2021 Planning: Why Your Education Assistance Program Will Matter So Much

Young professional studying to further her education and training

Way back in April, in what now feels like several lifetimes ago, CNBC catalogued 13 ways the pandemic could change our workplaces.

Number two on the list was, “no more meetings.” Most, they said, would be replaced by email and IM.

I think we can all agree that didn’t come true – as evidenced by our solidly packed calendars. But the reasons it didn’t come true are just as important as the reality itself – we adapted. In short order, all of us suddenly confined to home offices decamped to tech spaces, adopting Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet as a fill-in for the live conference rooms we could no longer inhabit in person. It wasn’t exactly seamless, and most of us would probably say we’d still prefer face-to-face over screen-to-screen. But at a moment when connections were in short supply, video meetings filled a gap that would have otherwise seemed yawning if we were only exchanging text on a screen. 

That wholesale shift is just one of many since April – changes to the way the we work, live, shop, and do pretty much everything else. For those asking when things will go back to the way they were – they won’t. COVID, it turns out, wasn’t just a pandemic; it was a disruptor -- the kind that sends seismic waves through a whole marketplace and upends everything we knew about an industry (in this case, all industries), challenging all of us to catch up -- and fast. 

How fast? Consider technology. McKinsey reports that tech functions alone have moved in giant leaps, with digitization at many companies advancing the equivalent of three to four years just since April. Turns out the pandemic took but a few months to do what forecasters have been predicting for eons – it turned us all into digital companies, putting pressure on employers to make sure their people are up to the task. It goes a long way to explain the loud drumbeat for training and education. “Companies that have executed successful responses to the crisis,” write the McKinsey authors on the technology boom, “report a range of technology capabilities that others don’t—most notably, filling gaps for technology talent during the crisis, the use of more advanced technologies, and speed in experimenting and innovating.” 

And it’s not just that you train people, but how you train them that matters. Education itself has been disrupted, with even the Ivy Leagues reconsidering education models, recognizing that the old way – students arriving with skills in hand – is a thing of the past. “Harvard’s and Columbia’s business schools are starting to add certificates and ‘lifelong learning’ to their programs,” wrote the Wall Street Journal recently, “a shift that could transform business education in the years ahead.”  

Those are just a few of the developments that promise permanent change. Yet the funny thing is how many people continue to ask when the old ways will come back. The simple answer is, they won’t. “We’re never going back to the way we did things before,” a principle of an architecture firm told me recently. “We’ve learned too much.” 

Smart employers know that even when our doors reopen, evolution will continue. They also know it will be up to the organization to make sure there’s a well-planned education assistance program ready to help people acquire the skills they need. Because post COVID, the real winners won’t be the employers looking backwards at the way we used to do things. They’ll be the employers with people who understand today’s realities, and who are able to get ahead of what comes next.

Webinar: 2021 Outlook - 4 Transformations in Workforce Education

Graphic to promote a webinar on 2021 transformations to workforce education

Workforce education will be critical to post-recovery economy in 2021. But how can employers stay competitive when it comes to education benefits? Join us on 11/17 to find out.

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Written by: Alan Robins

November 11, 2020

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.