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Editorial columns

Workers in low-wage jobs are increasingly receiving help from their employers to sharpen and increase their skills.

Firms’ investments in employees paying off

Indiana’s economy faces continuing weakness with no job growth and another rise in already-high unemployment in the last year. Now is the time to test assumptions about the labor market and preconceptions about job quality.

To get a more textured look at the experiences of lower-wage workers and their employers, our foundations sponsored a national survey of lower-wage workers earning less than $35,000 annually and their employers by the AP NORC Center for Public Affairs. A March 25 Journal Gazette article provided a glimpse of the results. We want to share further insights from the survey.

Lower-wage workers report lower job satisfaction than other workers, yet a substantial share have worked at their current employer for six or more years. While employees believe they are valued by their employers, they have little hope for advancement.

They have a mixed response on the value of training as a means for moving up. Most employers offer training to lower-wage workers and do so to achieve business outcomes. Workers benefit most from on-the-job training and coaching. But most lower-wage workers and their employers do not participate in training and education programs – mainly due to unfamiliarity with available efforts.

Finally, workers tell us that they bear most of responsibility – some shared with employers – for navigating their careers.

There are also local employers investing in their workers. For example, HardingPoorman Group is an Indianapolis commercial printer employing 142 people. Inspired by its philosophy of “making a meaningful difference in employees’ lives,” the company expanded training opportunities in 2009 in two ways. First, training is offered to all regardless of wage or position. Second, the company partners with the University of Indianapolis to expand offerings to include basic math, introduction to Spanish, and business finance.

HardingPoorman Group University also offers 21st century communications, team building, stress management training and more. Employees enrolled in HPG University can get $2,000 more in aid above the $1,000 already offered to all employees. Human resources leader Max Phillips says, “We want people to know even when they walk in that we are in a unique, caring company. We believe that will also filter to good care of our clients.”

We hope the survey information and the example set by this local business will encourage hundreds of other businesses and employees to take a similar approach.

Ellen S. Alberding (left) is president of the Joyce Foundation. Barbara Dyer is president and CEO of the Hitachi Foundation. They wrote this for The Journal Gazette.