Elevating All

How developing frontline workers develops brand loyalty and creates a talent pipeline

By Tim Harnett

Countless articles have been written about how to develop office workers, mid-level managers and executives. Yet one workforce segment often isn’t included in those conversations: frontline workers. And this worker segment is ripe for development. “There’s about 70 to 75 million people who have left the path of educational attainment and are in frontline jobs,” says Sean Stowers, director of learning services for Pearson North America. “There’s 30 million people in the workforce without a high school diploma and another 30 to 34 million people with some college but no degree. This workforce segment represents untapped potential for the organizations that employ them.”

However, many organizations struggle to develop frontline workers, who might work in industries or positions with traditionally high voluntary turnover. “These workers aren’t staying long enough at any one organization to take advantage of tuition assistance or other types of educational investment that organizations offer,” Stowers says. “While some companies are trying to make those investments in a differentiated way, a lot of organizations navigating the educational ecosystem find constructing those sorts of programs is daunting.”

Still, organizations will need to address frontline worker development, and soon. “Organizations are realizing that we need to invest in these employees to try and recoup losses caused by voluntary turnover — which can be as high as 16 percent of a person’s annual salary, between recruiting, retaining and training,” notes Rachael Bourque, director of business development for Pearson. “Sectors with high voluntary turnover rates might hire people at minimum or living wage and they tend to have hundreds of such workers. There’s a thought that frontline workers represent an endless supply of talent, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Considering other nontraditional talent pipelines can help when the current supply of talent dries up.”

Educational assistance and programs for frontline workers may help reduce voluntary turnover, but Bourque stresses that programs should be specifically aimed at this workforce segment. “Frontline workers have different needs from office workers, and their needs are traditionally further up the educational food chain. Frontline workers may need basic training and foundational education first to take advantage of other training and development the organization offers. When you have a large front line, you can’t necessarily provide to them what you can provide to other members of your workforce. These foundational needs may not have been looked at or talked about, but that conversation will need to happen as the labor market tightens. This is where we’re seeing the difference between the traditional labor market and the one we’re currently in. There’s a completely different set of needs and focus that must be there to meet frontline workers where they are.”

Stowers agrees. “There’s a need to get individuals through that core education. But once everyone is at an agreed-upon baseline, the question becomes: how do you get frontline workers the education to help them advance within the company? What skills do your employees have, what skills do you want them to have and what skills are they missing? Individuals need to feel comfortable asking for more education to shore up their skills, and organizations should be aware of the potential they already have on their teams.”

How do conversations about frontline worker development begin? Stowers suggests starting with an educational assessment. “First, recognize that you have this population, even if it’s small. Some companies may not think they have employees without a high school diploma, but they might and simply may not realize it. Then, begin to look at their needs. An educational attainment survey is the first step. Asking the members of the organization about their highest level of educational attainment provides a baseline for knowing what your workers’ needs are.

Once you know your workers’ educational levels, Stowers says you can begin developing programs aimed at this population. “Organizations in industries with specific qualifications or certifications should begin to categorize those qualifications and audit to see which qualifications their employees already have and what can and should be earned. Knowing what qualifications your employees have and need begins to stack on a framework for higher-level educational attainment. From there you begin to look at the talent needs of the organization and decide where you want your organization to move, what educational direction.

“Frontline workers comprise a huge potential talent pipeline if paid attention to and developed,” Bourque adds. “Organizations in many industries are turning to nontraditional pipelines to find the workers in the numbers they need. These people already exist, but it’s going to take a little bit of work to get them to where you need them to be.”

Learn more about how Pearson can help develop your frontline workers at pearson.com.

Pearson AcceleratED partners with organizations who are struggling with retention, recruitment, and cost of engagement by helping to reimagine the use of their education benefit in a strategic way. Our managed education services help provide more frontline employees access to skills development through educational pathways that complement your traditional rewards benefits. Our integrated network of regionally accredited schools and managed education services solutions help employees overcome traditional barriers to degree completion, including cost and access while providing a greater ROI back to our customers. Visit our website www.pearsonaccelerated.com