Preparing for Disruption: Delivering Innovative Upskilling and Reskilling Solutions | Maher & Maher
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Preparing for Disruption: Delivering Innovative Upskilling and Reskilling Solutions

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In this 38-minute episode, host Rick Maher is joined by Frank Britt, CEO of Penn Foster, as they discuss the disruptive impact that technological advances will have on the workforce, and how his organization is delivering solutions to address future workforce needs. Frank shares his thoughts about why employers are taking a more proactive approach to upskilling employees, and how social media has empowered workers. He also reveals the need to focus on regional solutions, and how Penn Foster partners with traditional workforce boards.

Episode Guest List:

Frank BrittFrank Britt is the Chief Executive Officer of Penn Foster, a skills development training, credentials and employment matching enterprise for frontline workers. Penn Foster focuses on employment outcomes through ed-tech-enabled workforce solutions and today has more than 125,000 active students and 1,000 partners. He previously served as an Operating Partner at Bain Capital Ventures and CEO of Pri-Med – the largest medical education training company for primary care physicians. He is a recognized education authority, with media and investor community engagement such as Bloomberg TV, C-SPAN/ U.S. Congress, SXSWedu, TEDx, BMO and ASU/GSV investor conference, and was appointment by Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania on the Advisory Committee on Future of Postsecondary Education. Frank earned his B.S. from Syracuse University in marketing and operations.

Connect with Mr. Britt on Linkedin.

Full Transcript of this episode:

Speaker 1:                          Welcome to Talent Talks. Each month human resources veteran Rick Maher welcomes America's thought leaders to discuss ways to reinvent America's talent development and education systems. Tune in and discover how we can drive global competitiveness for future generations. Talent Talks is presented by Maher & Maher, and IMPAQ International, who together are delivering research and evidence based solutions to workforce challenges. And now your host, Rick Maher.

Rick Maher:                       Well, thanks for joining us today on Talent Talks, as we again explore the world of talent development with our nation's most prominent thought leaders on workforce and educational issues. Today's session will continue our exploration of the future of work, which I hope you all are enjoying as much as I am. We've enjoyed perspectives from state leaders, from federal level and local level, thought leaders. Today I want to turn that a little bit on its head and turn to someone working, well frankly, across private and public, but with a private sector perspective.

Rick Maher:                       Today, we're going to welcome someone who's working every day with some of our nation's largest employers and helping to prepare their workforces with the skills the fourth industrial revolution will be demanding from them. Frank Britt is the CEO of Penn Foster of Scranton, PA. He's not just thinking about the future of work, but he's delivering solutions for it, and doing so for international brands. His perspective, I think, is incredibly important to our larger conversation. Frank, we're just so thankful to have you here today. Welcome to Talent Talks.

Frank Britt:                        Thank you for having us. We appreciate it.

Rick Maher:                       Oh, it's our pleasure, Frank. And you and I have known each other for a while, and I've tracked some of your progress from afar at Penn Foster. I think you're leading a really leading edge training company. And I think our listeners are about to learn about that. But I'm not sure that they're going to know Penn Foster's brand necessarily by name. So for folks that aren't aware of you, Penn Foster has a deep and rich history in the training industry. Can you give us just a little bit about your background Frank? Where'd you come from, and what are you doing now?

Frank Britt:                        Yeah, I mean, the Penn Foster Institution, which obviously predates my involvement is actually the original correspondence school in the history of the United States. So the year after Sears sent out the first catalog by mail, this fellow, Thomas Foster, sent out the first catalog to go to school by mail. His motivation was not commercial. At the time, Pennsylvania was the energy capital of the world, with anthracite coal and obviously petroleum. He was very greatly concerned about the safety of the workforce. Since its inception, it's been an organization that's committed to helping empower workers and worker safety. In the 21st century version of Penn Foster, by the way, the institution was originally called the International Correspondence School, and at one point ICS Penn Foster.

Rick Maher:                       I remember. I mean, that's how old I am, Frank. I remember that. That's pretty amazing. Yeah.

Frank Britt:                        Yeah. For someone 128 years old, you do good work. But we have obviously contemporized and prepared ourselves for the 21st century as a platform that solves a different problem than traditional safety, but it's maybe arguably more economic safety. That the folks that we serve have grave anxieties about the future of work and the future of employment. And they are looking for trusted brands that they can rely on to help them navigate a time in history, while there's never been more opportunities, it's never been less clear on what to do to keep yourself relevant for the workforce. We're very committed to harnessing our tradition of helping the working class and give them the tools, and capabilities, insights, and skills they need to succeed and thrive in the 21st century and beyond.

Rick Maher:                       Yeah, that's awesome, and I think important for our listeners to hear. And by the way, I'm old, but I'm not 128, okay? But I'm old enough to remember that, here you go, this is an original correspondence school, right? Focusing on middle skills, if you will. And here we are 128 years later, and we've evolved from paper based and correspondence catalogs, right, to other forms of training and media. But Penn Foster may be more relevant today, it occurs to me, Frank, than almost any time in its long history. So kudos for, obviously, you guys have been doing something right.

Rick Maher:                       And now we enter an age where there's, I think, widespread agreement that we're facing increasing change and dynamism in the labor market as being driven by this so called fourth industrial revolution and the future of work. And as I tell people, and I've told you Frank, as I start to read and try to get smarter on this, I joke that there's three different, I don't know, different ways to look at the future of work, if you will, to find the punditry that I've read.

Rick Maher:                       It's like on the one hand you have a series of experts that are calling for, what I'm calling, workforce Armageddon, right? The future of work is going to change everything, and a third of the global workforce will be left, not just unemployed, but unemployable. Right? And then, at the other end of a spectrum, maybe there's the punditry that says, "Look, don't freak out. People said the same thing when the trains came, and when the printing press was invented. There'll be some disruption, but the sun will come up tomorrow. Nothing to see here, don't worry about it."

Rick Maher:                       And then kind of in the middle of this spectrum of punditry, if you will, is the group that says, "Well, you know what, there's going to be a disruption, but it isn't going to be the end of the world. It's certainly not workforce Armageddon, but maybe 15 percent of the US workforce may need to be retrained." Which by the way, to me, is disruption enough. That's a huge effort, right, if you think about it. I'm curious, Frank, where do you guys sit on this spectrum. And first off, is the spectrum real? And can you give us a sense on what Penn Foster's perspective and Frank Britt's perspective of the future of work? I mean, where on the compendium, do you sit?

Frank Britt:                        Well, I think you make an astute observation that one proxy for a strong quality market based economy is skill gaps. And to the extent that innovation is the fabric of a vibrant market based economy, there will always be a skill gap. There always has been a skill gap. And as we often say, tongue in cheek, 128 years into the journey at Penn Foster, we find ourselves at the right place at the right time at the nexus of the future of learning, the future of work.

Frank Britt:                        So this is not unusual that we have skill gaps. I think what's unique about this moment is we do not subscribe to the apocalyptic narrative that oftentimes emanates from Silicon Valley, that all jobs are going away. We see a couple of points. One is productivity, which is a measure of the impact on employment has not really radically changed in the last 20 years in the United States despite all the technology innovation.

Frank Britt:                        Clearly machines are affecting the way humans do their work, and so what we see is a more nuanced narrative that if you were to deconstruct a variety of jobs, whether they be white collar professional jobs or blue collar jobs, that there is changes in the workflow. And in that workflow, it's inevitable there'll be more cognitive augmentation with machine learning and the like. But that doesn't inherently mean that the jobs are going away.

Frank Britt:                        I think you raise another point that is really a central point about our institution. If you look at the total workforce in the United States of 150 million or so folks, depending on your full definition of full time, part time, there is about half the workforce that are in this so-called middle skills. We don't actually love the term middle skills, but that's the term, as you know, that the Department of Labor uses to describe people with an associate degree or less.

Frank Britt:                        And what we are preoccupied with is trying to help those folks navigate out their path. So from the worker perspective, they look at a world where it's a very opaque labor market in terms of localized demand. It's a highly uncoordinated, fragmented system of support that makes it that much more difficult to navigate. There's contradictory information as to what they should do, and where they should do it, and when they should do it. So it's not as if the system is a finely tuned machine that has great agility and transparency to empower people.

Frank Britt:                        And that's why we believe that we're at a point now if you step back and say the larger economy of training education, the United States is probably about a trillion five. You got K-12 on one end, higher ed on the other. What we're preoccupied with is that opaque market in the middle, the workforce development market. And as we look at the workforce development market, in particularly those middle skilled jobs, the 60, 70 million jobs, we do not see all those jobs going away.

Frank Britt:                        What we do see, to your point is, skill obsolescence, accelerating disruption. And these folks need solutions. But if you spend time with employers, if we do on a regular basis, they're not foreshadowing all these jobs are going away. But what they are explicitly saying is that there'll be new ways that work gets done. And what we're focused on is trying to help people be ready for today and tomorrow of how the future of work will happen, and particularly the workflows and the key occupational areas that we see as high growth and real opportunities for strong wages for the individuals.

Rick Maher:                       That's very interesting. And I love the fact that you guys are kind of distilling this down in a common sense, rational way. That's a dispassionate view, Frank, the way you just described it, I mean, we've always had a skills gap. Very interesting. Quite different than a lot of the punditry that's calling for a really, really huge disruption. But as I say, the retraining aspect of this is disruption enough. And as you point out, you guys are in the midst of that. I'm curious if you get a sense... In your answer to the previous question, you kind of said you don't see employers kind of buying into the wholesale Armageddon description either. And you're working with them day in and day out. So how are you seeing employers starting to shape their response to this?

Frank Britt:                        Well, we see their actions as one of three. They're either upskilling folks, reskilling folks, or the new trend we see that's nascent that we expect will become important called outskilling. So let me just deconstruct those briefly. The upskilling says, I have a person who's capable. They're in a manufacturing environment. They need to be able to use more contemporary tools and systems. So I'm going to reskill them. And upskilling could be a person and moving them to a very different kind of job, maybe not even in the original sphere of work they were doing.

Frank Britt:                        And then the outskilling trend, which we're hearing a lot about from employers, is what's different about today than a decade ago relative to downsizing or realignment, whatever the euphemism that you want to use to describe layoffs, what we saw decades ago, and we can both cite many examples of big companies that did this, they would just lay people off because they decided to close the plants in Ohio. That model no longer works in an era where consumers are empowered and workers are empowered with the weaponization of social media. You can't just to make a big announcement that says I'm going to lay off 5,000 people, especially if you knew you were going to lay them off several years ago when you did your workforce planning.

Frank Britt:                        So what we start to see is employers are saying, I need to get out in front of this from a brand reputational risk narrative. And I'm going to start investing in people to get them to stay longer in the short term, keep retention rates high, but also put them in a position that they can then move to a new future. So one organization I heard used to say, "Come to our institution and get a job, and we'll help educate you." And now the new model is we'll educate you while you're taking a job.

Frank Britt:                        So in other words, employers are starting to recognize that one of their levers in attracting, retaining great talent is to offer education upskilling as a solution and as a benefit in fact. And they're doing that for a variety of reasons. But in terms of that that's sort of the intake and the retention side better than what do I do with them over time, if the jobs do go away? Which in many cases will happen, of course, because that is the nature of work.

Frank Britt:                        They're taking a much more activist and proactive purposeful approach that says I have to help people end up in a good place in their lives because maybe they're a consumer of my service, or for that matter, maybe they'll someday come back to my company in a different capacity. So I think you're finding a much more enlightened, sophisticated, thoughtful, purposeful approach to how to contemplate the idea that I may not need all the people I have today. And we've view that as a very kind of encouraging sign why we're bullish on sort of the middle skill conversation as a sector because we see employers starting to take a far more activist approach for making sure that they're in a position to do the right things for the individuals, not just for corporate social responsibility. That's sort of a second order goal. But primarily because it will help them prove their competitiveness and their brand as an employer.

Rick Maher:                       And listening to you, I think of Amazon's recent initiative, and I think they're running a commercial frankly right now with people in their warehouse saying, "You're going to give me a job, and then you're going to train me so I can leave my job. That's crazy." Well, maybe it isn't so crazy. To your point, Frank, maybe that's good business, good social responsibility, but also a good recruiting policy, if you will. A way to continue to get people into the job. Even if in fact they upskill and leave the job at some point in the future. So that's just one example maybe of the kind of thing you're seeing.

Frank Britt:                        Yeah. The Amazon Career Choice program is a perfect example of providing everyone an opportunity to take control of their destiny. And they're not doing it just for corporate social responsibility, but they're trying to provide resources for helping people build jobs skills so that they'll remain in their current roles for a period of time. But be in a position to move to a well paying job.

Frank Britt:                        If you looked at the larger announcement, the $700 million that Amazon announced, they had multiple pathways. One set of pathways allowed you to transition over time, "reskill" into other jobs within Amazon. But we're specifically talking about, in this case, the Career Choice program, which is a component of the larger initiative. And in that Career Choice program, it's explicitly designed to help people be prepared to build skills and seek employment outside of the Amazon traditional system.

Frank Britt:                        Now having said that, Amazon given its scale and scope, and this is not unique to Amazon on a relative basis, they have lots and lots of vendors and lots and lots of customers up and down the value chain. So it's not inconceivable they can kind of, if you will, take advantage of their larger network, in the Japanese economy, they might call it the keiretsu, which is interlocking businesses that they may or may not own exclusively.

Frank Britt:                        So we see the Amazon type thinking as a much more expansive view on how to think about outskilling. And we would expect more and more of that to happen. We've, for example, received quite a few phone calls in the last several months from some of the largest outplacement companies in the country. And they've said, as we think about helping our clients navigate, historically, we've been doing it in a more crisis management setting. Like, oh, we're going to shut down the plant. But increasingly as clients have longer term talent management plans, the companies that do that kind of service need to provide upskilling or outskilling as part of their overall value bundle. And so we're increasingly likely to be part of those types of solutions, again, because it's a natural extension of thinking about outplacement.

Rick Maher:                       Yeah, and that's really, really interesting. It occurs to me when we're talking about upskilling, we're talking about outplacement firms reaching out to you, were talking about companies like Amazon, and to your point, they're not the only ones who are making more of an investment in upskilling employees in their facing the future of work. I've turned to what we have done always in the workforce development space at the so-called customized training grants, which have largely been customized, typically delivered in a community college, which is fine. Classroom based things that meet a specific skill need.

Rick Maher:                       It occurs to me Frank, as we talk about the future of work, we're focused mostly on the so-called skills gap and labor. But there's a huge change going on in the future of work in the way that we deliver upskilling. Right? And that customized model of classroom based, designed for a specific need. It seems kind of slow, and if you will, kind of last generation to me. That's not to say that it doesn't have any value. I don't mean that. But I don't know that that's a primary vehicle anymore. I mean, talk to me a little bit about how training is changing in order to kind of meet the needs of upskilling and the future of work.

Speaker 1:                          You're listening to Talent Talks presented by Maher & Maher and IMPAQ International who together provide research and evidence based solutions integral to planning, developing, and managing America's workforce development system. For more information on what is being done to position America's workers, employers and communities for future prosperity, sign up for our newsletter at That's talks.

Frank Britt:                        Yeah, I mean I've been the CEO of Penn Foster for eight, nine years, and certainly the first place I looked when I took on the responsibility was to look at how the current system of workforce boards and community colleges and the like do the amazing work they do, I would argue with oftentimes insufficient resources. And so on one hand, we borrow from the long legacy of the 1,300 plus community colleges that have transformed so many people's lives.

Frank Britt:                        Having said that, when we look at it from the employer perspective, particularly some of the larger employers, we look at the current system, the one that was premised on a set of assumptions that while, not irrelevant, probably are not as primary as they once were, which is most notably geography. Which is that you had a community college, or a workforce board that had a training radius around it in which they were designed to help adults or transitioning adults move to the next place.

Frank Britt:                        But if you look at it from an employer perspective, employers, particularly large national employers who are distributed in their operating models, geography to them is a national statement. They don't think about it by zip code. They think about it as where are all my retail locations, where are all my plants, where are all my call centers, where are all the whatever? So we just think that the current system with its orientation towards geography, it's not irrelevant, but it's probably not the dominant matrix.

Frank Britt:                        Because if you listen to governors, and there's a lot of really progressive governors that care a lot about workforce, there's this kind of weirdness that they think as if the country ends at the border of their states. But in fact the worker, what's the difference if you live on one side of the George Washington Bridge or the other, in New Jersey or in New York. You're simply seeking employment and skill.

Frank Britt:                        So what we see with big employers are they're increasingly saying I need consistent solutions that have agility and affordability, and that give me the outcomes I need, the occupational skills I need, and allows me to have a set of services that I need as an employer. So we think about it as there's learner related services that are obviously ones that are designed to help the learner progress, stay motivated, have good outcomes.

Frank Britt:                        But there's also a set of services you need to serve the enterprise, which would be similar to the kinds of skills I imagine an Accenture, or an Oracle, or a Salesforce might have meaning how do you manage a partnership with a large corporation as an account. And you have to be able to have the operating dexterity both technically as well as culturally to manage a tier one enterprise partnership and obviously serve nontraditional second chance learners. And to be able to have those cultures coexist at scale on a national basis is frankly pretty difficult.

Frank Britt:                        And so that's what our kind of mandate is. Our mandate is to create a complementary solution to the existing credible solutions that are out there that have existed for a long time, and are working really hard every day to be the best version of themselves. And to compliment that with national solutions for large employers that need the kind of dexterity I talk about, which is serving learners as best they can, as well as helping to meet the unique needs of employers, which includes analytics, a whole bunch of services, not the least of which is pricing models.

Frank Britt:                        And so to do both of those at one time is hard. We're probably in the, despite our long history, we're probably in the top of the [inaudible 00:20:40] being able to do it well, but we're learning how do you do both? And I think the current system as we know it wasn't really engineered for that. It was engineered for a local solution to a local need. And national employers have national requirements such as the Amazon program you cited.

Rick Maher:                       Yeah. And I think that your points are well taken. I mean, I've always found it difficult. We do amazing things regionally. And to be fair, in many, many states, we're working across borders. But I get your drift. I understand that. We're predominantly designed around geographic political divides, and the best of us are finding ways to work through them in regional setups. But when we do create those regional solutions that are really making a difference, and there are lot of them in the community college and boards that are out there, the best of breed are doing amazing work.

Rick Maher:                       How do we take them and scale them nationally is a frustration for employers that I've worked with. Because they do it in one location, but it takes months and weeks and months and maybe years to get the right players assembled and aligned in a shared vision between the community college president and the board and local elected officials. And then we find out, well, we did great in location A, now we've got to move it to location C. We got to start all over again. That's difficult. And so your point is well taken.

Frank Britt:                        I would just add that in our respective lifetimes, the current system as we know it will remain the dominant design. And I think that's just fine. So we're not foreshadowing that suddenly all these current systems will go away. Quite the contrary. So many amazing institutions are working hard and partnering with governments and the like to build better versions of themselves. We're simply saying that there are likely to emerge complimentary solutions that will borrow extensively from the great work being done at the state level by traditional institutions.

Frank Britt:                        But perhaps in some cases unconstrained by some of the traditional factors that constrain those institutions. There might be some examples of innovation that come from organizations. We've being only just an example of one of many I'm sure. And so we think they should easily coexist. And ultimately there's so much need from the worker's perspective, right, with the 70 plus million people. There's no lack of people to help. And there's no lack of imperatives. It's a very large problem. It's going to take the best minds across a variety of delivery systems.

Rick Maher:                       Absolutely. And I've long held the belief, and you know me, so you know I'm not shy about pontificating myself at times. That there's a model, maybe yet to be born, where these regional solutions that are developed in leading edge community colleges working with employers and others in their region to create content that's world class, there's a model out there where that content could be licensed through other parties to help bring it to scale through technology. And I really think that's a solution waiting to be born that would have great impact in this space.

Rick Maher:                       So you're right. These people are going to be foundational to our system going forward and they need to be. I want to find ways to bring them the scale, if you will. And Frank, I know you've talked to me at times about wanting to broaden your reach into the workforce system and working with community colleges. I know you've been expanding dramatically in the private sector. Talk to us, who are the kinds of people you're working with today. And more importantly, or as importantly, have you had the ability, or the time, the traction to create better partnerships with the workforce system and community colleges working together with Penn Foster? I mean, the fact that you have to go through customized training lists in every location must be a barrier for you guys. I don't know.

Frank Britt:                        That's a great question. I think as far as our work with enterprises, we've been very privileged to work with brands that we admire tremendously. For example, the Live Better program that Walmart has, the Amazon Career Choice program, the Disney program, General Motors, Chrysler, California Steel, Penske, Lowe's. We're very fortunate to be playing, I'm sure only a small part, in a much bigger agenda than all-

Rick Maher:                       Yeah, that's amazing.

Frank Britt:                        ... those companies have. Yeah. So we feel great about that. Having said that, we're the best versions of ourselves, but boy, we have a lot of work ahead to really be able to deliver on the full promise and expectations of employers. But we think that this much aligned experience curve makes a difference. Our ability to represent that is a lot different.

Frank Britt:                        For example, we've made a very big strategic push in staffing companies. 22% of all middle skilled adults in the United States actually work today in a staffing environment. And we think historically staffing companies have viewed their charter as very transactional. You find people and deploy them. But if they're going to represent one of every five middle skilled adults, they're going to take a much more active approach to upskilling.

Frank Britt:                        So we think about it in the context of ourselves as a social enterprise. How can we amplify our impact at scale? And that answer is we can serve consumers directly, which we do every day. That's our legacy, and remains a vibrantly important part of our future. But to the extent we can partner with large scale enterprises to drive asymmetrical impacts on people's lives, that's consistent with our social mission.

Frank Britt:                        As it relates to one of your subquestions, which was partnerships with, let's call it, the traditional system. We have found in the last, maybe, 18 months that there is a portfolio, or a set of workforce boards that are starting to see that it's an and statement, not an or statement. And by that I mean they should continue to use the best providers in their local communities because they're great, but also look for nontraditional solutions to complement. And a good example of that-

Rick Maher:                       That's great.

Frank Britt:                        ... is the Dallas Workforce Board. The Dallas Workforce Board points out that one of every three people who live in the city of Dallas are working poor, that lacked access to transportation and oftentimes childcare. And the conclusion that the leader of that organization's alluded was that they needed a nontraditional solution to complement some of the current solutions. And so we've been fortunate to work with the Dallas Workforce Board. And I think you'll see heading into 2020 there'll be several other higher profile workforce boards that are recognizing that it can be an and, not an or.

Frank Britt:                        And firms like Penn Foster, which are privatized, have no dependency on the government, can play a part of the portfolio of solution providers that can help them. So I'd say we're very early on in those relationships. But we have some early successes, and we would expect it in the next three to five years that if we continue to work hard and do the best work we can, we would like to be part of some other opportunities like that. And we're hopeful that folks will see that as something at least worthy of exploration. We're not always the right solution for every workforce board, but we at least think that exploring what we do uniquely should at least be in the consideration. So in some cases, it will be a good fit. In other cases, it may just not be the right time.

Rick Maher:                       And I'm really pleased to hear that you've got some buy in there. And I'm not surprised to hear that there are... look, I work with a lot of these folks. There's some really smart, really nimble, really bright people in the so-called traditional system. So the fact that they're starting to find you and people like you is really uplifting, frankly, for me to hear. I'm really happy to hear that. And I know that some of these, if you will, partnerships are new and forming. Kudos to you, Frank, and to them to be willing to experiment to try, and to shape new solutions.

Rick Maher:                       Just give me a sense if you would, we're living in a world now where credentials, I'm even reading the latest trends I'm hearing is about skills based recruiting. And increasingly, employers are moving beyond looking at resumes and degrees, and trying to screen people down to competency levels, right? Because they've recognized that some of the jobs they need met... Even I talked to one just recently who's recruiting folks into a new apprenticeship program they've started. And they're looking for very specific competencies. And by the way, many of them are very soft skills oriented, attitudinal kinds of skills and traits if you would.

Rick Maher:                       But give me a sense of what are the kinds of ways that Penn Foster can fit into solutions that are being crafted in workforce boards? I mean, are you guys delivering skills based distance learning? Are you delivering credentials? Are you delivering custom solutions to what they need? Give me a sense of the way that Penn Foster's prepared to partner with folks like the Dallas Workforce Board and others.

Frank Britt:                        Well, what we have found to be a contract that seems to resonate is this idea of setting up academies. And so if you're a workforce board in your local market or regional market, you believe that there's a need for more skills in a certain domain. For example in Dallas, despite all the rhetoric about online commerce, I think something like only six or seven percent of purchases are made online.

Rick Maher:                       Right. There's still are a lot of stores out there, aren't there, Frank? In fact, I've been in a few of them lately. I'm sure you have too. Yeah.

Frank Britt:                        Yeah. Well there's 4 million people who work in retail. It's still the largest employment sector in the US economy. And in Dallas and greater Dallas, and there's a lot of headquarters based in Dallas. So they look at the problem and say how can we build a better pipeline, partner with one stop centers and the like to identify people who could build careers in retailing.

Frank Britt:                        So in that example we set up, under their leadership, the Retail Academy. You could imagine the same model in skilled trades. You could certainly imagine it in the allied health market, which is another major strategic for us that we have. So there's four or five or six, let's call them metasectors, allied health, skilled trades, retail, even animal health, which turns out to be an incredibly fast growing market, and rife with opportunity. We would set up an academy in collaboration with the workforce board, either at the local level or at the state level, to help build a pipeline.

Frank Britt:                        I think your larger point about skill based hiring, we think the traditional system of recruiting, which is increasingly, as you know, machine learning based actually has like all efficiencies in the economy actually has a dark side that doesn't get much attention. Which is because it uses traditional signals, labor market signals, to identify who's a good candidate, if you turn out not to have those signals, you're pushed out of the system. So what we often say is that it's hard for humans to not be biased if they have bias. It's not hard for machines not to have bias. You just have to fix the bias.

Frank Britt:                        And the bias that we're pretty preoccupied with is there's a cohort that we refer to as the unlinked population as opposed to the LinkedIn population. And these are folks that have a tremendous amount of relevant experience in certain areas, but not as the system would normally define it using traditional pedigree. So we're mindful that up and down the employment value chain from the recruiting process all the way through the relevant credentials that there needs to be a different model for the applicants all the way through.

Frank Britt:                        And actually it starts with job descriptions. Job descriptions are generally very vague, poorly written. And I think to the extent that job descriptions get more specific, so for example, if the job description said you need to be able to manage in a complex environment involving serving customers with uncertainty. Well that means you could just as easily be running a Waffle House as you could a more traditional white collar job. And you ought to be more qualified because it's a very dynamic environment with lots of uncertainty factors.

Frank Britt:                        So what we're encouraging is a different way to look at the notion of what is talent, what is skill. But then back to the core question. We're a fully accredited institution. We offer traditional credentials, whether it be a high school completion, career associate degrees, and badging capabilities. So you can verify people's skills wherever they are in their academic journey.

Rick Maher:                       Let me tell you something, and first off, I love the idea of the academies. And again, I didn't give you an opportunity until now to talk about it, but the fact that you guys are fully accredited to deliver degrees, traditional high school graduation, all the rest. And yet you are able to take what you know and fashion custom solutions like those academies. It occurs to me, that kind of stuff has national scale, right, Frank?

Rick Maher:                       I mean if we're delivering a best of breed solution like that in Dallas, there needs to be a model somewhere somehow to port that to other regions around the country that have that same need without having to go through custom development again and again and again. I mean there is, as you point out, a system that has proven its ability to deliver in the toughest of times for people, and particularly for people who are unlinked and need a hand. And yet, with up to 15% of the nation's workforce potentially needing to be upskilled or reskilled, we just do not have the facilities, the people, the budgets to do that on their own.

Rick Maher:                       So they're going to need to find new, more nimble solutions. They're going to need to partner increasingly with employers. And one of the messages you've shared today about employers being willing to engage in that conversation, not just from a perspective of social responsibility, but also from a perspective of just good business is hopeful. And I just wanted to shine a light on what you are doing. And again, I'm not selling any brands here as I told you going in. I mean there are other people doing it, but Penn Foster's a long standing example of a company that has adapted the change. My God, have you guys adapted from the catalog days.

Rick Maher:                       And then you're in the middle of helping to find solutions to a real challenging time. And I think you exemplify the kinds of things that I'm looking for our system to look for, new, more nimble, more scalable solutions, out of the box answers to what are really kind of new and out of the box challenges, Frank. So I really appreciate it. I wish I had more time with you, but this has been a great primer, I think. What one person who's engaged in the private sector really thinks and the kinds of things you're able to do. Not just with private folks, but in partnership with the public sector. And I hope and expect that there's going to be people in our system that are thinking about solutions like the ones you're building here today. If people want to stay connected, Frank, to you, or they want to follow the good work that Penn Foster's doing, find out more about what you're doing, how would people connect with Penn Foster and follow your progress?

Frank Britt:                        We try to share our best practices and our learning. So there's lots of ways to get in touch with Penn Foster, both just bouncing around our website or Googling me. My team's very helpful about increasing my presence. And really more as a channel for the rest of the good work that our team does. So I think Googling me will take you to a couple of different places that do that.

Frank Britt:                        I might just close by saying that, besides thank you for giving us an opportunity to share, what we are inspired by as being involved in what is a very, very complicated and very essential challenge for our country. And we are kind of inspired by and lifted up by all the incumbent folks that already do that. We view ourselves as really just a part of a much bigger solution that needs to be brought to bear.

Frank Britt:                        And so we enter all these conversations with a blend of, I think, some level of competence, but also an incredible amount of humility because we have a lot to learn from the folks that have been doing this for such a long time. So we are hopeful that we can all work together to make the middle skilled market get the same kind of attention that the K-12 system and the higher education system has received for all these many decades. And we think there's a lot of opportunity ahead to make an impact, and we're grateful for being a part of it.

Rick Maher:                       Well Frank, I'm going to tell you that if we're going to make it through this next iteration of industrial revolution, so-called fourth industrial revolution, without leaving a whole lot of people behind, the highest skilled, the best connected of us are going to be fine. That's not who I'm worried about. And if we're going to make it through this next challenge without leaving a lot of people behind, we're going to have to be more innovative, and we're going to have to find new and more scalable solutions. And I just appreciate your willingness to share with our audience the kinds of things that you're doing and that Penn Foster's doing. I wish you a lot of luck, and again, I thank you for your partnership here today. It's been a pleasure to reconnect with you frankly, and to learn about some of the things you're doing. Great job, Frank.

Frank Britt:                        Thank you so much. Thank you.

Rick Maher:                       My pleasure. So for now, folks, until next time at Talent Talks, this is Rick Maher thanking you for listening. And reminding you that at Talent Talks, we hope to explore, inform, and inspire you because we are all actors in what I call a global war for talent. One where talent is seen as the next global currency, and where the one with the best talent development will be the victor in global prosperity. So we hope you've been inspired to take a risk, make a difference. We hope you'll dare to be great, break something, and make it better. Try, fail, but fail fast, and try again. Thanks again for listening. Have a great day. And we'll see you next month on Talent Talks.

Speaker 1:                          Thank you for listening to Talent Talks presented by Maher & Maher and IMPAQ International. For more information on what is being done to position America's workers, employers, and communities for future prosperity, sign up for our newsletter at That's

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