Creating Employee Education with Upward Academy
Kevin speaks at FSG Impact Hiring Innovation Lab gathering in San Francisco.
Because the Tyson workforce is made up of people from all walks of life, we didn’t want to limit the pilot to just immigrants, so we expanded the scope of offerings to help people from all different backgrounds. Led by adult education instructors, the pilot program offered free English, GED and U.S. Citizenship classes, plus monthly, functional literacy classes covering various topics such as legal aid, loan scams, and tax fraud. These were offered on-site at the plant, before and after shifts, to help address some of the logistical challenges around child care and transportation.
Initially, I thought that if we could get 10-15 people to sign up, we would have a good start. In March 2016, at our inaugural launch in our Randall Wobbe Lane plant, 128 of the plant’s 300 team members signed up – nearly half the plant’s population. I was blown away, and suspected it was a fluke. But when we rolled out to Berry Street a few months later, 250 more signed up. As participants started showing improvements, we began to realize we might be on to something.
Around April 2017, the local Cisneros Center chapter closed, and we jumped at the opportunity to bring on Dr. Donna Davis and her colleague Emily Hackerson as program consultants. Upward Academy, with its focus on social impact, was folded under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) umbrella, led by senior director Debra Vernon.
By the end of last year, Upward Academy had launched in 17 more plants in Arkansas and Missouri, with plans to launch in 22 more locations in four states by the end of 2018. We’re on schedule, rolling out in a new facility every two weeks. Over the past year, we’ve partnered with the University of Arkansas to conduct research studies and provide ongoing measurement around business and social impacts of the program. Research is still underway to determine the true impacts, but initial results are promising.
Upward Academy would not have been successful without the innumerable individuals and departments from within Tyson Foods who have lent their commitment and support as well as considerable expertise to help bring it to life. It is a clear example of the 5Cs, born out of a genuine desire to bring stability to our team members and help them and their families secure a place in the community. Together as a company, we’ve built something special.
The program has also benefitted tremendously from external organizations who recognized the company’s vision and helped us shape a program to be proud of. Today, hearing stories from team members like Delfino Garcia, one of our first students in our Berry Street plant, makes all the hard work worth it.
“I can help my child with homework,” he said. “When I have to take them to the doctor, I don’t need somebody to translate because Upward Academy helps me a lot in that situation […] If I’ve got emergency, I call 911. If I need help for somebody, or else if I have to travel somewhere like another state, I know they speak the same language I speak right now, thanks to Upward Academy.”
These stories are what drive me to get me out of bed every morning, excited about the day. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Published Apr 19, 2018.
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