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Partner: UpSkill San Antonio

Category: Workforce Development

Upskill San Antonio is a Regional Approach to Workforce Development Focused on Upskilling Frontline Workers

According to a report published by the US Census Bureau in 2019, San Antonio Texas is the fastest-growing metropolitan region in the United States. To ensure that every San Antonian has the opportunity for socioeconomic mobility, the UpSkill San Antonio program was created with support from the Walmart Foundation to design and build a talent pipeline for fast-growing middle-skill jobs. This award-winning collaboration combines the innovation expertise of Education Design Lab, a national nonprofit that helps design, test, and implement education models with Goodwill San Antonio, a local, mission-driven organization that fights poverty and changes lives through the power of work.

Image: The UpSkill San Antonio program is a collaborative program designed to meet the needs of workers and their community.
UpSkill San Antonio partners

The UpSkill SA! Program

During the 18 month program, hundreds of Goodwill San Antonio workers have the opportunity to participate in two micro-pathways while earning stackable, digital badges from Badgr aligned to a set of “21st-century skills” identified by Education Design Lab. By participating in the first pathway, called “skillsbooster”, learners earn marketable skills-aligned awards designed to grow participants’ confidence in their ability while increasing their experience with online learning. The second pathway, called “Certificate+” gives learners the ability to take what they’ve learned from the first pathway and apply those skills towards one of three credit-bearing, badge-embedded, level 1 certificate courses offered by Palo Alto College (Logistics Management, Business Administration, and Computer Support Specialist). This scaffolded program is designed to support workers’ ascent into “middle skills” roles such as logistics or supply chain management, which rank among the fastest-growing positions in the retail sector and reinforce socioeconomic mobility.

Image: Education Design Lab has defined criteria that adds value to micro-pathways. For example, verified regional data confirming salary increases as a result of learner participation. Image Credit: Education Design Lab
Graphic illustrating a link between micro-pathway quality and salary increases

A Holistic Model for Professional Growth

Nearly all of the Goodwill workers enrolled in the UpSkill SA program are frontline workers, dealing directly with customers to deliver services in their communities. Specifically, this program serves both sides of the Goodwill business, including donated goods retail and business services. According to a survey published by Digital Promise in 2019, a majority of frontline workers earn less than $30,000 annually, are under the age of 35, and often do not hold a college degree. Additionally, many frontline workers who enroll in professional development programs do not follow through to completion, with one in three frontline workers describing “a logistical barrier” that has kept them from pursuing or completing education opportunities. 50% of these workers report dropping out of adult education classes within 12 hours of starting, and 51% say that the education they’ve had in the last year was only somewhat useful or not useful.

“When a team member struggles with social skills that may prevent them from being a candidate for an entry-level supervisory position, we work with their life skills coach to support their performance.” — Goodwill SA Manager

The UpSkill SA program addresses these barriers by supporting learners in areas where previous programs like this one have fallen short. In addition to recognizing learners via personalized, digital badges, the UpSkill SA program is also providing support services via Goodwill SA and Palo Alto College. Counselors, caseworkers, transportation accommodations, child care, technical support, tuition, fees, and even life coaches are provided throughout the program to help learners overcome any challenges associated with acquiring their 21st-century skills badges and, ultimately, their certification.

21st-century Skills

According to a report published by Education Design Lab, learners enrolled in the 18-month pilot will have the opportunity to earn digital badges as they progress through two learner pathways. The first pathway is designed to upskill learners pathway, this “Skills Booster” pathway includes three awards: Resilience, Collaboration, and Creative Problem-Solving awards. The second pathway, called “Certificate Plus”, offers three Badge-embedded level 1 certificate courses in Logistics Management, Business Administration, and Computer Support offered by the college. Both pathways aim to provide workers with the necessary marketable skills to ascend into advanced roles while visualizing their progress in the form of easy-to-understand Badgr pathways.

“When thinking about upskilling, a lot of people forget to bring the learner to the table,” deLaski said. “We, as innovators trying to shape this new ‘digital credential ecosystem,’ have to make every possibility visible to the learner and show them how to navigate them and position themselves in ways that are meaningful to employers.” - Kathleen deLaski, Education Design Lab co-founder and president

Image: Education Design Lab’s 21st century skills badges represent the most in-demand skills employers are looking for and are awarded through participation in the UpSkill SA program. Image Credit: Education Design Lab
Upskill San Antonio 21st Century skills badges

Why Middle Skills?

Upskilling and reskilling programs like UpSkill SA create a template for communities around the country and beyond. This exciting program combines the power of the Badgr platform with expertise from industry and instructional experts to address long-standing challenges faced by employers. Creating intentional, scalable talent pipelines like the one created by this program help communities address gaps in learning experiences offered in traditional educational settings and reinforce the skills needed by employers. Through its investment in this program, Goodwill is making a meaningful commitment to its employees while building a culture of recognition to help attract and retain workers dedicated to their professional growth.

In a Robert Half and Enactus survey of Generation Z workers (born 1990-1999), a whopping 91 percent cited professional training as an important factor when choosing an employer. It’s not just Gen Z employees, either – smart professionals of all ages know they need to be continually developing their skills if they want to stay relevant in the workplace these days. Often, they don’t have the time or money to invest in upskilling outside of work, so they look to their employer for support in this area.” - The Importance of Upskilling your Employees, Robert Half

When learners like those enrolled in the UpSkill SA program are issued personalized, sharable, digital credentials via Badgr, they own their data and can make informed decisions about their learning goals. In addition to attracting and retaining talent, employers benefit from programs like UpSkill SA in many other direct and indirect ways. Employers directly benefit from having employees who are eager and able to ascend through the ranks of their organization, equipped with the institutional and sometimes proprietary knowledge they acquire through their experience.

Palo Alto College Demonstrates a Commitment to Upskilling

According to a study performed by the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of individuals enrolled in an undergraduate degree in the United States has dropped 8% since 2010; and will grow only 2% between now and 2029. (source) Through its participation in the UpSkill SA program, Palo Alto College has not only demonstrated a commitment to engage with employers, but has also created a new pipeline of potential students for its own programs. Digital badges provide a verifiable mechanism by which training providers and educational institutions such as Palo Alto College can communicate and acknowledge relevant skills and achievements across multiple settings.

“I think in the long-term, the impact of Certificate Plus is going to be phenomenal for the participants and Goodwill.” — Goodwill SA Manager

Each learner who is awarded college credit for their workplace upskilling efforts is actively participating in continuing their professional learning journey in sometimes unprecedented ways. When employers and local organizations like Goodwill SA invest in their employees growth, they are also contributing to their own success by establishing meaningful talent pipelines. Regional collaborations like UpSkill SA are using Badgr to create connected learning ecosystems that support their communities with digital credentials, stackable learning pathways, and portable learner records. This model creates a template for partnerships between institutions of learning and employers to solve regional challenges around the world by upskilling their workforce and offering credentials that provide value to workers for years to come.

“I was filled with a feeling of gratefulness. I had to keep myself from tearing up because I was so excited to be there starting a process that is going to change my life.” — Goodwill SA Team Member