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As businesses continue to look for ways to address their biggest ongoing challenge – finding, developing and keeping quality, skilled employees – many are looking for ways to encourage employees to continue their education or add new training and certifications. Four such businesses shared their experiences on June 8 during a special session of the Chamber’s 60 Minutes to Success educational luncheon series.
The event, “Supporting Employee Education,” was designed to offer ideas on how companies can compete for top talent by offering tuition assistance and support programs.
“It can be a real challenge for HR leaders to find top talent,” said Candida Deckard of CNH Industrial Reman. “We run into a lack of workforce with the needed skills, as well as a lack of total employees due to the low unemployment rate. That makes it critical to retain employees and develop employees internally.”
Getting in on the Act
The benefits of offering educational assistance to employees are evident to many companies. Even the sponsor of the Chamber’s 60 Minutes to Success series offered its insight into the topic.
Mediacom Business, which sponsors the yearlong luncheon series, offers tuition assistance for its employees in exchange for a commitment to stay with the company. Senior Account Executive Scott Hutson told event attendees how he had personally taken advantage of the program to get his graduate degree from Webster University.
“I realized that I had already taken a few classes toward my degree, so I thought ‘why don’t I take the rest of these and finish this?’” he said, noting that he spread his courses over seven years.
He said it’s easy to see how the program creates a win-win situation for the company and the employee. “For me, I knew I had a path toward that degree,” he said. “And my managers knew that when I filled out a requisition for reimbursement, I was committing to stay with the company.”
If you’d like to learn more about the various ways companies can encourage education attainment for their employees, the Chamber has put together this brochure with more information.
And as the four panelists – representing organizations from 15 to 1,500 employees – demonstrated, those support programs can take several forms. Digital design firm Mostly Serious developed Project Expert, which it calls a focus on learning in the workplace. As Spencer Harris, the company’s director of operations, says, the program is designed to remove the three barriers to education at work: culture, time and money.
The company encourages directors to block time on their calendar for learning experiences and offers reimbursement for classes and training, which is tied to specific objectives. And as for the culture barrier … “Sometimes, we have a bad habit of not wanting to let people know that you don’t know something,” he said. “So we try to encourage a culture where people can get around that.”
While Mostly Serious handles employee requests for training reimbursement on a case-by-case basis, larger companies have taken a more structured approach. Celeste Cramer of CoxHealth said her organization encourages managers to award reimbursement based on successful performance rather than simply on a seniority system.
“We reward top performers; it’s not about HR awarding reimbursement for people based on length of service,” she said. “It empowers our leaders to select people and prepare them for future success.”
In exchange for having the company pay for additional schooling or training, the employee signs a work commitment to stay with the organization for a predetermined length of time based on the reimbursement, which further encourages employees to stay with the health system longer.
For other companies that offer tuition reimbursement and employee education benefits, like JP Morgan Chase, the assistance is also about improving overall company morale and planning for the future.
“We have 1,500 employees, and most are entry-level with only a high school diploma or GED,” said Chase Site Coordinator David Elliott. “As people increase their education, they get more confident in their roles. They take more leadership in their jobs and are more likely to move up for leadership.”
And Spencer pointed out that companies shouldn’t be worried about the potential of training their employees to leave the company. “Educating people is an investment in the future of your company,” he said. “If you’re investing in education, you have by default set a direction for your organization.”