Together in Learning: Voices from the Industry and Workforce Learning

Published nov. 09, 2015

This week, over 2,000 learning professionals gathered at Learning 2015 in Orlando to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Elliott Masie’s annual conference focused on workplace learning. The group represented leading companies committed to innovative emerging strategies, technologies, and program design and innovation as part of a global strategy and a limitless learning future that makes Disney World a lively stage. Keynote speakers, including Sal Kahn and Steve Wozniak, challenged the audience to think about creating virtual and real learning environments where all people can thrive. 

This year, Learning 2015 provided a platform to explore upskilling and investments in frontline workers across a range of industries. Aspen’s UpSkill America hosted a breakfast for interested companies and UpSkill America!—launched by the Administration and supported by partners including Jobs for the Future—drew hundreds of attendees as part of a key luncheon event. Participants were invited to join the movement by implementing strategies ranging from apprenticeship to scheduling and tuition assistance. 

At the lunch, Kevin Oakes, CEO of 14cp, highlighted research that shows that high-performance companies invest in upskilling to improve employee engagement and advance and reduce attrition and absenteeism—and workers are taking advantage of the opportunity to advance. Jon Kaplan from Discover discussed the integral role upskilling plays in the company’s culture and success. And Brian Poland from Walmart talked about how the company is using upskilling as part of a larger strategy to develop and support its workforce. 

Kimo Kippen, Chief Learning Officer of Hilton Worldwide, where 75% of managers start on the front line, spoke to the responsibility of companies to provide opportunities for all employees to advance. Hilton’s recent commitment to help all team members earn a GED, coupled with Walmart and McDonald’s provision of the Online Career High School, are motivating other companies to help workers get high school diplomas and work-based certificates and move forward. 

Underrepresented at Learning 2015 were many of us who work for educational or nonprofit organizations. Although we talk about listening to the business voice, we do not necessarily take advantage of the opportunities to listen to, join in, and learn from our potential partners as they share their newest innovations and techniques, as well as the challenges that trigger their work. However, central to the mind-blowing display of technology—including digital options, gamification, and measuring and tracking results—were many of the issues that concern and drive both the private and public sector around career pathways, skills development, competencies, credentialing, access, and diversity. 

Not surprisingly, one area of focus was badging, which Sal Kahn said could be the future of credentialing. Badging—defined by Educause as a visual representation of an accomplishment, achievement, or skill acquisition that is more granular than a formal degree, but helps to make incremental learning more visible—was discussed in sessions representing industries from insurance to IT and retail. Mark Wagner from The Hartford talked about identifying “capabilities” rather than competencies, coupled with badges that recognize learning, performance, and engagement. Others agreed that credentials need to align with demand and traditional credentials, referencing the current work by the Lumina Foundation and others to connect credentials with their value to the outside world. Importantly, badging can be part of other efforts to encourage workers to take responsibility and seek out opportunities for their own learning and development. 

As Steve Wozniak said, we need to “search for what is changing in the world” to open up opportunities that everyone deserves. Technology gives us that ability, and partnerships help us amplify solutions and take them to scale. But the human factor, to exchange and build on solutions, will only increase. Next year, maybe more of us from our education and workforce development systems will join our industry counterparts at Learning 2016, or will find other places where we can come together to share innovations and ideas. Hope to see you soon!