A recent survey of Edcor Client employees demonstrates that higher education for working adults is a resource that can benefit both employers and employees. Employees were asked why they had chosen to go back to school. Respondents could choose three of six responses for their answers to the question. The top three reasons chosen by over half the respondents were “Self-development/personal goal” (63 percent), “Employer tuition program available to help with cost of going back to school” (61 percent), and “Degree will prepare me for my next position” (51 percent).
Preparing for the next position and realization of a personal goal or self-development suggest that adult students have long-term goals and are looking for advancement in their futures. They are willing to accept the challenges of study paired with responsibilities of family and career. About a third of the respondents chose answers that also show desire for improvement in personal lives and careers: “Make more money” (30 percent), and “Enhance current skills” (34 percent).
Workers who are interested in pursuing education for any reason are a valuable resource for American businesses because the “skills gap” is a present reality in America. A Business Roundtable/Change the Equation survey, taken this fall, showed that almost 98 percent of CEOs said the skills gap threatens their businesses. The skills gap is coming at businesses from several different fronts. In the Harvard Business Review, James Bessen explains how the skills gap is a two-part problem. (https://hbr.org/2014/08/employers-arent-just-whining-the-skills-gap-is-real ). He says that one part of the gap is fast-moving technologies that require new and different skills. Business growth requires improvement, innovation and utilization of new processes. That creates a demand for trained and educated workers with the necessary “hard skills.” The other part of the gap is the need for the “soft skills” like problem solving and communication that come with college education.
An October 2014 study from Michigan State University’s College Employment Research Institute shows similar information. Forty-five percent of employers say that turnover is an important consideration in the number of new college graduates they will hire. As the economy continues to strengthen the job market will be stronger with more choices for qualified workers. Retirement of workers is another factor that influences hiring decisions for 20 percent of employers.
The need for employees who are eager to advance their education creates an opportunity for employers. By providing tuition benefits and encouraging employees to go to school businesses can develop internal resources and create their own talent pool. They can forecast their employment needs and fill gaps that retirements create. Employers can slow down turnover by offering the opportunities to advance to new positions and achieve the personal growth that their employees cite as factors in going to school. And training current employees on new technologies is more cost effective for employers than hiring new employees. While employers train current employees to be knowledgeable about new technologies, employees realize self-development, and businesses stay current in the demands of their industries.
Providing education benefits for employees also offers a less tangible but equally important value for both businesses and employees. Higher levels of education equate to people having more interest in their work. In a Gallup-Purdue Index 52 percent of people with post graduate education strongly agreed that they are deeply interested in their work compared to 38 percent of those with an undergraduate degree.
Employers have the opportunity to achieve these benefits, but there seems to be a disconnect between employee and employer. Only 2 percent of Edcor Client employees said that “recognition from their employer” was a benefit to pursuing further education. And while 61 percent of employees went to school because employer tuition benefit programs help with the cost, only 3 percent of employees went to school because an HR manager recommended it. Fostering a work-education connection can be as simple as defining business needs and then encouraging employees to seek education that fills those needs. Encouraging employees, recommending they go to school, and recognizing their achievements and how they contribute to the company can maximize tuition benefit programs and make them a benefit for both employee and employer.
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