Why Skilling Programs Are Your Secret Weapon in the War for Talent

The companies that win the war for talent will be those that offer all their employees — including their frontline workers — not just jobs, but career pathways. 

As the country recovers from COVID-19 and the economy heats up, companies across every sector, including manufacturing, restaurants, and construction, are struggling to find workers.

The result: a record 8.1 million unfilled jobs across the country.

In addition, a March 2021 survey by Prudential found that almost a quarter of workers currently in jobs say they’re planning to leave. Many factors are impacting the labor market, but it’s also increasingly clear that Americans are going through a “great reassessment” of work.

In this article, we’ll unpack how the typical employee journey has changed and why education and skilling programs that lead to career mobility are the key to winning the war for talent. 

Rethinking The Typical Employee Journey 

American workers aren’t just looking for new jobs – they’re rethinking the entire trajectory of their careers. Young adults are also questioning the standard pathway of heading straight to college, especially considering that they’ll most likely be managing debt upon graduating.

This mass reassessment of careers and the influence it has on shrinking talent pools aren’t likely to go away.

In 2022, automation and other technological changes will continue to remake work and lives, effectively widening skills gaps.

Employers are Leaning into Shifts in the Traditional Education Model

As the risks and rewards of traditional education continue to shift, education and short and long-form skilling programs can be a powerful tool to attract talent. Debt-free education programs — in which companies cover all or most of the costs for employees to earn degrees and certificates from universities and training providers — can give companies a competitive edge to attract and retain talent.

Walmart has touted its Live Better U program, which saw a 93% spike in new graduates in 2021, as a major advantage in competing for talent. When the program first launched, there was a 15% month-over-month increase in high-quality job applicants (check out more on the benefit’s of Walmart’s employee education program in this Lumina study).

John Coyle, a Walmart associate in Florida, was one of those new hires.

The main reason I applied for a job at Walmart is because a friend who works for Walmart shared a link to the press release [saying the company] provided free education benefits. I started applying to every opening that I saw available. Eighteen months in and everything I thought was going to be the case has been the case. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”

Education and Skilling Programs Help HR Teams Fill – and Diversify – Talent Pipelines

Employer funded education programs also create internal hiring pipelines, allowing companies to grow their own talent, rather than just competing for it in the market.

Chipotle’s debt-free education program, for example,  has seen a 3.5x higher retention rate among students enrolled in the program. These same workers were also 7.5x more likely to move into a management role.

And by fronting the funds to a wide range of programs, employers see a large uptick in frontline employee engagement – a population who has historically not been able to access education benefits due to financial constraints.

For example, 80% of Chipotle’s learners are frontline crew members. See Iris’ story of how she leverage the education program offered by Chipotle to go from crew member to corporate.

As Workers Reconsider Their Journey, Employers Must Meet the Needs of Both Experienced Workers and Young Adults 

Company-funded education and skilling programs are particularly well-suited to serve the evolving needs and desires of  both experienced workers and young adults.

For Young Adults

For young adults who are just figuring things out, employer education programs create a lower cost, lower risk pathway to a degree, essentially turning the traditional narrative of getting a degree to get a job on its head.

This approach also lets them simply go ahead and jump-start their career without a looming amount of debt hanging above their heads. McDonald’s has made a brand out of that approach with its Archways to Opportunity program, billing itself as “America’s best first job.”

That kind of benefit is attractive for the 40% of students who need to work full-time in college, and for the 50% who are questioning whether their degrees will be worth the cost.

Not to mention, it may also be compelling for young adults who haven’t seriously considered college, but might with the right employer and the right support.

For Experienced Workers

For experienced workers, such programs can provide much needed skilling and a clear pathway to career growth – which is one of the main demands of workers.

Companies that invest in these programs send an important message to both prospective and current employees: We understand that a job isn’t just a job, and we’re willing to invest your career mobility.

In a Prudential survey, among the American workers saying they plan to leave their current job, 8 in 10 are concerned about their career growth and 7 in 10 say the pandemic caused them to rethink their skill sets.

Bottom Line: Education and Skilling Programs Can Help You Attract and Retain Workers in the War for Talent

The key takeaway is that education and skilling programs are a powerful way both to attract new talent and to advance existing employees into hard-to-fill roles. And it’s the one tool in the war for talent that is designed to help individual people, not just companies, thrive in the future of work.

If your organization is looking for ways to stay competitive in this quickly evolving job market, check out our 4 strategies to help you win the war for talent.

Strategies for Winning the War for Talent (Case Study)



Written by Allison Dulin Salisbury



Senior Vice President, Employer Solutions








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