Companies Expand Commitment to Upskill Frontline Workers but Fail to Maximize Impact

Research Finds Upskilling Investments Correlate to Business Performance

WASHINGTON DC – February 3, 2016 – New research by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and the Aspen Institute's UpSkill America found that while 89% of organizations currently offer development opportunities to frontline workers, and 98% of these indicate plans to maintain or grow these programs, the vast majority of respondents (73%) indicate that they either don't know how many frontline workers take advantage of development opportunities or that their organizations don't track that metric. Fifty-nine percent (59%) also do not measure and reward managers for developing these workers. These findings are significant when compared to the study's most important finding: when frontline workers take advantage of development opportunities, it has a high correlation to the market performance of the organization.

The study, Developing America’s Frontline Workers, included input from leaders at 365 U.S. employers and was conducted in support of the Upskill Initiative announced by President Barack Obama in his January 2015 State of the Union address and later launched at the White House Upskill Summit. The objective is to support businesses in their efforts to educate, train, and develop low-wage and entry-level workers

"Though nine of 10 respondents reported their organizations offer development opportunities to frontline workers, there must be greater emphasis on accountability and communication to maximize business impact," said Kevin Oakes, CEO of i4cp, a leading human capital research firm that helps organizations build and sustain high performance. "Due to factors such as weak follow-through and poor communications, an alarming 60% of respondents do not perceive that their organizations place a high priority on developing this worker segment. When frontline workers take advantage of development opportunities, it has a positive impact on the market performance of the organization. The opportunity for positive bottom-line impact through frontline worker development is significant as it impacts those who often work most closely with an organization's customers."

“This study provides a barometer of sorts on the reality of how employers are faring with their upskilling efforts and strategies,” said Jaime Fall, Director of UpSkill America at The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy organization. “The study points out the differences in impact between a company that makes significant upskilling investments and hopes for a good outcome, versus a company that has a really strong upskilling culture and is dedicated to seeing a return on its development investment in the form of higher employee retention, stronger customer satisfaction, and better overall market performance.”

Among other key findings:

  • Of the organizations that track it, most organizations (58%) indicate that fewer than half of front-line workers actually access available development opportunities.
  • Not tracking manager effectiveness at developing frontline workers is correlated with poor market performance and is pervasive among low-performance organizations (63% vs. only 29% of high-performance organizations). Market performance is defined as recent multi-year growth in revenue, market share, profitability, and customer satisfaction.
  • While only 34% of organizations reward line leaders who encourage workers to take advantage of provided opportunities, it's a practice that is 2.5x more prevalent at high-performance organizations.

***Download Developing America’s Frontline Workers*** The report includes case studies from Walmart, Hilton Worldwide, McDonald's and Newport News Shipbuilding (a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries), as well as four strategies and three critical enablers for companies to be more effective at developing frontline workers.

***Download the infographic***

About the Study

Developing America’s Frontline Workers included input from 365 U.S. organizations and was conducted in the summer of 2015 via an online survey by i4cp and UpSkill America at The Aspen Institute. The majority of the organizations surveyed employ frontline workers, with 52% employing more than 10,000 workers in total. Survey respondents included public, private, government, and nonprofit organizations. Frontline workers are defined as having education levels at or below the associate degree level and have a median average annual wage of less than $40,000.

About the Institute for Corporate Productivity

i4cp is a human capital research firm that discovers the people practices that drive high performance. Ranked among the fastest-growing companies on the Inc. 500|5000 list for four consecutive years, i4cp provides its extensive member network of leading global employers and government institutions with the research, peer collaboration, tools, and data essential to developing and executing workforce strategies and practices that deliver higher market performance. i4cp’s 2016 Conference “Next Practices Now” will be held March 29 to April 1 in Scottsdale, AZ. Learn more here.

About Aspen Institute's UpSkill America

UpSkill America's coalition of business, education, and workforce training organizations is dedicated to helping more businesses expand our nation’s talent pipeline by: recognizing leading employers that provide expanded opportunities for their workers; promoting the widespread adoption of business practices and policies that increase economic opportunity; and cultivate the education and workforce development efforts that support and advance those initiatives. UpSkill America’s work is facilitated by The Aspen Institute Skills for America’s Future, part of the Economic Opportunities Program. For more information, visit

Media Contact:
Shari Fryer

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Erik Samdahl
Erik is the head of marketing at i4cp, and has nearly 20 years in the market research and human capital research industry.