Investing in employee development that addresses current and future skill shortages is important in today’s ever-changing global landscape. Doing so impacts not only the future growth and vitality of businesses, but in some cases entire industries.
By 2018, 63 percent of jobs will require some college or higher level of education, according to a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce paper. And as The Wall Street Journal reported in April, U.S. education levels continue to decrease, which has the potential to further exacerbate the so-called skills shortage.
The result has come in the form of companies using employer-sponsored tuition assistance programs to equip workforces with the skills needed for the job. Each year, global and U.S. corporations spend more than $16 billion on tuition assistance, according to Bersin’s study “Tuition Assistance Programs: Best Practices for Maximizing a Key Talent Investment.” Still, tuition assistance programs are often underutilized, with only about 5 percent of employees taking advantage of the benefit.
When designed and managed to target desired skills and workforce development, a tuition assistance program has the potential to be a high-impact benefit within an organization, resulting in a more prepared and talented workforce.
In addition to helping increase retention rates, tuition assistance programs have also proven to promote recruitment, career mobility and employee engagement. Yet in many cases, tuition assistance programs are not promoted actively to employees and are viewed as a business expense to be controlled instead of an investment in talent.
Effective methods of raising awareness include:
• Promote the tuition benefit program by placing information on the company’s intranet, in company newsletters and in break rooms. Have policy information easily accessible so that employees gain an understanding of what subjects and certificate programs are covered.
• Strengthen the manager’s role in career planning and development during annual reviews. Have managers and employees together create an education plan that addresses skills and competencies needed by the company now and into the future.
• Link employees to experts in learning and development guidance to help them navigate their educational path. This provides employees with information related to choice of degrees and education provider, financial aid options and learning options such as online delivery and professional certificates.
• Promote alternative methods for employees to gain college credit, such as prior learning assessment. These can save employees time, reduce tuition costs and dramatically improve completion rates.
• Celebrate graduates to further demonstrate the value a company places on the benefit. Success builds upon success. Inspire employees with success stories from their colleagues in company newsletters.
Creating awareness and guidance around learning and development opportunities desired by the company is valued by employees, enhances employee job performance and loyalty, and drives results for the company. When aligned with business goals, tuition assistance programs have the potential be a very powerful benefit.
John Zappa is CEO of EdLink, a provider of corporate tuition assistance management services. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.