How to Build an Education Benefit That Attracts and Retains Talent

Considering all the layoffs in the past year and the pandemic-ravaged economy, you might think that the millions of people who lost their jobs are scrambling to find work.

But you’d be wrong.

The competition for employees is accelerating, which means it’s harder than ever for employers to attract and retain quality talent. And in today’s war for talent, employees have the upper hand. Last year, 69% of companies reported talent shortages — the highest in a decade.

To recruit employees in this hot job market, talent attraction mechanisms are far exceeding bigger paychecks and increased vacation time.

McDonalds is offering iPhones. Sign-up bonuses are growing larger. Free appetizers encourage job applicants to complete an application, and one employer gives Dogecoin to those who make it to the interview round of the hiring process.

But this isn’t enough. Even if these tactics bring workers through the door, it doesn’t keep them in their seats: The number of people quitting their jobs reached a record high in April, a strong indicator that workers feel like they can find something else.

And almost 50% of organizations with a majority blue-collar workforce are finding it difficult to retain workers, an increase of 30% before the pandemic.

Some employers choose a different approach to differentiate themselves from the competition — education and skilling programs with the goal of career mobility. Regardless of industry, companies are more willing to train workers, design career pathways, and prioritize skilling, all of which underscore a renewed focus on economic mobility.

In this article, we’ll outline:

  • Why education benefits are so attractive
  • How to design your education benefits to increase talent attraction and retention

Let’s jump in.

Employees Seek Out Career Mobility Opportunities, Made Possible by Education

There is a new social contract between employers and employees, and we’ll give you the recap: Employees want work with a purpose, pay for today, but more than anything, pathways for tomorrow.

As technology continues to advance and the half-life of skills continues to decrease, workers are more cognizant than ever that ongoing education and skills training will be key to a brighter future, especially for frontline employees in roles that are quickly becoming obsolete.

The promise of career mobility is one of the main pillars of a strong employee value proposition that attracts and retains talent.

Here’s why:

  • Almost half of workers nationally believe they need additional education to advance their careers
  • More than 90% of new jobs are being filled by people with a college degree, underscoring the economic mobility that comes with additional education
  • 97% of employees say education benefits are an important part of an overall employer benefits package
  • 4 out of 5 employees prefer more benefits over a pay raise

So how can you as an employer design and market a stellar education program to stay competitive in a tight talent market?

How to Design Education Benefits to Attract and Retain Talent

There are several best practices to an effective education program, but here are a few that help drive both attraction and retention.

1. A variety of programming

College degrees continue to prove their value in the labor market. However, credentials, certificates, and apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular as a replacement or supplement to the traditional college pathways.

These emerging education models are stackable, less expensive, and require less time to complete. The opportunity to achieve continual education retains employees: Short-form programs map directly to in-demand roles and necessary competencies, increasing the likelihood of mobility, and degrees are longer form, incentivizing employees to stay and graduate. 

2. Vetted by outcomes

The academic landscape is constantly changing. Education and skilling programs need to be continually vetted for learner outcomes, like program completion, retention, promotion, and earnings increases. When education programming is designed with outcomes in mind, workers have the opportunity to redefine career paths, take courses that help them gain skills for their current roles, and stack learnings towards a degree. 

3. Learning marketplace for working adults

Working adults have different needs than the traditional college student, like flexible scheduling, an online focus, and wraparound support services. To attract diverse candidates, include programs focused on serving diverse populations, such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), military-friendly organizations, and Hispanic-serving institutions.

4. Dedicated success coaching

Coaching is particularly helpful for employees. They provide 1:1 career coaching, assistance with program selection and application, and, perhaps most importantly, offer emotional support and accountability. 

Beyond these fundamentals, some businesses are taking employer-sponsored education a step further and extending educational benefits to families of employees. Waste Management will pay for employees to earn bachelor’s and associate degrees, as well as a wide range of certificates. And beginning this year, Waste Management will also offer these scholarships to spouses and children of workers. 

“We knew we had to do something radically different to make Waste Management attractive when you have other companies looking for the same type of worker. There is such a war for talent that compensation isn’t a differentiator.said Tamla Oates-Forney, Chief People Officer at Waste Management.

Want to go deeper into how to structure your education benefits? Check out our e-book A Guide to Making Education Your Competitive Advantage: 8 Best Practices of an Effective Education Program.

The Results for Employers?

There is a ripple effect of this type of education benefit within organizations.

Looking for more ways to stay competitive in this labor market? Check out our 4 strategies to win the war for talent.

Strategies for Winning the War for Talent (Case Study)





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