More than just ‘new skills’: 3 surprising things learners gain from education programs

As a solution designer at Guild, I engage with many Learning & Development professionals who are eager to know what skills their employees will gain by enrolling in certificate or degree programs offered by Guild’s learning partners.

This is understandable. After all, education does convey skills. But because Guild provides a holistic solution for employees, not merely an education benefits provider, we focus on moving workers from the frontline into full-time managerial and corporate positions at scale. This pushes us to recognize that education, and career mobility for that matter, is more than just skills acquisition — especially for frontline workers.

Skills don’t always tell the whole story. And as my colleague Matthew Daniel noted earlier, the talent development industry’s fixation on skills can be a detriment. They are just one part of someone’s educational and career journey, and they may not even be the most important aspect.

For career switchers and frontline workers looking to move into higher-skilled work, pursuing additional education is valuable. Beyond the new skills they’ll learn, however, their education can also enable them to discover other related roles they did not yet know about beforehand. It can serve as a signal of their earnest intent to pivot into a new field too. Lastly, it can encourage learners to reach out to their networks and help them articulate how they have the skills required for a particular job and other specific lingo germane to the career path they want.


Exploring new career paths

Many frontline workers that enroll in learning programs through Guild are often interested in entry-level HR roles at their companies. That’s because HR associates are one of the few corporate employees that directly interact with frontline workers. As these same workers set their sights on moving into a corporate role, a position in HR is one of the most familiar roles frontline employees can concretely picture themselves fulfilling.

This is one common example of how an educational journey is actually a form of career exploration. Besides HR, however, a frontline team member could alternatively take a certificate course in digital marketing and ask themself, “Do I enjoy crafting compelling messages and telling stories?” Or a warehouse associate enrolled in a supply chain certificate could wonder, “Do I like solving the types of problems that an operations manager must address?”

In Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ Designing Your Life, people need to “prototype” different experiences in order to gather data on whether they might like a particular job or career path. Prototyping helps to gauge interest and aptitude, and can include taking a course focused on a functional domain or conducting an informational interview with someone in the role.

This type of career exploration through coursework is crucial. If it weren’t for employer education programs, many frontline workers wouldn’t have the social capital needed to access people in other professional jobs (more on this later). In other words, these workers might not consider a certain role not because of a lack of aptitude or genuine interest, but because of a lack of exposure.

As Guild continues to be an innovative opportunity platform for all learners, we want to lower the barrier for career exploration. On top of taking courses or certificates, we encourage frontline workers to prototype new jobs or career paths. At Guild, we will be able to support such “prototypes” through things like “Day in the Life” videos, and skills descriptions of various roles for learners to dive into their interests.


Demonstrating interest, commitment, and initiative

Every L&D professional, talent acquisition recruiter or hiring manager likes to say that candidates are hired based on their skills. Indeed, for an experienced candidate coming from a very similar job, this individual truly has demonstrated the necessary skills to get their job.

But for others — like career switchers, folks returning to the workforce and frontline workers looking to move into corporate roles or supervisor roles — there are many more nuanced reasons for why someone gets in the door. Given the tight labor market, hiring managers are forced to take calculated risks when it comes to hiring people with demonstrated potential, but not necessarily demonstrated skills required for the job. To help them with these decisions, hiring managers will favor employees who stand out due to their initiative on a particular career path.

Consider a call center operator taking a certificate in IT Systems Management: this person has already demonstrated ambition and focus. Because time is a precious and limited resource, they signaled their true interest in an IT career through their time commitment to the program. At the same time, the hiring manager has more confidence that the candidate will actually enjoy the job, be engaged with the role, and be a good fit because they have evidence the candidate knows what the job entails.


Gaining credibility and confidence, while expanding networks

Certificate and degree programs also help learners articulate and translate the skills they have so they can comfortably and compellingly tell their career narratives to those relevant to the job they wish to move into. By familiarizing themselves with the workflow and the industry jargon they will need to utilize in this new position, candidates can feel more empowered. They can communicate why they’re a good fit on top of clearly conveying the transferable skills from their prior job experience, instilling confidence in themselves and hiring managers.

Being able to speak the same language as those in the industry also enables learners to reach out and network within their company. Like I previously mentioned, frontline workers don’t always have a wide enough social network to interact with people who belong in other careers. But once they’re enrolled in an education program, employees can quickly and effectively communicate their sincere interest in a field to the people who matter, including their managers, potential mentors, and even people within the company they want to reach out to in order to learn more about the field.

Their participation in a program, as well as their familiarity with the field of study through coursework, grants them the confidence and entrance into conversations where they can network and ask relevant questions.

Some courses or degree programs in Guild’s network include capstone projects that allow learners to both experience a particular job-related task and showcase their work in interviews for bolstered credibility.

Among the sea of nearly identical resumes hiring managers must wade through, a resume that includes a degree or certificate from a candidate that is new to the field might be the one thing that catches their eye and tips the scale in the individual’s favor. Not only because it shows that they may have the actual skills needed to succeed at the job, but also because it demonstrates their commitment to the new role.

For the employees themselves, education programs can uncover new jobs and pathways they never knew existed, help them articulate their aptitude, and amplify their credibility during networking and informational interviews. It’s reasons such as these that Guild doesn’t just help employees get skills, but truly creates opportunities for them to mobilize and advance their careers.

Written by Hillary Bernhardt

Senior Consultant, Solution Design