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An Update on Upskilling in America

September 20, 2021
“With the rapid expansion of digital transformation, it is a critical time to be providing opportunities for workers to grow and advance.”
Jaime Fall Director, UpSkill America -The Aspen Institute

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Company Upskilling Program Announcements

The biggest upskilling news this summer came from the retail sector, with Amazon, Target, and Walmart each making significant announcements.
Target Launching Debt-Free Education Assistance Program to More Than 340,000 Frontline Team Members
Target has teamed with Guild Education to offer employer-funded college degree and certification programs for its 340,000 employees. The program is available to all part-time and full-time employees working in Target stores, distribution centers, and headquarters locations in the U.S. From their first day of work, workers will be eligible for debt-free assistance for select undergraduate degrees, certificates, and certifications from 250 business-aligned programs at more than 40 schools, colleges, and universities with no out-of-pocket costs. Read more.
Walmart Makes Live Better U College Program Free
Walmart (a supporter of UpSkill America), meanwhile, made its Live Better U (LBU) program free for its 1.5 million part-time and full-time Walmart and Sam’s Club employees. Walmart now pays 100% of college tuition and books for associates in the program, which used to cost participating associates $1 a day. Walmart reports their investment in training and development programs will equal nearly $1 billion over the next five years. See below for more information on the results of the Live Better U program to date. Read more.
Amazon Expands Career Choice Program for Frontline Workers
Amazon also made news with its announcement to expand the company’s education and skills training benefits to 750,000 U.S. employees through its Career Choice program. Amazon will fund college tuition, as well as high school diplomas, GED’s, and English as a Second Language (ESL) proficiency certifications for its front-line employees who have been at the company for at least three months. Amazon is also adding three new upskilling programs to provide employees with the opportunity to learn skills in data center maintenance and technology, IT, and user experience and research design. Amazon reports their education and training investments will total $1.2 billion by 2025. Read more.
Waste Management Offers No Cost College Degrees
Retail wasn’t the only sector expanding education and training benefits. Waste Management’s nearly 36,000 full-time employees nationwide will have access to more than 170 fully funded programs including undergraduate and graduate degree programs, high school completion programs, and technology and business certificate programs. The company is emphasizing business, technology, science, and mathematics — programs where it has internal skill needs. Waste Management will also expand the program to benefit-eligible spouses and children. Read more.
New Collaborative to Help Get People Back to The Workforce
A group of organizations created a new collaborative to help people receive upskilling and return to the workforce. The collaboration includes Accenture (a supporter of UpSkill America), Better Up, The Mom Project, Pluralsight, Guild, Orderboard, Pipeline, and SkyHive. Companies in the program identify their talent needs, and candidates who are ready to grow their skills and find a new role enroll in the FutureofU program. Selected participants begin upskilling while receiving pay and benefits while enrolled full-time in the program, and FutureofU participants begin their new role full-time. Read more.
What did we miss?
If your company created new or expanded existing education and training benefits, we would love to learn about it and share the news. Email me at
UpSkill America News
We’ve been busy at UpSkill America as well, working with our partners in the Upskill America Network to find solutions to some of the upskilling challenges employers and workers face right now.
Insights From Businesses: How Digital Transformation Is Impacting Work and Skill Needs
This summer, my colleagues from the research team of the Economic Opportunities program and I have been speaking with employers to learn:
  • In what ways businesses are adopting technology in the workplace, and if COVID-19 accelerated these efforts.
  • How digital transformation is impacting skill needs for frontline workers.
  • What approaches businesses are taking to support development of digital skills for frontline workers.
On September 22, we’ll be joining our partners from Strada Education Network and (funders of UpSkill America) to host a virtual event to examine what we have learned from employers and what can and should be done to help workers build the skills they need to advance in the workplace. More information on the event including registration can be found here.
This is the third part of a yearlong study looking at how COVID-19 and heightened attention to racial inequality affected businesses, their operations, skill needs, hiring and HR practices, and education and training programs. You can see previously released products from this study here.
Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills and Equity Workplan
Earlier this year, a group of leading employers joined forces to form the Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills and Equity, a peer network of employers from across industry sectors who are working together to ensure the country’s workers, learners, and communities have the digital access and digital skills essential for thriving in a post-COVID digital economy. UpSkill America, in partnership with Digital US, is working with this network to leverage its collective reach and deep understanding of employer and community needs, share information, and accelerate widespread scaling of high quality, employer recognized resources, training, and effective practices to build digital resilience. We still have room for a few additional companies to join the Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills and Equity. Click here for more information, and please reach out to me if you would like more details.
The Latino Digital Skills Divide: Current Landscape and Call to Action
The Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program and the Economic Opportunities Program have launched a new research project that aims to improve understanding of the obstacles and opportunities that Latinos face to better integrate them into the digital economy. Through the project, funded by, our programs are engaging with firms that employ Latinos across the retail, construction, hospitality, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors to identify the digital skills that these industries need in a changing economy. The project will also bring to light promising business practices and ecosystem approaches to developing the digital skills of the Latino workforce and, in turn, increase productivity and profitability that benefits both the local and national economy. Read the announcement.