Some estimates say roughly 20 percent of our workforce (40 million people) lack a high school diploma. Another estimated 30 million adults have earned some college credit but no degree, which means they may be even worse off — they could have some college debt but not enough earnings to pay it back. At the same time, with 40 percent of jobs paying less than $15 an hour, many working adults with college degrees are stuck in dead-end jobs with no savings, no retirement and no predictable schedule around which to try to build a better life.

Most workers aren’t in any position to quit their jobs to pursue further education. We must find ways to help more adults work in partnership with their employers to gain the education, training or development they need to advance in their careers.

Assisting at entry-level

The good news is that employers are investing in adult learners. As the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University reports, employers spend $600 billion each year on formal and informal education and training. That is more than half of the $1.1 trillion our nation spends on education and training each year.

"Now is the time for us to help more frontline workers get the education, training or development they need to move up in their careers."

But that alone won’t fix the problem because: much of that money is spent developing upper management, with too little going to build the skills of entry-level employees; many companies offer tuition assistance programs but view these programs as untapped benefits and not as a cornerstones of the learning culture they should be creating within their company; companies and their education partners need to put more supports in place to help adult learners complete their programs and recognize them when they do.

Return on investment

Now is the time for us to help more frontline workers get the education, training or development they need to move up in their careers. We need to recognize employers who are investing in their workers, promote the policies and practices they use to improve the lives of their workers and highlight partnerships that deliver results. And a series of just-completed reports funded by Lumina Foundation show evidence that companies that invest in their workers can gain a return well in excess of 100 percent.

No matter where you work or what your role, promote upskilling in your workplace. With your help, we can make 2017 the year of the adult learner.