2016 Watch: Trends in Education Assistance

Bright Horizons Education benefits

Last year, the natural unemployment rate arrived ahead of expectations, surprising employers with a suddenly more competitive talent market. "Even those companies renowned for being great places to work are going to have to adapt to this new environment," observed EdAssist's Mark Ward at the time.

The potential "turnover tsunami" is putting employer education assistance programs in the spotlight as companies look for an edge in important areas like recruitment, retention, and skills.

What does that mean for these programs? Here are three trends you can expect to see in 2016:

Tighter Education Assistance Alignment with Succession Planning

The post-recession challenge isn't just about incoming hires; it's also about outgoing Boomers. Mass retirement is looming on the horizon, and employers who want to avoid skills gaps are going to have to train (as well as hire) to be ready for the handoff. A big part of that will be carefully planned education programs that not only guide and incent employees to gain the specific skills the company needs, but that also have the ability to track organizational progress toward these goals. Such programs maximize education dollars while appealing to career-driven Millennials. "With carefully plotted out education," says EdAssist's Georgio Bantos, "these newcomers have both the capacity and the desire to move into critical roles for their employers."

The Rise of Non-Traditional Programs

Degree programs remain critical educational tools and they're not going anywhere. But 2016 will also see the continued rise of non-degrees. Why? EdAssist's Alan Robins cites timely skills and cost savings as advantages of many non-degree options. Certificates, nano-degrees, boot camps, and MOOCs can offer knowledge delivered quickly at a substantially lower cost. "They're also often more directly relevant to a career than a degree-based program." While high-tech has blazed the trail in this area - boot camps graduated 16,000 newly minted coders in 2015 alone - these programs are poised to grow across industries, offering rewards in recruitment and retention as well as skills. "Young workers place professional development high on their list of priorities and will be increasingly drawn to employers that offer those opportunities," says Alan. Forward-thinking employers will continue to find ways to incorporate these options into their education assistance program, seeing synergies between boot-camp and master's degree investments while centralizing programs for tighter controls and better reporting on their talent outcomes.

Student Loan Repayment

Support for future degrees continues to be an effective recruitment and retention tool, especially among Millennials who've been candid about their desires for professional growth. But with $1.3 trillion in collective student debt hampering today's graduates, expect to see a rise in the number of employers additionally appealing to new hires with financial support for degrees already earned. Loan repayment - programs that literally help employees pay down their debt - is a logical expansion of education assistance, says EdAssist's Mark Ward. Today's employees are expected to arrive with degrees in hand - two-thirds of jobs will require them by 2020. And those degrees are expensive. As Bright Horizons Senior Vice President Patrick Donovan pointed out during a webinar earlier this year, "Millennials are now saying, 'Well, I did go to school. Maybe you can help contribute to the debt that I have.'"

Bottom line: Several market forces are bringing education assistance programs to the forefront of recruitment and retention strategies. More jobs require advanced degrees than ever before, and those degrees carry a higher price tag. Organizations that run effective tuition reimbursement and loan repayment programs stand to out-compete their peers by creating a better place to work.

By evolving their education assistance programs to match these external changes, says Mark, employers can build a competitive workforce today, and "the confidence that they'll stay ahead of tomorrow's tight labor market."  

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.