Employee Learning Takes Many Forms: Has Your Education Benefit Kept Up?

Warehouse frontline employee retraining on new technology using education benefits

“We will give you the tools but it’s up to you to decide and put in the time.”

Such was the topline of a Wall Street Journal story about a company at a high-tech crossroads. 

Cloud technology was coming; the company’s mainframe infrastructure was being scrapped. More than four thousand older tech employees would need to be retrained to keep up. The company dangled online courses and digital boot camps before a massive field of self-starters who could get themselves up and running, and earn the skills they and the company needed.

It was, by all accounts, a great success.

Score one for employee development. 

The Right Approach for the Right Audience 

The education homerun illustrates more than just the power of retraining; it also shows the importance of using the right approach for the right audience at the right time. 

Just look at the target employees – engineers. The group already had experience with higher education. Plus older workers, as we know from our recently released Working Learner Index, prioritize online learning. So retraining as a virtual DIY project served the audience perfectly – unleashing the fleet of tinkerers to digital boot camps and online courses where they could earn required skills on demand. Ninety percent succeeded.

But what if your target audience didn’t have undergraduate degrees? What if they had never attended college -- or no one in their family had? What if your goal is recruitment and retention of valuable frontline employees? Would the same approach net the same results for all those goals? Not likely.

Newcomers to higher ed need more coaching to succeed. Those with a little college under their belt will want to know if their existing credits have any value. There are also important differences in how – and what – each group is learning. The above tech employees needed a fast-paced boot camp to pick up a discrete new skill. Management-bound retail or warehouse associates, on the other hand, may need soft skills – education focused on customer service, mentoring, and communication.  

Future-Proofing Employees and the Organization

Those are all important things to know. Future skills, after all, are on everyone’s mind right now. The Working Learner Index showed that 89% of employees believe that technology or automation will affect their jobs, and are prioritizing education benefits accordingly. Leaders see the signs, too. And with employees in historically short supply, organizations are investing heavily in training their own. The situation is so dire, one government official told the Wall Street Journal that CEOs “are coming to human resources and asking if they are spending enough.”

And the gaps are in every sector. The Wall Street Journal reports data scientists, accounting, and trade skills among the most troubling shortages. Frontlines – retail, restaurant, customer service – are notoriously scarce, as evidenced by help-wanted signs everywhere. 

Each of those demands a unique approach. 

  • No-cost, accelerated degrees designed for large numbers of frontline employees 
  • Boot camps and certificates to deliver quick reskilling for midcareer talent
  • Online programs to reach learners and earners on their own schedule
  • Job-specific education paths for hard-to-fill roles 

How Successful Education Programs Deliver

We already have the proof such targeted programs work. Our Horizons Teacher Degree Program, for example, was designed specifically for our biggest talent challenge: teachers. All full-time teachers are eligible; education coaches are included; schools offer guided tracks; and the program is 100% free for participants. It’s designed recruit, retain, and expand the skillsets of our employees. How’s it working? More than 1,000 people signed up – and none will be burdened by student debt.  

More employers are molding their education benefits in this way to support their specific workforce needs, but many tuition programs have yet to catch up. 

For education programs to succeed, that’s going to have to change. Because everyone wants to future-proof their skills. 

The answer is going to be not a single program; but the right program for the right audience at the right time.

man taking notes

2019 Working Learner Index

Gain further insights from workers who are currently or have recently engaged in employer-sponsored education.

Written by: Alan Robins

November 13, 2019

About the Author

Alan Robins at Bright Horizons

As Director of Product Marketing, Alan drives original research and thought leadership for Bright Horizons education benefits programs, drawing on his extensive experience helping companies optimize education programs to support their Talent and HR objectives. Prior to Bright Horizons, Alan was at Gartner, a global leader in providing advisory services to technology and business executives, where he led new product teams in Europe and the US.