Education has a major role to play in the war for talent

Labor market shifts are increasing the urgency for employers to provide education benefits. 

Everyone has a part to play in the ecosystem of the labor market. In response to major shifts in the American workforce, Guild academic partners who know which levers they can push to positively impact working adult learners stand as a powerful force.

Currently, there are more jobs available than unemployed job seekers, and employers are struggling to hold onto talent. For the first time ever, US job openings have surged above 10M. Meanwhile, there are 8.7M unemployed Americans seeking employment. Early data indicates states that ended federal unemployment programs before their expiration date produced little impact on jobs overall. The declining birth rate in the US, coupled with an aging population account for an anticipated declining labor force participation in the next decade. 

Additionally, in what’s known as the “Great Resignation,” Americans are quitting their jobs at a significantly higher rate. This trend is widening skill gaps within the organizations workers leave. Employers are spending much more as they attempt to replace the talent that walks. And, this trend is likely to get worse before it gets better. An estimated 55% of Americans are planning to look for a new job over the course of the next year. Add on the impacts of Covid-19 on women in the workforce and the pandemic’s impact on frontline workers, and the trends swell in intensity. Collectively, this lopsided labor market has created a “war for talent.” 

Education benefits help employers address the dual challenges of retaining talent and addressing skills gaps  in a tight market.

Pre-pandemic, companies typically considered competition for talent in one of two ways: by geography (companies in different industries but located in the same region and hiring for the same roles) or by field (direct competitors within a given industry pursuing the same talent).

Now, the war for talent is fought with employers having to worry about both. In a Post-pandemic future,  thought leaders believe remote work is here to stay. With remote work, geography is much more expansive, and so is the competition for talent. Cue education benefits. Employees are likelier to stay when their employer invests in their development and provides tangible career pathways.

Learning Partners who understand labor skilling needs will excel in attracting students. 

Worker demands leading to the Great Resignation not only affect employers but also shape how and what students want from education. This adds pressure on higher ed to fully embrace the needs of working adult students in order to win the war for enrollment. 

The war for talent and the value of continued education coexist. In a labor market where power has shifted towards the worker, learning partners should help students see how the skills they gain from continued education are flexible across multiple roles and industries. To do this, it’s helpful to frame skills as either perishable or durable, rather than hard or soft. 

As labor becomes more entrenched with the war for talent, employers will rely on learning partners who understand skilling needs and provide the flexibility necessary for their employees to pursue career development while keeping up with their responsibilities at work. Affirming both perishable and durable skills as valuable builds confidence in students while highlighting the areas which may need upskilling.

Working adult students are not a monolith and think about education in a nuanced (non-utilitarian) way.

While many assume WALs think of themselves primarily as employees, they actually tend to view themselves as students focused on career development. Sixty percent of students surveyed by Guild value a credential that could be applied across multiple career pathways —not just one. The pandemic is a primary driver of this, but we also found women are more likely to seek flexible application of a credential.

Assuming that wanting career advancement means students see education as a means to an end is inaccurate. Guild asked over 1,600 students to force-rank what the value of education is to them. The winner? Personal growth

Because WALs are not monolithic, not all students will have had opportunities to think critically about their career trajectories before. This also means that students may not be thinking about skills in terms of translatability. All students deserve a learning environment responsive to a desire for growth. Partners who take into account evolving WAL needs, and their connections to the ebbing and flowing labor market, will drive upward mobility for underrepresented groups.

The labor ecosystem is delicate, and requires community participation to sustain itself.

For the future of work, labor demands will drive WALs to seek out educational opportunities that provide stackable learning with skills applicable across contexts. 

Labor demands don’t exist in a vacuum. Learning providers who help students understand potential career paths, along with how their skills apply to those potential careers, will do their part in addressing labor stresses that affect us all. As a result, such organizations stand to have an outsized impact on student outcomes.

Written by Acacia Fante