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Upskill Initiative to Provide Low-wage Workers with Education and Training


If you have been following the progress of President Obama's Upskill Initiative, you know that last Friday was a big day, the White House Upskill Summit. 150 employers, labor leaders, foundations, non-profits, educators, tech innovators, and corporations, 100 of whom were business leaders, were invited to the White House based on their having made commitments to upskilling America's workforce.  You can read the fact sheet about this at, the April 2015 White House Report at, and the list of what the companies and labor unions have committed to at

Although most of these commitments are to apprenticeship and higher education programs, a few address the basic skills and English language needs of low-wage workers, and many provide interesting career pathways opportunities. Below are a few examples that caught my attention.

Program managers who are interested in workplace basic skills and linking workforce preparation basic skills with opportunities for further training, apprenticeship, and tuition-paid college programs might want to look through the whole list to see what companies have committed resources to their low-wage employees.

As always, your thoughts about this initiative would be welcome here.

David J. Rosen

Program Management CoP Moderator

BEST Corp., Hospitality Training Center, a UNITE HERE/AFL-CIO affiliated labor management partnership in Boston, Massachusetts. There are 27 signatory hotel employers who comprise the Greater Boston Hospitality Employers (GBHE Local 26). The partnership will launch a Department of Labor Registered Pre-Apprenticeship Program, creating a pathway for housekeeping apprentices to become skilled journeymen. With training and job placements, apprenticeships will earn $16.50 per hour, and will increase to $20.00 per hour after three months. Apprentices will also receive a comprehensive benefit package that includes health care benefits, dental, pre-paid legal and a defined variable pension. The initial pilot will start with 12-15 apprenticeship but will scale up to several hundred. As a result of completing the program, workers will be eligible for promotions and extra shifts at family sustaining wages.

In 2015, Cengage Learning with its Career Online High School is launching new commitments with their partners, The McDonald’s Corporation and Walmart Stores Inc., to offer career certificate training and Career Online High School to all eligible U.S. employees. McDonald’s plans to reach at least 5,000 employees with a single elective course, and will make this resource available to its franchise stores, building on a previous partnership with ed2go that brought these resources to its corporate employees. The goal is that 500 successful completers will move on to complete the entire COHS diploma program. Cengage has also entered into an expanded partnership with Walmart to offer its Instructor-led online training programs to U.S. Walmart employees beginning in May. This program will offer employees a catalog of over 350 career building and skill development courses, led by an online instructor that will assist employees in expanding their range of skills. In addition, 25 courses have been mapped to specific job competencies for managers. Cengage hopes to reach 500 new employees with this expanded career development opportunity.

Over the next 12 months, Chipotle is taking several steps to invest in frontline workers, including by promoting its tuition reimbursement program company-wide through its company benefits website as well as during market meetings in the field in conjunction with benefits and wellness fairs, regional and patch meetings, and new employee orientation; partnering with national universities that will offer scholarships, reduce tuition expenses, provide fee waived application and flexible scheduling to make higher education more affordable and accessible to its employees; providing scholarships to its currentemployees studying at select universities as a commitment to their education; and implementing tablets in restaurants to help workers more efficiently learn the necessary skills to advance to the next step in their career.

District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund is a labor management partnership in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey affiliated with District 1199C, National Union of Hospital andHealth Care Employees, AFSCME. Over the next two years, the partnership will upskill 5,000 incumbent workers affiliated with District 1199C as well as job seekers and special populations not covered by the union, including individuals with criminal histories, immigrants, people with disabilities, and the long-term unemployed through several initiatives. The partnership will implement new apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs in a variety of occupations including community health care, advanced home care, medical coding, and behavioral health for a total of 50 apprentices from the ranks of employed and unemployed workers. The partnership will also begin a new TANF training project for 80 participants that will integrate basic academic/literacy, technical, work-readiness and other occupational skills training within the nurse aide and childcare career pathways. Participants completing this program will be able to realize full-time employment and long-term career growth. In addition, the fund will expand work-based learning opportunities that lead to entrance in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, technical and postsecondary programs, and employment for 450 in-school and out-of-school youth. Finally, the Fund and union will also organize meetings at 100 healthcare facilities which employ over 10,000 workers in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey represented by District 1199C to discuss new opportunities for career advancement and upskilling the workforce, including traditional classroom instruction, online learning opportunities, or earn and learn programs such as apprenticeships and on-the-job training.

McDonald’s has launched a new education strategy, “Archways to Opportunity,” designed to meet the nearly 750,000 people employed by McDonald’s or its independent franchisees at their point of educational need by helping these individuals upskill their capabilities and increase their probability of success. This overarching education strategy helps individuals learn English-language skills, get a high school diploma, or complete an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree, and also includes resources and support, like tuition assistance and advising services, to help remove the many barriers that workers face when pursuing educational goals.

UNITE HERE Local 23 Training Fund, a newly established labor-management partnership, will commit to building a collaboration in DC with an adult literacy partner and other not-for-profit training organizations to create a program that integrates literacy and culinary skills for members, enabling those with low level literacy and numeracy to build their skills and move up a career ladder