In today’s tight labor market, companies cannot afford to ignore untapped reservoirs of smart, motivated potential employees. Yet many have just such a pool of talent right before their eyes. By innovating on outreach, continuing education and career development, some companies are finding new ways to ensure their workforce is the best it can be—and that can mean a more diverse workforce, as well.
Reaching jobseekers outside of the traditional hiring pool is one area in which some companies have excelled. The waste hauler Republic Services, for example, realized a range of benefits after it recruited female school bus drivers to its formerly all-male roster of truck drivers.
Appealing to jobseekers by proactively creating an inclusive, supportive environment is another effective strategy, as demonstrated by the LGBTQ initiatives of the global firm Accenture.
One key area in which progress seems to have stalled, however, is racial diversity. More companies are talking about diversity more openly, but there is still a persistent bottleneck in hiring and promotion.
In this regard, JetBlue’s employee education and career development initiatives offer an example for companies seeking to walk the diversity walk.
Racial disparity in college degrees is one key obstacle for companies seeking to diversify their workforce, especially at the managerial and executive levels.
The problem is not just about access to college. For those who do go to college, data show that black and Hispanic students disproportionately never complete their degrees, or they receive diplomas from less competitive schools.
As a result, they are more likely to enter the workforce with some college credits but no college degree, or with a degree that does not help them advance professionally.
This issue also has an impact on the U.S. workforce overall. More than 36 million adults have some college credits but no degree. Many cannot return to school full-time because they need to pay down college debt or have family commitments that make a degree seem out of reach.
Additionally, in today’s rapidly changing job market, consistent up-skilling is necessary to ensure advancement—even for those with four-year degrees. At least 54 percent of all employees will need re-skilling and up-skilling by 2022, yet those who need it most are often the least likely to receive it, the World Economic Forum noted earlier this year.
JetBlue credits its employees with sparking ideas for a path forward. The company launched its JetBlue Scholars program in 2016, in response to employees seeking help in completing a bachelor’s degree.
JetBlue took a hard look at the cost obstacle and developed a comprehensive program that helps employees to overcome it.
This program, however, goes far beyond simply offering tuition reimbursement. Participating employees attend college primarily online, eliminating costs associated with campus life while adding flexibility in scheduling. They are also eligible for financial aid, and they can convert qualifying professional certificates and work experience—including aviation and military experience—into college credits.
In addition, JetBlue Scholars enrollees receive hands-on guidance both within their company and from the college, allowing them to tailor their degree programs for maximum professional and career development.
Most importantly, JetBlue Scholars attend high-quality schools. JetBlue’s launch partner in the program is Thomas Edison State University, part of New Jersey’s highly-rated network of public universities and colleges. TESU is designated as this network’s adult school, meaning it’s a perfect match for the needs of older working students.
Image: JetBlue works with highly rated institutions such as Thomas Edison State University on its career development program for employees.
The JetBlue Scholars Program was a success from the beginning. Within its first year, 50 JetBlue employees completed their college degrees, including pilots, reservation agents, flight attendants, mechanics and administrative staff.
This year, JetBlue is taking it to the next level with a new master’s degree program at discounted and affordable rates in partnership with TESU and other universities in New York, Louisiana and Maryland. Also included is Western Governors University, a multi-state educational partnership that gives classes online.
As with the JetBlue Scholars program, the idea of an advanced degree program came in response to inquiries from JetBlue employees.
The airline also stands to benefit: The new JetBlue Scholars Master’s Pathways program is aimed at enabling the company to promote more workers from within—an important consideration for employers seeking to retain valued employees in a tight job market.
“As you move up in an organization, you have the technical training and experience in corporate culture, but you might not have the educational background to move to the next level,” says Dr. Dennis W. Devery, TESU’s vice president for enrollment management.
The vocabulary of managers and executives is one of the key stumbling blocks for those looking to climb up in the ranks, he says. “Employees have told me that [executives] are talking at a level they don’t understand,” Dr. Devery explains. “As you move through an organization, there are nuances that have to be learned through education—and while you’re getting that degree, you’re starting to learn the higher-level issues of management and learning the vocabulary of organizations at senior levels.”
The JetBlue model provides other companies with a pathway for demonstrating that their diversity efforts are more than just words on a webpage.
Though the company’s educational and career development initiatives did not begin with a focus on diversity alone, they are an expression of JetBlue’s core values around inclusion. In particular, the company’s approach to diversity translates into a concerted effort to “appreciate, respect and value crewmembers’ points of view across the spectrum.”
The cornerstone of JetBlue’s success is listening to employees from all walks of life—and responding to their concerns and aspirations in a concrete, effective way. Companies seeking to replicate JetBlue’s educational and career development programs would do well to start there.
*This series is sponsored by JetBlue and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.