Jay Titus is vice president, workforce solutions, at the University of Phoenix. Views are the author's own.
For employers who want to survive the talent crunch, a strong education benefit for workers can make a big difference.
But in this employees' market, simply mentioning a tuition benefit in the employee handbook doesn't cut it — for workers or their employers.
Employees know they need to update their skills and knowledge, and increasingly, they look to employers to help them do that. In fact, 82% of employees surveyed for the latest Citrix Talent Accelerator report believe that workers will need to reskill or upskill at least once a year to maintain a competitive advantage in a global job market.
Employers, too, are demanding more from their investment in employee education. Where historically the tuition benefit was used solely to recruit and retain talent, companies now view education as a tool for upskilling their workforce, solving business challenges and preparing for a more competitive market.
In this environment, the companies reaping the most success from education benefits — and seeing the greatest return on their education investment — are those that think strategically about why they have an education program and what they hope the return on that investment will be.
Perhaps most importantly, savvy employers communicate that strategic vision with employees. That sounds basic, but it's apparently something many companies are overlooking. In an online survey issued by the University of Phoenix this year called the Career Optimism Index study, 89% of employers said their workplace provides frequent opportunities for upskilling. But only 61% of workers agreed with that claim.
Successful companies are entirely transparent about the parameters and possibilities of benefits, and they make clear what, if anything, they expect from employees in return. They help guide employees to educational organizations the company has successfully worked with, and note which programs offer high value to the organization.
Then, they go one step further: They acknowledge and celebrate an employee's success in completing an educational program, and they create pathways for the worker to put those new skills and knowledge to work at their company. Those companies recognize that one of the most effective ways to prevent the flight of the newly educated is to provide them opportunities for career advancement.
For companies that don't currently provide a tuition benefit but are thinking about adding one, the first step is: look around you. What are others in your industry offering? In healthcare, for example, assistance is becoming standard for continuing education, additional qualifications or certificates, and even full degrees. So, if education is not an item in your benefit buffet, then your employee may decide to take advantage of a competitor's fully stocked offering.
Likewise, in the financial sector, it's common to provide frontline, customer-facing staff with help getting a degree. If you truly want to help entry-level workers to climb in your organization, then you need to be investing in their education.
Whatever your industry, if the talented employee you're after can walk across the street and be offered the same salary and similar working conditions — with an additional education benefit — then there is little question which job will likely have the greatest appeal.
Many companies worry about paying to advance an employee's education, only to have that worker leave when their degree or certificate is completed. Clawback clauses, though rarely enforced, are one hedge against that. But companies should keep in mind that if an employee is earning a degree or taking a course, you're already benefiting from the employee's advancing knowledge.
In this environment, employers must recognize that employees have choices. So, to get the talent you need, and to keep them, it's important to not just invest in employee education, but to be smart and strategic about it.