How to Choose the Right Workforce Training Program? 3 Questions to Ask

Warehouse employee using new skills from education assistance

How do you know which education and trainings to pay for? 

That’s the timely question posed by the Wall Street Journal under the illustrative title, “Employers Want to Train Workers but Are Swimming in Options.” 

“With thousands of education options to choose from,” wrote the Journal, “many companies are struggling to discern worthwhile programs.”

Development on the Upswing

No doubt, education is experiencing a perfect storm: unemployment’s in the basement, jobs are hard to fill, and skills are changing constantly. Developing employees offers a clear-cut strategy, making it no surprise that more employers are rolling out education programs. Most large U.S. employers already offer tuition assistance, said the Journal, pointing to organizations like Home Depot. Growing numbers are expanding beyond degrees as well.

Just as important, employees are now in the driver’s seat and making demands. “Workers understand the importance of up-skilling,” reads our Working Learner Index report, “and deeply value employers’ commitments to supporting it.” Employers who may once have wondered whether they should invest in education are now wondering whether they’re investing enough – and exactly which programs they should offer. 

And employers can be forgiven for not knowing where to start. It wasn’t that long ago that employer-sponsored education could be summed up with a single word: degrees. People knew what that looked like. But the rapid pace of change has upended the landscape. A “need it now” mentality has popularized new formats like boot camps. Employees’ thirst to learn on their schedule has been amply recognized with an outpouring of online programs. There are also on-site cohorts, self-paced programs, and full-time intensive courses. The Journal says there are literally hundreds of thousands of programs to choose from.     

The Right Questions to Cull the List

Those numbers would overwhelm anyone. The trouble is, many people are starting in the wrong place, trying to choose a program and then retrofit it to the workforce. But that’s backwards. Long before zeroing in on any one provider, you should be asking what your organization needs. And there are three key questions to ask:  

  • What are my challenges? A sagging talent pipeline might require more traditional programs that accommodate existing managers seeking advanced degrees; technical skills may be better delivered through industry certifications.

  • What is my timeline? Do you see a shortage of tech skills next month…next year? Immediate technology needs may require boot camps that deliver skills right now.

  • Who is my audience? Frontline programs may need to accommodate large numbers of employees who have no higher-education experience at all -- perhaps ferrying through prerequisites such as GEDs. “A college degree is still the great lever for economic mobility and career advancement among frontline workers,” wrote our SVP Patrick Donovan on EBN last month, “driving higher lifetime earnings that total more than $2 million, on average.” 

The program that fits that will be the one that can deliver on all of those mandates – the right format, for the right audience, at the right time. And you’d be surprised how those requirements can narrow the field. 

Still, the advance work – talent needs assessment for one – is itself a job. Think about what it takes for a single student to find the right college; now apply that to a whole manufacturing floor. It will require a large enough number of options to accommodate employees’ diverse learning styles, a clear path to the programs that can actually deliver, and a place for employees to fire off live questions without hanging up your entire HR department during crunch times such as open enrollment. It’s the reason we’ve got hundreds of schools and programs in our arsenal, and a team of experts to identify the best options for your people. It means the real work starts with a checklist: What are you trying to solve? When do you need it? Who’s going to solve it? 

When you’re swimming in options, assessing them is admittedly a tall order. But you’d be amazed what the right formula can do.

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

January 9, 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.