How important is education to employees?
Short answer: very.
Longer answer: employees think more companies should offer education benefits, and they think employees who don’t have them are at a disadvantage.
This came out in a survey we did earlier this year in which more than three quarters of employees said the pandemic has increased the need for education benefits.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Education – learning a new skill – fuels optimism. And right now, career optimism is in short supply. Pandemic-related job insecurity is one concern; speed-of-light changes to business and proficiencies is another. Learning gives people the confidence they can keep skills current, and a sense of power that they’ll be ready to roll with what comes next.
That’s the answer to why employees want professional development. Why should employers want to provide it?
One obvious answer is skills. Employees aren’t the only ones worried about knowledge gaps. CEOs told pwc they’re also worried, and that was a year ago, before innovation and technological leaps could be measured in months – not years.
But there’s another answer that reflects broader and longer-term concerns beyond individual skills. And that goes back to research we did a few years ago on dream jobs. Back then, our consultants wanted to understand what made great employees. So they asked about engagement; specifically, what about a job engages people? And the answer was, the job itself didn’t really engage people; but the place they worked did. In other words, Dream Company won out over dream job.
What does that have to do with education? Plenty. Even back then – before the pandemic and a changed world made learning so critical – support for career development ranked at the top of an employee’s Dream Company wish list. People in these companies were more than twice as likely as others to say they had opportunities for learning and growth; they were also significantly more likely to say they were happy with what was offered (for those interested, support for well-being and work/life balance rounded out the top three Dream Company features). And the rewards are employees who say they’re proud of their work, they’re inspired, they put in extra effort, and they see work as a positive part of their lives. In other words, they’re engaged.
That would be enough. But there’s one more thing about Dream Companies that makes them such a force: they have people who want to stay. That might not sound like much in the current talent market. In fact, right now, it might be tempting to ignore retention altogether. But that’s a mistake. The calling card of a good retention strategy isn’t just that it keeps people from leaving; it also keeps them from dreaming about leaving – of becoming an employee who leaves but stays. And when people start dreaming about their next gig – and even now, a lot of people are – they’re less invested in the one they’re in.
That retention value is important for everyone. It should be especially interesting to frontline-driven organizations who have hiring needs in the thousands. Smart competitors are already taking action on the education front, providing affordable opportunities to large swaths of employees who see education as an opportunity to grow solid futures, and so cementing themselves as Dream Companies for an important employee demographic. Those aggressive reskilling campaigns aren’t just aimed at appealing to their own employees; they’re gunning for yours.
So how important is education to employees? Short story – very.
Longer story, it should be very important to employers as well.