Upskilling Programs Sustain Workers, Buoy Businesses

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Feb. 10, 2021 - During turbulent economic times, investing in the well-being and development of employees helps sustain workers through economic downturns and equips businesses to meet changing demands. Upskilling is a strategy that focuses on the ongoing learning and development of employees. Companies who invest in upskilling training programs help their employees develop new abilities to keep pace with shifting market dynamics. These training opportunities can also help displaced workers gain the necessary skills to fill in-demand jobs and re-enter the workforce. 

While this strategy is valuable in any occupation or industry, upskilling creates the opportunity for economic mobility for workers in retail, hospitality, food and beverage, and related industries that offer a large number of entry and mid-level positions with low barriers to entry. When upskilling opportunities are deployed within these occupations, frontline workers can develop skills, increase wages, and increase loyalty to their current employer or industry without having to sacrifice wages to pursue additional education or training.  

Through the Lives Empowered initiative, the CWDC and its partners are working to develop a scalable, industry-led model for upskilling the frontline retail workforce across Colorado. Diverse organizations can implement upskilling to improve employee retention, facilitate career advancement, and attract new talent, and there are a variety of approaches that employers can take to upskill their workforce. Upskilling can include: employer assistance for earning a high school diploma or GED, employer support with college tuition, training for digital skills, and more. 

The case studies below highlight the upskilling approaches of various retail organizations across Colorado, and they are intended to provide an array of models that can be replicated by other employers in the industry. Regardless of the approach, collaboration between employers and educators can save both money and time, and allow businesses to focus on work while supporting their employees in reaching their full potential. 

Over the next year, the CWDC Lives Empowered team aims to partner with organizations across the state to upskill an additional 300 retail and accommodations workers. You can join this movement by reading about, replicating, and scaling the approaches described in the case studies above and tapping into the upskilling resources and support provided through Lives Empowered. Here are additional resources to help you get started: 

  • Visit the Lives Empowered web page for access to free resources to upskill frontline workers and connect with wrap-around supports, including: 
    • The Lives Empowered Training Academy - Strengthen essential skills, such as customer service, and receive an industry recognized credential to help you move up in your career. 
    • Enrich  - Financial education and tools to make money decisions to ease the financial stress of workers. 
    • WorkLife Partnership - Support services to help your employees conquer their personal challenges so they can feel supported, productive, and engaged while at work.
    • Retail Career Pathways - Explore career pathways in retail, hospitality, and food and beverage to discover the education and skills required to pursue a career in the industry.
  • Implement strategies from the Talent Development Playbook to strengthen your upskilling and talent development practices as an employer. The “Recruitment & Retention” section specifically focuses on upskilling and other strategies for recruiting and retaining quality employees. 
  • Connect with a retail sector partnership to partner with other organizations in your community as you build upskilling efforts.
  • Contact the Lives Empowered Team at for questions or requests for support.


Lives Empowered brings together retail businesses interested in working collaboratively to increase economic mobility for frontline workers across Colorado and contribute to a strong economy. Lives Empowered is made possible by a $4.1 million grant from Walmart to the Colorado Workforce Development Council.