A good job is the most important factor in helping people escape poverty. How do some employers create consistently high-quality jobs for even front-line employees, while their competitors offer only middling pay and poor employee satisfaction?
Many of our grants over recent decade were in the realm of training and workforce development. More recently, we focused on a crucial piece of the puzzle – how workforce investments yield a high return for employers. We wanted to understand the business case for investing in front-line workers. Few companies will raise wages or offer career ladders for their lower-wage workers out of charity. Every business must answer for its own financial bottom line. For a dead-end job to become a robust economic opportunity, there must be an economic incentive for the firm to make that change.
We knew of two entrepreneurs that had devised solutions to just that question: Al Fuller of Integrated Packaging Corporation and Louise Woerner of Home Care of Rochester (both of whom have served on the Hitachi Foundation's Board of Directors). Their two companies had achieved strategic advantage by offering better than average wages or employee stock options, and exceptional training for their workers. In return, they capitalized on extraordinary productivity, high retention, and terrific employee morale, in industries where such conditions are unusual. In other words, by creating genuine opportunities for employees to move up the economic ladder, they secured a sustainable
competitive advantage through increased productivity, revenues from new market segments and improved quality of product or service.
The success of these two companies encouraged us to seek out others. We asked: how could we find more companies like them? How many are there, and in which sectors? Most importantly, if we could discover the factors that made these companies successful while empowering their employees, could we then help similar firms do the same things?