With access to large numbers of frontline workers, employers such as Tyson Foods are critical partners in ensuring digital navigator services — or just-in-time supports for device and internet access — are made available to many adults in the U.S.
Tyson Foods, a member of the Digital US Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills and Equity, has supported diverse workers from across the country with their digital inclusion needs both to succeed at work and to accomplish their personal goals, such as supporting their children in online learning or banking online.
“Employers need to help close the widening gap between those who have digital skills and those who don’t, and providing digital navigator services bring significant ROI to the employer and the broader community,” said Anson Green, Senior Manager, Economic Opportunity, Tyson Foods.
Digital navigator services have been thoughtfully embedded into Tyson Foods’s Upward Academy, an ambitious training initiative to upskill its frontline factory and food processing workers and provide basic education services including English as a second language, high school equivalency, digital literacy, financial literacy, and U.S. citizenship. Tyson offers classes online or in the plant immediately before and after workers’ shifts, developed digital literacy labs at their factories, and a device loaning program for employees to take tablets home. Upward Academy training provides comprehensive supports for digital literacy in orientations and integrates digital skills instruction throughout its trainings.
“Tyson’s digital inclusion efforts stand out as they have overcome barriers to meet the needs of thousands of factory workers with emergent language and digital literacy skills. The majority are immigrants and live in rural areas, and within a single plant, may represent up to 50 different countries and many more language groups,” says Priyanka Sharma of World Education, Inc. and Co-Director of Digital US and its Digital Navigator initiative.
To ensure team members succeed in the classroom, a support network activates around the students. In addition to interpreting and translation services, HR staff, bilingual community liaisons, chaplains who serve in roles similar to case managers, or additional staff from partner community colleges or training providers are brought in to ensure learners receive the personalized supports they need to succeed. Additionally, using free or inexpensive apps, Tyson’s Upward Academy team developed online digital literacy tutorials in the company’s top 10 languages to support learners accessing online courses.
“Every plant has different needs we must figure out how to meet, but it is well worth our investment. 90% of our workforce are frontline workers, and 60% or more are immigrants and refugees, and a majority join us without digital literacy skills. Without our supports, a team member’s first phases of digital literacy are often their last, as steps such as understanding the English-language keyboard, connecting to WIFI, and developing a secure password are obscure and complicated.” — Donna Davis, Senior Manager, Upward Program and Student Success
Tyson plants are predominantly located in rural areas with limited labor pools, which means Tyson relies on developing and promoting talent internally. As automation and digital technologies change the nature of work, Tyson is committed to developing the digital fluency of team members. Beyond Upward Academy, Tyson team members also now have additional upskilling opportunities through a new career advancement program, Upward Pathways. It is also sharing effective practices and strategizing with other employers on how to make effective investments in the skills and digital resilience of their employees.
“Employers, and especially small ones, are scrambling to figure out how to support their employees with their technology inclusion and digital skill needs. Tyson is eager to share our learnings with other employers, whether examples of how we’ve provided digital navigator services or recommendations on specific curriculum and assessments or local providers. The Digital US employer network gives us a space to do this as well as learn from other employers’ efforts.” — Anson Green, Senior Manager, Economic Opportunity, Tyson Foods