How long will their skills be cutting edge? Not as long as you'd think. One study says 70% of business leaders are worried about their employees' technology skills - no surprise since Harvard Business Review put the shelf life of such skills at a scant five years.
But it's not just high-tech at risk. Ask CEOs which other specialties they're worried about and they'll tell you...pretty much all of them.
Skills gaps are one reason so many employers are moving education programs to the top of the priority list. The great talent shortage - and the fact that learning stuff is at the top of coveted employees' wish list - is another.
Still, it's one thing to offer education assistance; it's another to make it work for you.
Ten things you'll need to capitalize on your program:
Build it right
What do you get when you launch a program without a goal? Not much. The best programs take the reins by setting strategic targets and designing programs to reach them.
Spell it out
Multi-tiered programs (versus one-size-fit-all) allow you to target multiple audiences and learning goals. But complex rules, intimidating eligibility jargon, and long paragraphs of legalese can unintentionally chase people away. A better bet: help people embrace the program. Write down the rules, explain your organization's commitment to learning...and make sure it's all in plain English.
Show employees how it's done
Advising is so much more than just having a conversation with a manager or colleague. Why? Learning and earning is no small feat. And poorly planned programs are often abandoned in the middle, wasting resources and getting zero return. Good educational advisors can not only help employees create realistic plans, they can also expedite them by pointing people to opportunities for credits already earned.
This seems like a no-brainer. But you'd be surprised how often programs undo themselves by neglecting the customer-service aspect of the equation. Make sure you have people to answer questions (and there will be lots of questions) and a designated phone number to call.
Give people choices
It's tempting to pick one partner school and funnel all your employees to it. But not all employees learn the same way. By supporting diverse learning styles and curricula, multiple partnerships (campus, online, a combination of both) will give you the highest success rate...and so the biggest bang for your buck.
Help them pay for it, part 1
Reimbursement rates should nod to the cost realities of desired degrees/certifications as well as industry competitor's benchmarks (if you don't have benchmark data, find a partner, like EdAssist, who does). And be prepared to offer guidance to employees on tax implications.
Help them pay for it, part 2
Tuition assistance works best when it's not reimbursement. Why? Direct payment to schools helps remove the upfront financial burden on employees...and prevents the accumulation of additional student debt.
Make it modern
Degrees are great, but not every goal requires one. Some specialties will benefit from newer learning models (boot camps and micro learning, for example) that can be faster and cheaper. Make sure your program is set up to recognize them.
Run it like clockwork
Hand-processing approvals has a million drawbacks; it's time consuming; it wastes resources; and it leaves decisions about what's reimbursable to individual processors, and so is inequitable. An automated system solves all three problems. And the fringe benefit? It will help you with the next imperative!
Measure, measure, measure
Knowing how your program's doing will allow you to make adjustments. As Jonathan Corke put it, "The same automation that lets employees manage their individual accounts gives you a window into your entire program."There's an 11th rule of education management - keep reviewing your program to make sure it stays up with your evolving organization. The close eye will be the key to avoiding those skills gaps. It's also the best way to get the most from those newly minted graduates.