The Walt Disney Company announced this week that it is now offering to pay full tuition for its hourly workers to earn a college degree, complete a high school diploma, or learn a new skill. In a blog post on the company’s website, Jayne Parker, senior executive vice president & chief HR officer, called the “Disney Aspire” initiative “the most comprehensive program of its kind,” adding that it would cover 100 percent of tuition upfront and reimburse employees for application fees and required books and materials. The program covers a wide range of educational endeavors, she noted:
The program is designed for working adults and offers our Cast Members and employees maximum choice and flexibility with their studies, regardless of whether the program and classes they choose are tied to their current role at Disney. Disney Aspire includes a network of schools that offer a wide array of disciplines and diplomas—including college and master’s degrees, high school equivalency, English-language learning, vocational training and more.
More than 80,000 Disney employees are eligible to participate in the program, which the company is implementing in partnership with Guild Education, an online adult education platform that helps companies provide tuition assistance and other education benefits. Other US employers with large numbers of hourly workers have partnered with Guild to provide tuition benefits, including the fast food chains Chipotle and Taco Bell, the retail giant Walmart, and the home improvement retailer Lowe’s. McDonald’s expanded its education benefit, a partnership with Cengage Learning, earlier this year, while Chick-fil-A increased the number of scholarships it was awarding though its longstanding annual program.
The commercial airline industry is currently facing a shortage of pilots unprecedented in recent decades. As Jon Evans observed at TechCrunch last week, the number of active pilots in the US has fallen from over 800,000 in 1980 to just 600,000 in 2017, a quarter of whom are student pilots who are unqualified to operate commercial flights. And as Evans discovered by taking up pilot training himself, part of the reason behind that shortage is that the training is “complicated, and difficult, and stressful”; many would-be pilots get frustrated and give up long before they make it to the big leagues.
Another barrier to entry, however, is expense. The reason so many commercial pilots have military backgrounds is that the military is about the only place pilots can log the thousands of hours of flight time they need to become certifiable commercial pilots without having to pay for it themselves. With the US airline industry expecting to face a shortage of 3,500 commercial pilots by 2020, Travel Weekly’s Robert Silk takes note of a new vocational training program American Airlines is launching in an effort to build a bigger pipeline to the cockpit:
The Cadet Academy will train participants for up to 18 months at American Airlines’ partner flight schools in Dallas, the Fort Lauderdale area, Memphis or Phoenix. Students will follow what American calls “a carefully choreographed flight-training track, where you will learn the skills to become a safe and competent aviator.”
Those who finish the program will have the opportunity to interview at [American’s wholly owned regional carriers] Envoy, Piedmont and PSA. Program applicants need not have experience in the cockpit. Participants will have the option of receiving financing from Discover Student Loans. The company said it would offer loans at competitive rates, either variable or fixed, that have no fees. Payments can be deferred for up to three-and-a-half years.
American’s new program is in keeping with a trend among employers facing current or prospective shortages of talent in their industries: Rather than wait for governments or educational institutions to produce more qualified candidates, they are taking matters into their own hands. The most notable companies pursuing these self-starting workforce development strategies are tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook, but other companies are also investing in vocational training on the blue-collar side of the labor market.
The Home Depot, the US’s largest home improvement retailer, announced last Thursday that it would donate $50 million to a decade-long project to train 20,000 Americans, including veterans, returning military service members, high school students, and disadvantaged youth, as construction workers, USA Today reported. The donation is part of the company’s corporate social responsibility efforts, but there’s also something in it for Home Depot:
Sales at the nation’s largest home-improvement retailer are dampened if contractors and partners can’t find enough workers to undertake projects. Sales to plumbers and other tradespeople comprise 40% of the company’s revenue, [Home Depot CEO Craig] Menear says. The initiative, he says, also builds on the company’s donation of $250 million through 2020 to provide housing to veterans. Soldiers and veterans will make up about 15,000 of the 20,000 construction workers turned out by the training program.
They could make a noticeable dent in a big problem. There were 158,000 job openings in construction in December, up from 140,000 a year earlier. Eighty-four percent of contractors surveyed by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Wells Fargo in December cited availability of workers and cost as their most significant problems last year, along with rising materials prices.
The announcement comes at a time when many large US employers are taking high-profile steps toward developing the workforce of the future. Lowe’s, the main competitor to Home Depot, recently announced a partnership with Guild Education to help its employees complete training and apprenticeship programs for skilled trades such as carpentry, plumbing, and appliance repair—fields in which the labor market is expected to face a gap of 500,000 workers by 2026.
Home improvement retailer Lowe’s has announced a partnership with Guild Education to offer up-front tuition payments for employees to enroll in training programs for skilled trades such as carpentry, plumbing, and appliance repair, Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of demand for these types of services is growing faster than the supply of talent, with a gap of around 500,000 skilled tradespeople projected by 2026, Eisenberg notes.
The program, which will launch with a four-city pilot in March, will offer employees up to $2,500 to enroll in pre-apprenticeships for those crafts. During that period, ranging from six to ten months, they will have access to a field mentor; afterward, they will have the opportunity to be placed in full-time paid apprenticeships within Lowes’ nationwide contractor network. The company’s Chief HR Officer Jennifer Weber told Eisenberg more about the program, which is called Track to the Trades:
“The trade profession is a high-demand, high-opportunity field for the next generation workforce, and today, there is a massive unmet need,” She said. … “With Track to the Trades, we are providing unique career alternatives for our associates while also building a pipeline for the next generation of skilled trade workers.”
In its 2017 Young Workers Index, PwC surveyed the economies of the 35 OECD member countries, creating an indexed ranking of the countries’ expected productivity from younger workers. Switzerland, Iceland, and Germany, were the top three, while the US finished 12th and the UK landed in 18th: both moved up two spots from last year’s rankings.
Germany’s result is probably the most impressive given that it also has the fourth-highest GDP in the world. The US has the world’s largest GDP while the UK is fifth in the measure of economic productivity. France, which stands sixth in GDP, was ranked 29th in the Young Workers Index while Canada, with the world’s 10th-largest GDP, was ranked sixth.
The study also looked into the effects automation will have on job prospects for workers in this age cohort. It found that 39 percent of jobs for US workers aged 15-24 are at risk of being lost to automation, compared to 24 percent in Japan, 28 percent in the UK, and 38 percent in Germany.
One of the metrics tracked in the Young Workers Index, the NEET (not in education, employment or training) rate, is identified as a key metric for overcoming the risks of automation and driving growth. The study claims that if all 35 of the OECD countries lowered their NEET to that of Germany (9.3 percent), it would lead to $1.2 trillion in GDP growth. For the United States, it predicts a $428 billion, or 2.2 percent, rise in GDP by lowering NEET from 15.8 percent down to Germany’s level.
Earlier this year, we took a look at some US subsidiaries of German companies that were embracing the apprenticeship model of vocational training that has proven famously successful in their parents’ home country. As American employers continue to struggle to bridge skills gaps in a tight talent market, more of them are looking to the German model as a potential solution, with the help of the German-American Chamber of Commerce, Elizabeth Schulze reports for the Wall Street Journal:
“You always hear apprenticeship is for losers, it’s a dead-end road,” said Mario Kratsch,skills initiative director at the Illinois Consortium for Advanced Technical Training, or ICATT, a Chicago-based apprenticeship group that cooperates with the German-American Chamber of Commerce and is trying to replicate the German model in the U.S. …
With ICATT’s help, the German model is gaining traction among small and medium U.S. businesses, like metals manufacturer Scot Forge. The Illinois-based company worked with ICATT to institute an apprenticeship program that uses rigorous German certification standards to address its shortage of skilled workers. Apprentices rotate between the shop floor at Scot Forge’s metals forging facilities and classrooms at local colleges. The company pays their tuition and wages. Apprentices who successfully finish the three-year program graduate with an associate degree, debt-free, and a guaranteed job at the company for two years.
European-style apprenticeships are also being used outside their traditional domain of heavy industry to fill white-collar office jobs, the Hechinger Report’s Matt Krupnick writes at US News and World Report:
The White House is piloting an initiative to allow US employers and training programs to partner with universities to teach students marketable skills, and allow students to receive federal financial aid for such programs, the Atlantic’s Mikhail Zinshteyn explains:
Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships (EQUIP), as the program is being called, is starting small: Just eight colleges and their non-academic collaborators will take part in the experiment and will educate up to 1,500 students. The program is also not ready to run immediately: The accreditors of the colleges and universities need to approve their plans, meaning they won’t debut until fall or spring of the upcoming school year.
Still, the effort may shed new light on how watchdogs can hold colleges accountable for the workforce success of their students. Unlike current evaluations that measure how well colleges educate their students, EQUIP will measure programs by the jobs students receive and their earnings. Administration officials are framing the trial program as a new tool to address the growing gap in educational attainment and wages in the U.S.
However, Shahien Nasiripour at Bloomberg hears from some experts who question whether the initiative will work: