Employee Initiative of the Year: Guild Education
Guild Education has made inroads with some of the biggest employers in the country, speaking to the reach of its programming.
A focus on hourly workers:
Education programs have historically been inaccessible for hourly workers due to cost. Guild is helping employers and employees alike figure out programs that work.
Guild's unique approach is helping employers prepare for a more automated future in which many workers are not yet prepared to thrive.
The business world is changing fast. But as it turns out, what's old is new again.
A perfect storm of deeply low unemployment rates, new technology that demands different skills and a changing business environment has forced employers to reconsider their benefits and take a hard look at futureproofing. Employee development is once again a stylish solution. But it's notoriously expensive and difficult to manage alone, if an employer — especially an employer of mostly hourly employees — actually wants to see results beyond a burnished reputation.
So Guild Education, an employee education benefit provider, has taken the formula and modernized it.
The names that Guild has added to its client list in the past year alone are hard to ignore: Discover, Taco Bell, Lowe's, Disney and Walmart, to name a few. While many education platforms offer good tech, Guild serves as a partner to employers and employees alike, offering an individualized coaching program that keeps the specific needs of hourly employees in mind.
Employee retention is at the top of the list of employer concerns, and the skills gap has only made what is already a challenge into an actual business threat. Guild's unique approach to a worsening problem is why it was chosen as our Employee Initiative of the Year.
As more employers consider development programs for hourly workers, many have turned away from the old tuition reimbursement format, as it isn't workable for many frontline employees, Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education, told HR Dive. Some four in 10 Americans can't cover an emergency expense of $400 with the money currently in their bank accounts, a Federal Reserve Board report revealed earlier this year.
But employers struggle to manage a tuition assistance program — in which employers pay for all or part of the cost of education — on their own, Carlson added. On top of that, finding strong education partners is a battle for employers trying to get serious about what they offer.
"It's a Catch-22," Carlson said. "Employers only have time to invest in a handful of university relationships, but employees want a diverse set." Guild brings already established relationships with Bellevue University, Brandman University, University of Denver, University of Florida and Wilmington University to help employers select the right programs for their employee groups.
Education benefits tend to be serious cost sinks, meaning employers are looking heavily at return on investment. Post-year reports are now coming in for a few of Guild's partners, including Chipotle, which found that 89% of employees who enrolled in its Guild program stayed with the company for the following nine months.
"The narrow way to think about it is 'budget,' but almost every company we work with sees positive ROI," Carlson said. As part of that success, Guild encourages its employer partners to improve benefits communication skills and leans on its coaching program to ensure employees also understand how the program affects their lives.
"Effective benefits communication is an important requirement that many companies struggle with when they do this on their own," Carlson said.
Ellie Bertani, director of HR strategy and innovation at Walmart, told HR Dive that Guild helped them to "uncover the blocks we may be putting in place."
"We truly feel the coaching element has the perspective of the worker and the learner and is really effective," she said.
Guild is also helping employers prep for a future that looks different. For the industries represented by Guild's client base, the future of work "is coming quickly" — and many workers currently employed by those companies "are not prepared to survive and thrive in that economy," Carlson said.
In turn, these employers see development as not only a responsibility to the business, but to employees as well.
"Robots are gonna figure out how to write code much faster than they are going to figure out how to manage people," Carlson said. Giving employees a foot-up in careers that require human qualities like trust, emotional intelligence and the ability to teach helps employers who are going to need to fill jobs with those same qualities in the future market.
"One of the things we've tried to do is be very selective about the fields we're offering," Bertani said. Office management and supply chain jobs are top of mind right now, but Walmart is also looking at other skills like IT and pharmacology to help achieve those "future of work" goals, she added.
"Cashier is an empathy and compliance role now," Carlson said. "Someone developed those skills. It's our job to help them use those to grow, either in the company or industry."
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