How to Get the Most Out of Your Continuing Education Benefit Program

In today’s competitive environment, businesses in all industries across the U.S., but especially in Tech and Healthcare, are looking for ways to recruit and retain employee talent. It may be a surprise to you that as many as 95 percent of businesses offer financial support for employee education as an employee benefit. Unfortunately, according to the 2015 annual Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report produced by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), only 21 percent of employees surveyed say they are satisfied with career development opportunities at their employer.[1]

This means business need to take a closer look at how Continuing Education Benefit Programs are developed and used. Here are tips for creating a program that benefits both employee and employer.

Align program with your business’s strategic goals – An employee may appreciate the ability to take basket-weaving classes on their employer’s tab, but does that new skill make them a better employee? Unless your business makes baskets, it’s probably not going to provide lasting benefit. An effective career development program identifies the needs of the organization and crafts a policy that incentivizes training in areas that benefit the organization.[2]

Align program with employee goals – A program that is too rigid may discourage or disqualify employee participation and reduce satisfaction in the program. Instead of specifying courses or degrees, allow education benefits to align with the employee’s goals. Supporting an administrative assistant who works to obtain certification in IT technology may seem like a departure. However, if your company has difficulty finding qualified IT talent like so many others, then encouraging that administrative assistant may gain you a loyal, appreciative employee in an even more strategic position.

Identify the best way to source education – There are several ways to develop career development programs. The majority of training and development dollars are spent on internal training programs. This gives companies a great deal of control over what is taught and what skills are addressed. Another quarter of funding goes to external contractors and only around 13 percent of training and development dollars are spent towards tuition reimbursement programs.[3] A successful continuing education benefit balances the employee’s goals with the company’s goals and includes a process for determining the best way to execute those goals.

Secure employee buy-in – Peter Devries at Destiny Solutions asks his employees to submit a mini-proposal before they are granted funding.[4]  He requests answers to the following when employees submit the proposal:

  • How will the requested training affect your current work?
  • Does this training apply towards a larger goal, such as certification or a degree?
  • How does the specific course or provider meet your training goals?
  • What takeaway learning from this course will you bring back to share with your peers?

Facilitate the Opportunity – A continuing education benefit is useless to an employee if they are never able to use it, or worse, are penalized for using it. A benefits program must anticipate flexibility needed for an employee to attend classes or spend time on educational projects. This may mean offering flexible hours to allow an employee to leave early once a week to attend an evening class, or be away from the office without losing vacation days to attend a conference.

Encouraging the development of skills can make good financial sense, IF the continuing education program is thoughtfully and strategically developed.