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Employers Find Ways to Help Workers Gain New Skills Amid Pandemic

More than 20 large U.S. companies have announced layoffs since the pandemic began. Some are offering furloughed workers a phone app to connect them with job training and coaching services. (Adobe Stock)
More than 20 large U.S. companies have announced layoffs since the pandemic began. Some are offering furloughed workers a phone app to connect them with job training and coaching services. (Adobe Stock)
August 6, 2020

By Jeff Ryder for WorkingNation.com
Broadcast version by Nadia Ramlagan for Public News Service
Reporting for WorkingNation.com-Tennessee News Service

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- An ambitious new initiative is working to help the recently unemployed gain the training that they need for jobs and careers in higher-paying, in-demand fields in the near future.

It's also helping displaced workers identify new roles now with employers and sectors that are still hiring now even in the midst of the COVID-19 jobs crisis.

Next Chapter is a joint effort between Guild Education, some of the nation's largest companies, and leading academic institutions. Guild says the core of the initiative is the collaboration "between employers adversely impacted by the crisis, and health care, supply chain, and tech employers that are hiring. Employers who join the platform can provide laid-off or furloughed workers with access to reskilling programs, as well as hands-on coaching as they navigate toward growing industries, such as tech, health care, customer success, and the skilled trades."

Transitioning Workers to Better Jobs

Five-year-old Guild is an education technology company that helps other companies set up education programs that make it possible for their employees to earn degrees or gain new skills by using the employer's tuition benefits.
Walmart is one of the companies that it works with, administering its Live Better U "$1 a Day" college program, now available to all 1.4 million employees. Another company, Chipotle, used Guild to create a program for its workers that covers 100 percent of the tuition for 75 separate business and tech degrees.

Allison Salisbury, senior vice president of Employer Solutions at Guild, says Guild had been thinking about the Next Chapter initiative long before COVID-19 hit, focusing on changes in the types of skills employers are looking for in workers as automation and AI continue to change the workforce.

Salisbury says as Guild was shaping the program they took into account that many of Guild's employer partners were already downsizing because of automation and was cognizant that there would eventually be another recession. The pandemic accelerated those changes and has revealed how fragile our workforce systems are, she says, but notes that it has created an opportunity for action and employers are rising to the challenge.

"We really focus on how we can offer a modern outplacement product that allows our employers to transition their workers, not just to any new job outside of the company, but to a better job." she says. "Next Chapter is really about offering very high-quality career coaching and navigation that allow workers to understand their options-either go directly to a new job or to go through what we call an out-filling pathway, where they gain new skills and credentials through our learning marketplace, and then help them navigate to a new job on the other end."

Salisbury says the last few months have been a whirlwind as businesses try to do well by their employees, as well as making certain they're investing forward in their workforce, in this radically changed business climate.

"It's sort of an unprecedented moment that we're face-to-face. It's both a challenge we have in front of us when it comes to preparing our workforce for the future, and also what a window of opportunity there is for a pretty radical reimagining of how our workforce and education systems work today."

Next Chapter is focused on shorter-term training opportunities, lasting three to four months. Corporate partners include Walmart, TTEC, Gainsight, Paschall Truck Lines and Unity Technologies. Education providers involved in Next Chapter include Southern New Hampshire State University, Kaplan Higher Education and Brandman University, among others.

Finding a Job Now, While Discovering a Career Path

Salisbury calls Next Chapter a mobile-first platform with a digital interface which allows for career assessment and navigation. "It uses preference data that we collect from the workers that really helps them explore and select career paths that might align with their skills and their interests. But it also allows them to think about if they were to gain new skills and credentials, what doors might that open?"

She says that Next Chapter is not just an app. "Guild's deep belief - especially for lower opportunity populations - is technology will not get you all the way there in terms of making a really big decision about your future. That's where our coaching comes in. Our career and navigation coaching pairs with the app to really help workers understand their options and navigate their next step."

"We're very focused on lower opportunity populations, oftentimes even if the training that they're pursuing is functionally free or debt free because their employer is supporting them through outplacement, sometimes free isn't free enough."

"People have bills, they have dependents. And so alongside our full-time hiring partners like Walmart and like Chipotle we also have a network of temporary jobs through organizations like Instacart that allow our working learners to make money while they're going through reskilling before they land that full time job."

Working with Employers to Offer Free or Low-Cost Education

Next Chapter joins a lineup of educational opportunities offered by Guild and its partner employers aimed at expanding opportunities for the nation's workforce. As with Walmart and Chipotle, the employee-students primarily get access to education and training opportunities through Guild's nonprofit university and training provider network, everything from trades to associate and bachelor's degrees to master's degrees.

Walmart employee Jacob Gernetzke, 31, is an area manager in central Indiana. He signed up for Live Better U when it began in 2018 and is currently enrolled in Nebraska's Bellevue University. He is on track to get his degree in business management and leadership.

"I had been working with a mentor and then when they announced this program, I had hesitation at first, like it's too good to be true. It can't just be a dollar a day and they pay for your books. But even with that little bit of hesitation it still seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I knew I had to jump on it," says Gernetzk.

And even though he's just a quarter of the way through his college experience, he says he's noticed a change for the better: "I think it's made me a lot more well-rounded. I gained a lot of experience. I've learned a lot of things already through school. As far as my professional life, I think I've grown a lot as an employee, as a leader. When I started this, I wasn't in management, but I was told by multiple peers and multiple supervisors that I had taken on a leadership role within myself on the shop floor. And a lot of that helped me with my promotion."

Guild provides personalized coaching from day one and throughout the associate's educational journey. Gernetzke says the personal attention has been invaluable to his experience.

"Guild has been amazing every step of the way, from College Start through my university program, anything I've ever needed or concerns I've had they've been right there. I had an injury in December, and I had to go on leave of absence for a little while and ended up missing one term. They were great helping guide me through that and checking in on me through the way."

Gernetzke's long-term goal is to stay with Walmart and continue to move up through the ranks. But through the program, he's also discovered the type of manager he'd like to become.

"When this is all done, I would really like to be that kind of a manager within Walmart that can help grow people and lead and develop people for the next step. That really interests me. I would like to keep moving up within the company long-term. But I think one of the most important things to me is developing other people and helping them grow."


This story was originally reported and written by Jeff Ryder for WorkingNation.com.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN