In today's tight labor market with many hiring managers bemoaning the war for talent, organizations must be extremely competitive in the employee benefits they offer.
With pressure on workers to be continually honing their skills and competencies to remain relevant, tuition assistance is proving to be among the most essential benefits organizations can provide.
Roy Skillicorn, senior director of learning and development for Cisco, and a Capella University School of Business and Technology Advisory Board member, shares his thoughts on trends in tuition assistance, how organizations benefit by offering such programs, and the risks they face if they don't.
Q. From your perspective, are tuition assistance programs growing in popularity as a benefit offered by employers?
A. Absolutely. Employers today can't afford not to offer tuition assistance programs. According to a LinkedIn survey, 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. To recruit and help retain employees in this labor market, every employer that is more than a small, independently owned operation needs to offer a meaningful tuition assistance program. Results from LinkedIn's 2018 Workplace Learning Report show that talent developers, executives and people managers agree that providing resources to enable talent is crucial to the business. There is a consensus that learning and development programs are a necessary benefit to employees.
When you are competing for key talent that is hard find, tuition assistance can make the difference. It is a benefit that prospective employees are not only hoping for, but they expect. This is more than a nice to have. It's a must have.
Q. How are tuition assistance programs different than they were 10 or 20 years ago? How have they evolved and to whose benefit?
A. Organizations are becoming much more strategic as to how they design and leverage tuition assistance programs. Everyone benefits from that. They are being much more thoughtful and specific in identifying the objective of a tuition assistance program, and asking questions such as, "What is the desired outcome for the organization, as well as the employee?" They are also being more diligent in ensuring the specific skills that employees want to learn align with where the business is headed in the future, not just where it is today.
While tuition assistance for bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees at accredited institutions remains at the core of these programs, there is a renewed focus on credentialing for very specific skills. Increasingly those highly specialized skills, which used to be taught primarily by trade or technical institutions, are now being offered by the same accredited colleges and universities that offer bachelor's and graduate degrees. They’ve seen the opportunity for expanding their portfolio of offerings and are capitalizing on it.
Q. Why is tuition assistance an employee benefit employers can't ignore? What is the risk if they do?
A. The risk is huge for employers that don't offer tuition assistance. Not only do they face fewer desirable candidates applying for key positions, but also increased turnover, decreased productivity, and a negative impact on employee culture. According to the 2018 Capella University Tuition Assistance State of the Industry survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents (73.71%) define their organization's TA programs as either critical or important to the strategy.
Every employer needs to face the new reality in which the traditional, static organization where an employee works the same job for years using the same skills essentially no longer exists. What we have today are more dynamic teams, more collaboration, more people moving from one team to another. To have that highly mobile, agile workforce, you have to invest in professional development.
Simply put, you won't keep up as an organization if you don't have some sort of a tuition assistance program in place. You will fall further and further behind if you don't invest in your employees.
Q. Beyond employee recruitment and retention, what are the other benefits of having an employee tuition program?
A. It goes way beyond just recruiting and retaining. Tuition assistance needs to be part of an overall talent development strategy. In a hyper-competitive workforce environment, organizations need to do everything they can to demonstrate a genuine interest and willingness to support and nurture employees.
Progressive organizations will not only provide adequate dollars for tuition assistance, but also carve out the space and time employees need to engage with professional development during the work day. People are busy. They have families and personal lives that eat up much if not all of their remaining time when the workday ends. Employers need to recognize that and make allowances for employees to learn new skills and competencies while at work.
And while most organizations still directly align the tuition reimbursement they are willing to offer with the specific skills needed at the company, there is a trend toward supporting more agnostic learning opportunities. For example, right now if someone who works at a semiconductor manufacturer wants to train to be a yoga teacher, that company likely won't fund that training. But maybe in the future they will. The thinking is that organizations benefit when they help develop curious people who expand their knowledge of the world around them. Supporting that curiosity can pay back dividends in ways an organization may not anticipate.
The bottom line is that organizations can reap significant rewards by offering robust tuition assistance programs, not only in terms in recruiting and retaining employees, but also in having employees that are highly knowledgeable, nimble, satisfied, and loyal.
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