Innovative programs for employee development and success are helping us build a strong workforce and strong communities.
Helping our team members succeed in and outside of work is a meaningful and tangible way we can make a difference in tens of thousands of lives. It’s also in the best interest of our business. Tyson Foods plants are predominantly located in rural areas with limited labor pools, which means that we rely on developing and promoting talent internally. Many of our front-line team members are new immigrants to the U.S. and come from dozens of different countries: up to 50 different countries may be represented within a single plant. A general lack of access to resources has also left many team members with low literacy, limited English proficiency and skills gaps. As a result, many employees do not qualify for roles beyond processing lines, and many may not even qualify to enter a state-sponsored career readiness certificate program. That’s why Tyson Foods has stepped in to fill the gap.
Total Upward Academy
Our Corporate Social Responsibility team aims to address the unique and shifting challenges facing our workforce through our innovative team member education program, Upward Academy. In partnership with local community organizations, Upward Academy helps team members develop important life skills, offering free and accessible classes in English as a Second Language (ESL), High School Equivalency (HSE), U.S. citizenship, financial literacy and digital literacy. To make it as easy as possible for team members to attend, we offer classes in our plants immediately before and after shifts.
While Upward Academy is tailor-made for Tyson Foods, it is aligned with best practices and trends in adult education and workplace skills development. Tyson Foods has a relationship with the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE), the largest professional membership of adult educators in the United States. We are also working with our human resources team to develop a Workforce Development Certificate (WDC) that will allow front-line employees to learn the basic skills they need to apply for jobs beyond the processing line. Initially, WDC components will include math, language, soft skills and digital literacy. From there, the certificate will be developed with subject matter expertise from adult education providers and customized to our company’s needs. Curriculum will be taught by state adult education instructors using funds earmarked for workforce development.
In FY2019, Upward Academy experienced its biggest year of growth. As the program continues to grow, our team is searching for new ways to increase its value. While ESL, HSE and citizenship offerings remain the core of the program, team members have also expressed interest in learning financial and computer skills to help them grow personally and advance with Tyson Foods. We introduced new and expanded offerings in FY2019 in response to this feedback.
As automation and digital technologies change the nature of work, the gap between those who possess computer skills and those who do not is widening. We recognize the need to help our team members keep pace with these changes and attain upward mobility within our plants. In FY2019, we were proud to introduce computer skills training within the Upward Academy program. Tyson Foods worked with internal IT teams and external education partners to develop the program. The result are new “digital literacy labs” that deliver training content on Microsoft SurfaceGo tablets. The tablets are equipped with a learning management system that instructors can use to track students’ progress. They are stored in a charging cart with a badge reader that students will use to scan in for class, which will allow program administrators to track student retention. To date, 18 facilities have received digital labs, and students have cumulatively logged more than 2,000 hours of instruction.
The U.S. financial system is complex, and newcomers often face unique financial pressures and challenges navigating the system. These difficulties can escalate quickly, and financial difficulties can impact team members’ productivity and overall wellness. In FY2019, Upward Academy conducted an eight-week pilot course on financial literacy, with the goal of helping team members better understand and manage their finances. Forty-three team members participated in the first two rounds of pilot classes.
The pilot was developed and managed in partnership with Canopy NWA, a local nonprofit organization that assists refugees in the resettlement process. The program is geared toward newcomers to the U.S. and is meant to be interactive and hands-on. With the pilot program complete, we are revising content and partnering with the University of Arkansas to create video-based financial literacy training that will ultimately be available to all team members in their native language. We plan to introduce this training in FY2020.
Investing in Health Care Access
Beyond helping our team members succeed in their jobs at Tyson Foods, we also want to help them access resources to live full, healthy lives, such as quality health care. We support programs that reduce the barriers to care for our team members by partnering with local health care nonprofits to increase access. Hourly employees are often unfamiliar with the American health care system, which can be difficult to navigate even for long-time residents. Team members face issues finding bilingual clinics, and understanding the cost of care and insurance. After being caught off guard by unexpected costs, people may avoid seeing doctors, which can undermine their long-term health and that of their families1. When sickness or injury occurs, adverse consequences such as absenteeism, lost wages and debt place further burdens on already vulnerable individuals. Health-related issues are one of several factors that can decrease a person’s quality of life and destabilize their employment.
To improve the health of our hourly team members and members of our communities, Tyson Foods made several grants to local health care nonprofits in FY2019. The Arkansas Mission of Mercy is a free dental health clinic for members of the community, including our team members. Thanks to a Tyson Foods grant, the clinic provided $1.3 million of free dentistry by seeing 2,102 patients over a single weekend.
Tyson Foods is continuing for a second year to support a grant for a Marshallese patient navigator with the Community Clinic in Springdale, Arkansas. A “health care navigator” is someone who is a trusted member of a community or has an exceptional understanding of a community being served. This trusting relationship enables the worker to serve as a link between health and social services and the community. This new patient navigator now comes to the Tyson Foods plant weekly to help hourly team members make appointments, understand their health benefits, provide information about referrals, and answer questions— whatever it takes to help people improve their health.
We are also developing a series of videos about fundamental subjects related to health care and insurance. The videos will be offered in English, Spanish and Marshallese and will be available in 2020. Each video will have an accompanying summary sheet. This approach helps team members overcome the challenges of language, low literacy in their native language, unfamiliarity with the health care system, and ability to access the resources they need.