Is "Upskilling" Just a State of the Union Pipedream?

"Tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals, and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us." - President Obama in his 2015 State of the Union address.

Better pundits than I can opine on the speech delivery or the chances of Republicans allowing any of its calls to arms to come to pass.

But I would like to color inside some of the lines. Specifically, the President's call for "more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships - opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don't have a higher education."

It would be easy to assume that the President's charge was aspirational. But in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. If this isn't your first time reading my blog, you might remember my "Workplace Moneyball" post about the "Michaleas" of the country and the work we're doing at College for America to help them. As importantly, there is a battalion of companies who are already out in front of worker education, having discovered that developing their workforce is their strongest investment.

The White House followed up with some specific examples:

UPS and CVS are opening new training centers to offer better education to thousands of the people already working for them.

Anthem, Grifols, McDonald's, Partners HealthCare, Gap Inc., and University of Pennsylvania Health System are working with my own College for America at Southern New Hampshire University to give tens of thousands of employees nationwide the opportunity to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree, in most cases 100 percent reimbursed by their employer.

Gap Inc. and PG&E are implementing plans to select and train their next generation of managers from within.

All of the above done without fanfare. Because it's the right thing to do for the employees--and the right thing to do for the wellbeing of the companies. As MJ Ryan, Director of Workforce Development at Partners HealthCare, put it: "We're deeply committed to educating our workforce in order to ensure that we continue to deliver the highest level of care to our patients and their families, while offering our employees the opportunity to advance in their careers."

I wrote earlier this month that employer engagement was a trend to watch in 2015. Apparently I am not alone in seeing its growing impact. The Aspen Institute is leading a passel of top business-leadership groups in a newly unveiled program this week called UpSkill America, described as "an employer-led movement dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for American workers through education and workforce development."

President Obama may only have named two example of business upping its game in educating its workforce, but that hardly means he is wanting for examples. They're out there. They're making education work for their employees and work for their business. And we're going to be hearing more and more about it.