Meeting the challenge of recruiting, developing and upskilling talent for today's most difficult to fill occupations takes strong partnerships and a willingness to share knowledge. By giving people more access to flexible educational opportunities, businesses and education partners help learners build better lives, improve career mobility, and empower them to follow their dreams. The end result is more graduates, increased skill attainment, higher enrollments, and some well deserved recognition for a job innovatively done.

Early in 2018, the labor department announced that the United States had achieved a 3.9% unemployment rate, the lowest since 2000. While this was a tremendous win for the economy as a whole, it represented a challenge for employers looking to fill open jobs.

"Practical education is the most powerful enabler of the sort of social and economic mobility that can transform families and communities. We believe that Penn Foster is well-positioned to be a crucial part of the solution to help close America's skill and equity gaps," said Deval Patrick, a Managing Director at Bain Capital Double Impact, which acquired Penn Foster earlier this year.

New and Established Partnerships

Building robust talent pipelines is something no organization can do alone. New partnerships help students earn high school diplomas and workers build essential skills.

In February, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Apprenticeship and Training Trust partnered with Penn Foster. The partnership is helping those new to construction and those already working in the trade to prepare to enter the ABC of Wisconsin apprenticeship program.

The Dallas Workforce Board launched a mobile app to give job-seekers and workers in the retail industry access to training in critical soft skills. "This partnership is about tapping the potential of technology to create a continuum of opportunities that will help workers advance in our region's increasingly dynamic economy, " said Laurie Larrea, president of Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas. Penn Foster is supporting Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas' broader initiative to empower frontline workers by offering free retail training programs to address pressing skills gaps in high-demand fields. The Retail Skills Digital Academy is offered through the NRF Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the National Retail Federation.

In an effort to get vital career readiness training into the hands of as many people as possible, Baker & Taylor is giving library patrons access to Penn Foster's extensive library of competency-based, career-aligned courses, degrees, and certificate programs through their Axis 360 program. "Library customers are increasingly turning to the library as a resource to 'upskill' and gain the tools to compete in the ever-changing economy," said Steven V. Potter, executive director of the Mid-Continent Public Library, which serves more than 800,000 citizens in Greater Kansas City.

Few organizations have met the challenge of providing education to opportunity youth as successfully as YouthBuild has. Penn Foster is proud to have partnered with them since 2014 to provide an accessible high school education to students in their program. CEO Frank Britt helped them celebrate 40 years of life-changing education at their Celebration and Gala in NYC.

Shared Knowledge

The open exchange of knowledge and ideas makes businesses and organizations stronger. Several conferences created opportunities for knowledge sharing in 2018.

The LearnLaunch Institute's Across Boundaries Conference drew 1,000 participants from 33 states. CEO Frank Britt was among three panelists who spoke at the "Edtech in the Enterprise" panel on the conference's first day. Britt expanded on the need for training to fill the skills gap during an interview with EdTech Times. On the second day of the conference, Chief Operating Officer Dara Warn joined a panel to discuss "Skills Development for Adults Without Higher Ed Degrees."

The report "A Nation Upside Down" was published and served as the focus of the Future Skills Summit in February. The report focuses on the need to shift the job market to a skills-based hiring process. It takes an in-depth look at the state of the job and education market. Among the contributors to the report were Ryan Craig author of "A New U" and "College Disrupted" and Penn Foster CEO Frank Britt.

In October the American Staffing Association Staffing World Conference was held in National Harbor, Maryland. It is the largest staffing and recruiting conference in the US. drawing more than 1,000 attendees. Penn Foster CEO Frank Britt moderated the "Innovation & Education: A Partnership to Close the Skills Gap" panel featuring key industry leaders from EmployBridge and Alside.

This November, Britt was an invited guest on Harvard Business School's Managing the Future of Work podcast. "We're going to empower [stakeholders] to play at a bigger level, and ideally put more and more institutions into the upskilling business," Britt told Harvard Business School Professor Joe Fuller. And that is exactly what Penn Foster has done this year.

Training & credentials to meet the need

Programs with targeted curriculums help train workers in high-demand professions. Penn Foster introduced two new programs in 2018 aimed at providing flexible upskilling opportunities to working learners seeking in-demand roles. These are the areas where the number of trained and technically skilled applicants fall far short of the number of job openings.

With the demand for pharmacy technicians growing at a rate of 20%, tens of thousands of new jobs will need to be filled in the next decade. The new online Pharmacy Technician Professional Career Diploma program was modeled against American Society of Health-System Pharmacist standards, the national standard for pharmacy technician training programs. It is tailored to help prepare learners for a rigorous work environment with the flexibility to support even the busiest of learners. Students get the opportunity to build on-the-job experience with an externship through CVS or Walgreens pharmacies.

The skills gap makes hiring entry-level employees hard enough, but management roles are even more difficult to fill. To make sure employees have the skills to be effective managers, Penn Foster also introduced a front line supervisor training program this year. The curriculum combines critical skills like leadership and communication with training in the roles and responsibilities of specific supervisory positions. This flexible, interactive program is helping prepare front-line supervisors for success.

Awards and Recognition

Although earning awards and recognition isn't the true goal, it's always satisfying when the hard work of Penn Foster and its partners is recognized by outside organizations.

This year, Penn Foster's Child Development Associate Undergraduate certificate earned the CDA Gold Standard from the Council for Professional Recognition. This credential is only awarded to 16 programs, including Penn Foster's CDA Undergraduate Certificate program, marking them as one of handful of programs whose excellence is nationally recognized. Only schools that provide high quality education rooted in the CDA's eight subject areas are eligible for this prestigious recognition.

Penn Foster's Student Success Center was proud to have been named a finalist for Oracle's Contact Center of Excellence Award in 2018. The success center works to help students achieve their goals by removing barriers to academic and financial progression. We provide coaches, mentoring, career coaching and more. A group of over 500 staff support more than 100,000 active students a year.

Penn Foster's partner organization, EmployBridge, also garnered some well-deserved recognition in 2018. They earned the Elevate and Genius Awards for their Better Worklife Academy and career mobile app. The academy, powered by Penn Foster, delivers free online training to temporary associates. The program has upskilled or reskilled about 13,000 associates, averaging 1,000 enrollees per month. The app was featured at Staffing World 2018 the American Staffing Association's annual convention and Expo.

Celebrating Student Success

It's important that we never lose sight of what we're trying to achieve - more people better prepared and ready for the demands of the workforce. This year, Penn Foster celebrated many graduations. Including:

  • One hundred graduates of the Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy earned an accredited high school diploma. Twenty-two of those earned their diplomas from Penn Foster's self-paced learning platform. The National Guard Tarheel ChalleNGe is recognized as one of the nation's most effective and cost-efficient programs for targeting the most at-risk youth.
  • Chicago CRED celebrated its first female graduate and the achievements of 26 male graduates who received their high school diplomas. Launched by Emerson Collective in 2016, Chicago CRED seeks to reduce gun violence in Chicago by providing education, career training, and support services to at-risk people. A partner to CRED since 2017, Penn Foster delivers its online high school diploma program to CRED participants. The graduation was attended by Chicago-based rapper Common as well as Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a managing partner at Emerson Collective and leading force behind CRED.
  • Penn Foster's own graduation ceremony honored more than 550 graduates, some of whom traveled to Pennsylvania from as far away as Washington State.

It's easy to see why 2018 was a great year for learners and employers alike. Penn Foster served almost 200,000 new learners this year. Over the last 10 months B2B enrollments have increased 48% from 32,112 to 47,667, which just goes to show how committed businesses are to developing robust talent pipelines for their organizations and the labor market.

Penn Foster is an education institution and upskilling platform focused on helping adult learners and opportunity youth launch, accelerate and thrive in their careers. We're creating a national movement to upskill one million middle-skilled workers a year, and are actively building a coalition of purpose-minded leaders. To find out how your business or organization can partner with Penn Foster to support working learners, contact us today.

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