As the largest protein company in the U.S., Tyson Foods employs more than 122,000 people. Most of them are front-line workers in our plants and many are immigrants or new Americans. In fact, at some of our plant locations, up to 40 or 50 different countries may be represented under one roof.
Language and cultural barriers, along with varying levels of education and limited access to social resources, have created challenges at home and at work for some of our team members. Things many of us take for granted—like opening a bank account or filling out a form—can be daunting obstacles.
Launching a Workplace Education Pilot
To address some of these challenges, in 2016 Tyson partnered with adult education providers and nonprofits to launch a workplace education pilot in two plants near our corporate headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas. This pilot offered our team members free access to classes in English, high school equivalency, U.S. citizenship, and training on other life skills. To increase accessibility, we offered the classes in our plants immediately before and after shifts, which minimized conflicts around transportation and childcare and provided a trusted, familiar atmosphere in which to learn.
Initially expecting a small percentage of workers to enroll, we were surprised when nearly half the workforce signed up for the program at one of the pilot locations.
Those who enrolled reported the classes allowed them to more fully participate at work, home and in the community. English classes enabled them to help their kids with homework and to better communicate with co-workers and supervisors. One student, who had relocated to the U.S. 20 years before but had never learned English, told us she was able to make a doctor’s appointment by herself for the very first time.
Measuring the ROI
After expanding the pilot and seeing similar degrees of success, we formalized it into a workplace education program called Upward Academy. Our mission is to reduce the impact of social challenges for frontline team members and their families.
We had a feeling that, in addition to marked social improvements, the program might also have other positive impacts on the business. And, as with any business initiative, we needed to prove the return on investment. So, we partnered with the University of Arkansas to conduct ongoing studies to measure Upward Academy’s social and business impacts.
The University performed a Workforce Education Data Analysis. Over a six-month period, they studied a sample of 517 team members enrolled across 16 Arkansas locations, compared to a general pool of similar team members at the same locations.
The results were overwhelmingly positive. From a soft-skills perspective, students reported they felt more independent and better equipped to carry out responsibilities at home and work. They reported increased confidence at work, higher job satisfaction, and increased connection and inclusion in the workplace.
And thanks to our participation in FSG's Talent Rewire Innovation Laband support of the ROI Institute, we were able to calculate the business ROI measuring employee retention. While we were expecting the ROI to be positive, we were pleasantly surprised when it came back at 123 percent. For every dollar invested in our team members, we see a $1.23 return to the company in saved expenses.
Expanding the Program Across Our Footprint
Although our sample study population was comparatively small, we’re encouraged by the results. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made since we launched that first pilot in 2016. Tyson is now offering Upward Academy in 35 locations across five states, and we continue to launch in a new plant every couple of weeks. Around 2,000 team members are currently enrolled in classes, and our adult education partners have logged over 130,000 instructional hours. Tyson’s executive leadership team has made a public commitment to make Upward Academy available to all U.S. team members within the next few years.
We encourage other companies to test similar workplace programs in their businesses. Regardless of the end goal, whether it be improving the quality of life for employees or increasing the bottom line for the business, the benefits are worth the investment.