College for America Blog

6 Myths Holding Back Your Talent Development Strategy


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Posted In: Workforce Insight

Feb • 22 • 2019

6 Myths Holding Back Your Talent Development Strategy

If your company’s leadership and other colleagues are questioning the value of your talent development spending, it may be because they don’t see the benefits. Talent development is complicated by many misconceptions your colleagues may share. To advocate for an effective strategy, you need to be able to correct these 6 common myths.

Myth #1: “There’s no good way to know the return on investment.”

Fact: The ROI case is well established.

Companies back their talent development programs with sizable budgets. A 2017 study by Training magazine showed that U.S. companies spent a total of $90.6 billion on training, a 32.5% jump from 2016.

That’s a lot to spend without knowing if it works. Luckily, several studies recently have examined the ROI of learning and development (L&D) programs.

In the last few years, the Lumina Foundation has taken independent looks at tuition assistance programs in particular and found impressive results:

  • Discover Financial Services realized a 144% ROI from its tuition assistance spending. Employees participating in the program received annual wage increases of 41% greater than non-participating employees.
  • Regional Bank saw a 10% ROI ($700K in net savings), and workers who enrolled in the program had increased career opportunities.
  • Advocate Health Care’s tuition assistance program realized a 4% ROI for workers within the health system and a 58% ROI for the company’s business and administrative workforce.
  • Cigna’s program achieved 129% ROI.
  • An unnamed large communications technology company documented a 39% ROI with its tuition assistance program.

In the meantime, the Walmart Foundation conducted an independent study of working adults participating in College for America at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Among other positive results, the study documented employees in the program made better progress from tactical skills to the strategic skills they need to move into management roles, such as decision making, information gathering, communication, teamwork, initiative and creativity.

Myth #2: “If we train employees with new skills, they’ll just leave.”

Fact: If companies don’t train employees, they’re more likely to leave for other professional opportunities.

As we’ve written before, learning opportunities are what make you an “employer of choice.”

  • The Cigna ROI study mentioned above showed that employees going through the learning program were more likely to stay with the company.
  • Discover Financial Services was so persuaded by the impact of tuition assistance on employee retention that they eliminated the one-year wait for eligibility.
  • In a 2016 Gallup survey, 59% of millennials said they apply for jobs where the organization sponsors a talent development program. What’s more, nearly 90% rated “professional or career growth development opportunities” as one of their top job perks.

Rather than a stepping stone to another job, workplace education serves as a powerful retention tool for employers.

Myth #3: “Talent development makes the most sense for leadership roles.”

Fact: The biggest strategic opportunity for L&D is for front-line workers.

According to a survey sponsored by Chief Learning Officer magazine, L&D operations are spending over $50 billion per year on leadership development. If companies only focus on managers, directors and executives, however, they may overlook the benefits of educating their front-line workers.

These employees have an important impact on profitability, and they represent the company’s next generation of unit managers. The Walmart Foundation study referenced above shows how training for front-line workers can establish a pathway to management roles. For example, 43% of students in the study were more likely to be promoted. It also demonstrated a positive impact on engagement metrics like absenteeism.

In light of today’s low unemployment rate, educating and retaining is more effective than recruiting to deal with a talent crunch, at all levels of the organization.

Myth #4: “College degrees are overkill for our employees.”

Fact: Foundational skills are becoming more valuable and more necessary.

On the face of it, front-line roles in retail, banking, healthcare and other services wouldn’t seem to require the in-depth education provided in a 2- or 4-year degree. At least that may have been true in the past.

But times are changing. We interviewed several industry experts last year for an ebook on the changing face of the customer service role, and they emphasized how technology is raising the stakes for front-line and service-role employees. While automation is taking over many tasks, those that do remain are more complex, requiring superior communication and problem-solving skills.

In short, advanced tech creates a paradox where the work that is distinctly human stands out more. By the time customers have tried automated solutions and gotten to your employee, they have very high expectations.

As a result, Matt Sigelman, the CEO of Burning Glass, told us, the baseline skills emphasized in a college degree program are required in over half of recent ads for customer-service jobs.

Myth #5: “My employees are too busy for college.”

Fact: Well-designed degree programs account for the unique needs of adult learners.

Juggling a degree program with a full-time job and family responsibilities is tough. Campus-based courses that operate on a traditional semester schedule usually don’t work well for “nontraditional” students.

But online learning is opening up new possibilities, particularly when programs are designed from the ground up with working adults in mind.

Competency-based education (CBE), for example, can be ideal for many working adults. The formats can vary by institution, but CBE usually lets students work at their own pace and on their own schedule.

CBE also often lets students take a temporary break if they need to and then resume their studies later with less disruption than traditional programs.

Most important, CBE is designed to measure what people can do rather than how much time they put in, as the traditional credit-hour system does. This makes CBE more relevant and more motivating.

That also means many learners can finish degree programs more quickly. They use their past experience to demonstrate several competencies rather than taking courses they don’t need. That frees up more time to learn what is most relevant to their progress.

SNHU’s College for America was designed to take advantage of the differences in competency-based education. It is organized around projects rather than courses, so it is more self-serve than other programs. And it uses an “all you can learn” pricing model in which students are billed the same amount every term rather than by the credit hour.

Myth #6: “Our employees don’t care about college degrees.”

Fact: Degree-granting L&D programs can motivate employees.

Many adult learners have attempted to earn college degrees in the past and have had frustrating experiences. It may not have fit their schedules or connected with their career goals.

As a result, some of your employees may have convinced themselves they aren’t “college material,” but that doesn’t mean they don’t see the value of a degree.

If busy employees are shown a pathway to a degree — and how it will benefit them in their career — they are often eager to participate. For example, James Gennetti, a 15-year veteran at Comcast, discovered that, despite an impressive amount of experience and training in his field, he was losing jobs to people with more formal education. The opportunity to earn a degree motivated him to enroll in Comcast’s tuition assistance program.

What makes the difference for employees like James?

Many of the qualities we discussed above: a program that is clearly relevant, accessible and flexible.

Don’t let your company be limited by the myths that may be holding back your talent development strategy. If your colleagues are imagining a learning landscape that is unmeasurable, inaccessible or irrelevant, tell them to take another look.

If you’re ready to energize your talent development strategy, contact the Workforce Partnerships team at Southern New Hampshire University.