reaping significant, tangible returns on those investments. Better-educated workers are more productive, more motivated, and more likely to remain with a company that has aided their individual progress. They are also in better health and more likely to be involved in their communities.
In short, to borrow another corporate buzzword, company-supported education and training programs are a “win-win.”
This issue of Focus magazine is designed to highlight a few of those victories. It puts the spotlight on three companies that fully embrace the task of boosting employees’ talent—and it does so from the perspective of the workers themselves.
For example, you’ll meet Abigail Caraballo, a 25-year-old native of Puerto Rico who’s worked for 10 years at a Wegmans supermarket near Rochester, N.Y. Wegmans’ Work-Scholarship Connection program helped her graduate from high school a year early and paid much of the tuition for her associate degree in criminal justice.
You’ll also read about Lisa Villarreal of Whitehouse, Texas, a network operations representative with Cigna, the health insurance giant. Villarreal, 53, took advantage of the company’s Education Reimbursement Program to earn two degrees as a mid-career professional.
Finally, you’ll meet Teresa Riggins Smith, 34, a Detroit resident who escaped public assistance—and found her true calling as a pharmacy technician—when she was recruited for an apprentice- ship program sponsored by the CVS drugstore chain. The program changed Smith’s life—and thousands more as well. Last year, CVS employed 4,600 apprenticeship-trained pharmacy techs and managers in 12 states.
Each of these student stories – and all of the material in this issue of Focus – has one purpose: to highlight employers’ efforts to boost workers’ talent through education and training programs.
We at Lumina are proud to bring attention to this work, and we hope these stories inspire other companies to follow suit. When they do, they’ll do more than just talk. They’ll empower their workers, they’ll improve the bottom line, and most important, they’ll help the nation build the talent it needs to succeed.
Jamie P. Merisotis
President and CEO