College for America Blog

Why Educate and Retain is the Answer to Your Talent Shortage


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Posted In: Workforce Insight

Jul • 10 • 2018

Keeping good employees has always been more cost effective than recruiting, hiring and training new ones. But as the talent market tightens, retaining and developing employees from within is becoming imperative.

With the lowest unemployment rate in almost two decades (3.8 percent as of May 2018), it’s no wonder employers are feeling a talent crunch. As reported by the ManpowerGroup’s 2016-2017 Talent Shortage Survey, the number of global employers reporting talent shortages is 40 percent, the highest since 2007.

Meanwhile, the kind of talent employers require is changing. According to a recent study on job creation during the U.S. economic recovery from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 95 percent of the 11.6 million jobs created during that period went to workers with at least some college experience. Nearly all of the jobs being created today require more skills, more education and more credentials than in the past.

This may be why Haley Glover, strategy director at Lumina Foundation, is seeing an increasing number of employers suffering from skills gaps as she works to help them navigate this national talent shortage.

“These gaps are real, not just language or logistical challenges,” she says. “Employers are more and more looking for employees that can come in ready to learn, ready to engage and ready to work.” And in this talent market, Glover notes, more employers are going to find these employees by looking within their very own workforce.

Further reading: Data Shows More Jobs Need Tech Skills: Here’s How to Keep Up

The hidden opportunity of internal hiring

When degrees or credentials are required for certain positions, insufficient education is a barrier for employers and employees. But internal educational programs can help companies and people around this barrier, offering a way to cultivate critical talent from an organization’s existing pool of employees.

In a buyers’ job market, employers have a tremendous opportunity to look at developing talent from within. A study on the ROI of tuition assistance programs at Discover Financial, conducted by Accenture and Lumina Foundation, found that participating employees were 21 percent more likely to be promoted than other employees at the company.

Smart employers are beginning to look within their own ranks to identify and educate quality talent, says Glover. Beyond helping companies fill talent shortages, this can also equip companies to grow in new ways. “Hiring from within can create wonderful dynamics within a company,” she says. “When you elevate opportunities for people to be promoted, you really do draw out new types of workers in leadership. That’s pretty exciting.”

Learn how one company is investing in talent development: Caspers Company McDonald’s: Empowering Their Employees Through Education

Getting started with internal talent development

If the trend toward jobs requiring college degrees or credentials continues, employers will need to be more proactive than ever to develop their own talent through educational programs. Glover offers five suggestions for getting started:

1. Understand the educational attainment of your workforce

Make sure you have a complete understanding of the degrees and credentials your workforce currently holds. This will help you create a solid plan for filling in gaps.

2. Maximize existing education benefit programs

Before starting a new initiative, it pays to take a look at how you’re already using education benefits.

Has your organization already developed programs and then shelved them or not effectively publicized them to your workforce? How can you improve on or maximize your previous investments in developing an education program?

As Jamie Fall, director of Upskill America at the Aspen Institute told us in a previous article, employees may need multiple reminders that a tuition assistance program is available. Low utilization after one announcement does not mean low interest.

3. Put administration scaffolding in place

A fantastic educational benefits program won’t get results if it’s not well administered. Ask how people learn about your program. Is it being seen by the people who need it most, or only those who are proactively interested in it?

Ultimately, successful learning programs are ingrained in the company culture.

4. Create equitable criteria for eligibility

Glover recommends organizations use a model in which everyone is eligible within certain thresholds, rather than putting the decision of eligibility in the hands of a manager or department head.

Even the most well-meaning manager can fall prey to unconscious bias, and requiring employees to go through one specific manager may discourage certain segments of your workforce that are already disadvantaged.

5. Choose the right educational partners

Picking the right institution or institutions to partner with is crucial. Whether you are offering a general program of study or more tailored programs for the needs of your employees. (Southern New Hampshire University has over 200 online degree programs.)

Ideally you will be working with a partner who understands the unique needs of adult education — that working adults want more active and project-based learning that is highly career relevant. Vet each potential partner to make sure they have great completion rates with working adults.

Investing in an educational program to train talent can pay off in dividends for both employers and employees, as Comcast’s Dave Davis recently found. He recently finished his associate degree and is now able to apply for internal promotions within the company.

“There are very few ways you can invest in yourself that have a better payoff than education,” says Glover. “When employers are providing resources and employees are stepping up and taking advantage of them, you can really come out with a wonderful win-win on both sides.”

Jessie Kwak is a freelance writer and novelist living in Portland, Oregon.