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Industry Updates

August 4, 2023

The Importance of Helping Hourly, Front-Line Employees Expand Their Education

Jason Parker

Senior Employee Program Specialist at HelloFresh

HelloFresh Prioritizes Employee Growth with Free GED Program, Opening Pathways to Better Opportunities

Our goal at HelloFresh is to deliver fresh ingredients to our customers, giving them the means to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals. To get the job done, we rely on many hourly employees—some who work long hours on a production line, often in refrigerated rooms—to create tens of thousands of meal kits each day.

We’re a mission-driven company that prioritizes sustainability and ethical business practices. Our employees’ career development is another core value and to that end, we run an internal digital learning platform and a Future Leaders Program for high-potential colleagues. Last year, 46% of our open management positions were filled internally.

It is important that we be able to extend these opportunities to everyone at HelloFresh, including our hourly workers. We value their commitment to our mission as well as the frontline experience they can bring to new and different roles at the company. Plus, in today’s tight labour market we don’t just want to bring these valued workers in the door, but keep them here.

Training and development have immediate benefits; individuals get new skills and the workforce is more productive. As important, and certainly aligned with our HelloFresh culture, investing in training for our hourly workers shows everyone that an entry-level job can be a stepping stone to a better work life and a more prosperous future.

The challenge faced by us (and in the industry generally) is that many hourly workers come to us with limited education and work experience. They become great at the jobs they’re hired for, but if they struggle with foundational skills, like reading and writing in English or critical thinking, they’ll then struggle with professional development programs or taking on higher-level responsibilities. Also, they work in places and situations (i.e. a production line) that don’t lend themselves to traditional in-person, “school-type” development programs.

We had to be creative and meet our hourly workers where “they were.” Here’s what we did, and some lessons we learned.

First things first

Just as a house built on a poor foundation won’t last long, we need to help our colleagues build a strong foundation on which to build their development. The initial, and biggest hurdle, was most frontline workers lacked a high school diploma. So, since January 2023, we’ve been partnering with Kaplan to offer prep courses for the General Educational Development (GED) high school equivalency exam, with zero out-of-pocket cost, for our hourly workers who want to earn a high school equivalency diploma. While the program is in its infancy, we’ve already gained some insight into considerations for building a relevant and effective employee development program. 

Align the program with the company’s mission

An education benefits program has to be integral to a company’s talent strategy if it’s going to be effective – it can’t be an afterthought. Aligning it to your company’s mission is one way to send a clear message to all employees and help generate buy-in across the organization.

HelloFresh’s mission is to democratize access to high-quality food and enhance people’s lives by changing the way they eat. We view our GED prep program as democratizing access to educational attainment and enhancing the lives of our hourly employees by improving their pathways for growth. On average, GED graduates earn $9,000 more a year than those who didn’t graduate high school. Giving our hourly employees the support to earn their GED provides them with greater opportunities for upward mobility – an investment we believe worth making to support a more educated, engaged workforce, whether participants stay with HelloFresh or take their talents elsewhere. 

Make it relevant to your employees and your organization

An effective program is one that’s purpose-built for you and your employees’ needs. For example, while our entry-level positions have no education requirement, all of our higher-level positions require a high school diploma. It simply makes good sense to ensure that our frontline employees can clear that hurdle, as it opens up a wider range of paths to professional growth and in turn expands our qualified talent pool when looking to fill higher-level positions. 

In addition, production floor experience is an asset for managers, who need to understand the day-to-day operations of our business to make informed decisions. The educational barrier makes that valuable experience harder to access. I believe focusing our program on the GED gives us the greatest opportunity to improve employees’ lives, expand our talent pipeline and reduce turnover. 

Remove barriers to accessing benefits

The more hurdles employees have to clear to take advantage of a benefit, the less that benefit will be used — no matter how valuable it is. Production floor employees I’ve spoken with recognize that a high school equivalency diploma would give them a long-term economic advantage. But they hadn’t pursued one due to a number of barriers: time, registration fees, access to preparation, and lack of guidance. 

That’s why we not only added the program but structured it to have zero out-of-pocket costs. Asking employees to pay themselves would have created an unnecessary barrier — and a particularly challenging one for the exact group of employees we are trying to help. Instead, employees can take advantage of it without facing even a temporary financial burden. Our hope is that employees who have wanted to get their high school equivalency diploma but haven’t been able to will find this opportunity too good to pass up. 

Market the program and communicate its value

Employees have a lot of things competing for their attention every day. Getting them to pay attention to your education benefit, as great as it is, requires a little marketing. We began our program with a multichannel communications push that included email, flyers and an information table to answer employee questions during lunch breaks, and we’re gearing up for another. 

In these messages, we don’t just remind employees that the program exists. We explain what kinds of opportunities it could open up, both inside and outside the organization. This specificity helps them make the leap to sign up since it provides tangible reasons why they should invest the time and energy to get their GED.

Investing in our frontline workers to help them pass the GED and possibly explore even greater educational and employment opportunities is good business practice and can raise U.S. workforce levels. We believe this approach positions HelloFresh as an employer of choice and helps our employees succeed—a true win-win solution.

Jason Parker is a senior employee program specialist at HelloFresh. Through a partnership with Kaplan, Kaplan provides GED courses, with zero out-of-pocket cost, for all HelloFresh hourly workers who want to earn their high school equivalency diploma. Learn more about Kaplan's workforce learning solutions by talking with Poonum Sidhu, executive director of our Enterprise Learning Solutions team.