Resources to help support workforce development through workplace literacy.
Tyson Foods, Upward Academy
WATCH THE VIDEO: Tyson team members talk about the program.
In February 2016, Tyson Foods Upward Academy launched its first program pilot at our Randall Road facility in Springdale, Ark. The first classes kicked off at 5 a.m., fueled by donuts, coffee, and the commitment of our team members and adult education partners.
Tyson Foods plants are predominantly located in rural areas with limited labor pools, which means we rely on developing and promoting talent internally. Many of our frontline 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.
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, classes are offered in our plants immediately before and after shifts. Virtual classes have been held during the pandemic.
Mohammad Mukhtar, community liaison and citizenship instructor at our Center, Texas, plant, describes the program participants and benefits using these words: independence, excelling, life goals, self-sufficiency, enthusiasm, attitude, and liberation.
“Upward Academy brought such a positive impact to my plant,” Mukhtar said. “The workplace is not just a place where your life is stuck, but you have opportunities for education and for a better life. We’re doing everything to make sure team members don’t miss out on this.”
As the program continued to grow, Tyson Foods searched for new ways to increase its value. While ESL, HSE and citizenship offerings remain the core of the program, team members expressed interest in learning financial and computer skills to help them develop personally and professionally. Upward Academy responded by expanding course offerings to include digital and financial literacy.
In 2021, 59 new classrooms will open across the country with a goal of reaching 100% of U.S. based team members by 2025. A complementary career development program, Upward Pathways, also just launched and provides frontline team members job skills training and workforce certifications in the plant at no cost.
“My fondest memories of the program were when I learned that parents were empowered to go to their children’s school conferences, the grocery store, the doctor and have conversations,” said Kathleen Dorn, one of our founding adult education partners in Fort Smith, Ark. “The tears in their eyes as they were telling me these things was eye opening. Best program ever.”
Five years later, we celebrate the countless partners and students who transformed Upward Academy from just a good idea into a nationally scaled program. Because of their hard work and support, the program now serves thousands of team members in over 50 communities across the country.
Tyson Foods, Upward Pathways
Tyson Foods plants are predominantly located in rural areas with limited labor pools, which means we rely on developing and promoting talent internally. Many of our frontline 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. Tyson sought local solutions to develop this valued talent.
“Our team members are the most important part of our business, and we view it as our responsibility to provide opportunities to grow and thrive in their careers,” said John R. Tyson, Chief Sustainability Officer of Tyson Foods. “We’re excited to launch Upward Pathways as the next step from Upward Academy, which has seen tremendous success in providing resources to team members to help them take control of their own development and professional growth.”
In 2021 Tyson Foods, Inc. launched Upward Pathways, an in-plant career development program that provides frontline team members with job skills training and workforce certifications at no cost. Additional areas of focus include digital fluency and soft skills training, such as time management and leadership skills.
The program is being piloted at ten of the company’s plant locations and is a partnership between Tyson, adult education providers, and community colleges to establish a standardized promotional pathway for team members. Tyson facilities and training providers include:
Albertville, Al. (Northeast Alabama Community College)
Berryville, Ark. (North Arkansas College)
Green Forest, Ark. (North Arkansas College)
Portland, Ind. (Muncie Community Schools)
Council Bluffs, Iowa (Metropolitan Community College)
Finney, Kan. (Garden City Community College)
Dakota City, Neb. (Northeast Community College)
Omaha, Neb. (Metropolitan Community College)
Goodlettsville, Tenn. (Workforce Essentials Inc.)
Seguin, Texas (Alamo Colleges District)
Upward Pathways is led by Anson Green, who joined Tyson Foods in 2020 after seven years serving as the State Director for Adult Education and Literacy for the state of Texas.
“The goal of Upward Pathways is to identify and grow the untapped talent in our frontline workforce,” said Green. “The program represents a strategic effort to bolster career advancement efforts by maximizing the expertise, loyalty, and powerful diversity of our frontline workers. The approach leverages our community-based partnerships to deliver education, training, and supportive services aimed at increasing the competitiveness of our team members for advancement opportunities.”
Completion of Upward Pathways curriculum will culminate in a Tyson-branded credential that recognizes the skills gained by team members and signals readiness for advancement within the company. Industry-recognized workforce certifications focusing on safety training and other core curriculum will also be offered.
Dakota Provisions has been a major employer in the Huron, South Dakota, area since they opened their doors in 2005. They employ 1,000 people in their turkey processing facility. Their staff is actively involved in promoting community diversity and integration in the Huron Area.
The management of Dakota Provision acknowledges the responsibility they feel toward their employees and the community in which they work and live. The assistance they provide to the Cornerstones Career Learning Center (CCLC) English language programs comes from the desire to help their employees improve their language skills and to become not just better employees, but more fully integrated community members. When a large number of the CCLC participants were hired at the plant prior to completing a post-test, management allowed CCLC staff time and space to come to Dakota Provisions and assess students who otherwise would not have received the second assessment.
When Management learned that many of their employees were interested in attending English classes but were unable to come to any of the scheduled weekday classes, their human resources team contacted Cornerstone to discuss the feasibility of weekend programming. When Cornerstones staff learned that non-native English Speakers at Dakota Provisions(DP) needed specialized English instruction in order to be able to move into supervisory positions with the company, they worked with the DP human resources team to develop a workplace literacy program tailored to this particular group. Their cooperation over the years speaks volumes about their genuine desire to collaborate with the local adult education and literacy program.
Building Skills Partnership
Los Angeles janitors clean the city’s largest metropolitan buildings, yet their children attend some of the city’s most under-resourced public schools. 90% of janitorial workers are immigrant workers and often work difficult hours and hold multiple jobs. As a result, many struggle to access educational resources for their children.
In collaboration with the UCLA Labor Center, the Parent Worker Project aims to improve educational opportunities for janitors’ families and communities. Through the project, parents and young children participate in workshops, field trips, and cultural activities at worksites, schools, and the union. For example, recently, families attended a college tour at UC Santa Barbara, as well as a field trip to the California Science Center. For many janitor parents and their children, it was the first time setting foot on a college campus. In addition, BSP facilitates college workshops for the high school aged kids of janitors and science activities for children ages 5-12.
The Parent Worker Project trains a cohort of janitor parents and union members of SEIU-United Service Workers West, who will become advocates for their children’s education. It has been successful in reaching the entire household to improve student outcomes and keep dynamic, productive workers in the workforce. The project overcomes barriers common to the immigrant experience by providing a pathway to higher education to lift families out of poverty.