College for America Blog

How Workforce Learning Opportunities Influence Your Position as an Employer of Choice


Posted In: Workforce Insight

Jul • 17 • 2018

With an unemployment rate below 4 percent, employers in all industries find themselves in a fierce war for skilled workers. This is the tightest labor market in a quarter of a century.

To compete, companies need alternative benefits to offer to candidates and to retain current employees. Every company offers standard benefits like health insurance and retirement plans, so those no longer move the needle with applicants.

Many employers are distinguishing themselves by providing learning opportunities in their benefits packages in the form of tuition assistance programs designed to help employees complete their degrees. This is becoming an essential factor in being an “employer of choice” — a company people eagerly want to work for and recommend to their colleagues.

A robust workplace learning program with tuition assistance that allows workers to develop their skills and advance their careers can have a measurable impact on your talent management activities. For example, a 2016 study by the Lumina Foundation of Cigna Corporation’s tuition reimbursement program showed that employees going through the learning program upped the likelihood they’d stay with the company.

Specifically, they were 7.5 percent more likely to transfer within Cigna, and 8 percent more likely to remain with the healthcare giant. That filters down to the bottom line through reduced recruitment and talent management costs. (The study also showed that those who took advantage of educational assistance had a 10 percent better chance of being promoted.)

Such a valuable benefit creates a sense of loyalty; once an employee receives it, they are less likely to leave. In fact, independent ROI studies at several other companies show reduced recruitment and talent management costs for employers that offer tuition assistance programs. Discover Financial Services was so persuaded by the impact on retention that they eliminated the one-year wait for eligibility in the program for new employees.

Nearly 100 percent satisfaction

Degree completion opportunities have a powerful impact on employer brand because workers are hungry for it.

A few months ago, a chief learning officer at one of Southern New Hampshire University’s partner organizations shared some internal survey results about their workplace education partnership with College for America.

  • Of those who had gone through the program, 96 percent indicated they were satisfied with the courses and had applied what they learned on the job.
  • They overwhelmingly said they’d recommend the program to a colleague.
  • Employees who had completed the College for America program were promoted three times more than those who hadn’t.
  • The word that came up most often in the survey responses was “confidence.”

Recently, Boston-based Partners HealthCare sponsored a session in which College for America students and their managers talked about the impact of the program. One manager shared a story of wanting to help a co-worker advance her career and urging her to go through the College for America program. The co-worker did and she has since been promoted three times.

Real-life stories like this demonstrate the value of workplace education. It improves the lives of employees and the overall strength of an organization. This can have a significant impact on recruitment as employees share their experiences informally with their colleagues and more publicly on sites like Glassdoor. Companies become an “employer of choice” by organically nurturing these kinds of enthusiastic ambassadors.

The next generation will expect learning opportunities

Millennials in particular value employers who offer the chance to further develop their skills on the job. A 2016 poll by Gallup revealed nearly 60 percent of millennials pointed to career development as a deciding factor when applying for a job, saying it was “extremely important.”

What’s more, nearly 90 percent of millennials rated “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as an important aspect. If companies want to hire millennials, they need to enhance their learning and development programs — sooner rather than later.

Other surveys by PwC and Manpower show similar characteristics among young professionals. For example, four out of five millennials say the opportunity to learn new skills is a top factor in choosing a job, and they specifically name training and development as employee benefits they value.

How to get started

The first step to creating an effective tuition assistance program is to take a deep dive into what skills an organization requires from its workers to move forward.

Many companies are unsure what is actually needed, but SNHU program leaders can help by conducting an in-depth study of the organization’s employee base to uncover missing competencies. Once that is determined, an L&D program is outlined.

Then, organizations must find a suitable educational partner to address the skills gap in their company. Having a buffet of 20 educational partners for employees to choose from can actually result in less utilization of your tuition assistance program.

Finally, organizations must understand what they want to accomplish and measure with their learning and development efforts. Some typical goals and benchmarks that we’ve seen among our employer partners include:

  • Reducing the turnover rate from, say, 50 percent to 30 percent.
  • Improving retention. A targeted retention period could be anywhere from six months to two years, depending upon the company and the employee base it’s focusing on.
  • Saved resources, including time and money. As we mentioned above, several excellent ROI studies by the Lumina Foundation have demonstrated reduced talent management costs for companies that invest in tuition assistance programs.
  • Cultivating high-potential employees. How many are being identified for leadership positions and moving into those roles through training?

Of course, for these programs to actually attract and retain skilled workers, companies have to get the message out. McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts and Comcast have all made significant investments in their educational benefits and are marketing them more aggressively.

Demand for workplace education — from your employees and those who want to be one of your employees — has never been greater. Start now and your company will stand out as an employer of choice among the engaged, high-potential and confident talent you are looking for.