The days of earning a degree and leaving school behind are over. As noted in the National Center for Education Statistics’ report “Projections of Education Statistics to 2022,” the percentage of students aged 25 and older enrolled in postsecondary degree-granting institutions is expected to continue growing in the coming years. Employers are establishing tuition assistance (TA) programs in conjunction with this trend to support their employees who are looking to leverage higher education in advancing their career. However, they are largely missing the boat in how to position education as a true brand asset.

Historically, the relationship between employers and universities has been a transactional one. Businesses and other organizations partner with a university to receive a tuition discount that they can extend to their employees, and that’s about it. It’s a nice piece of the benefits package, but it does little to address key trends, like the skills gap or employee engagement, that are impacting employers today. These are challenges that today’s learning programs can help address.

Going Beyond Traditional Tuition Assistance

Learning never stops for the modern-day worker, so education programs are evolving to meet the needs of a lifelong learner. Competency-based learning programs are revolutionizing how employers approach education in alignment with this movement, enabling them to empower their employees in new ways. Employers can use these types of programs to build valuable skills within the workforce while helping the employees achieve degree and certification milestones that advance their careers.

Achieving this type of synchronization requires an organization to work more closely with its learning partner. Establishing a strategic collaboration will allow the learning partner to look beyond the traditional TA program structure, identifying specific coursework and job training programs that can drive tangible results for the organization. A strategic education partner will work with an organization to examine some key areas, such as:

  • Challenges: Organizations might be facing specific skills gaps or need to develop their technical staff into positions where they can drive business strategy. Maybe it’s all that and more. A strategic education partner will work with an organization to understand its needs.
  • Specs: Employees have vastly different education requirements depending on their field. A strategic education partner can help an organization build a branded curriculum, combining degree and certification programs with coursework and professional training that are specific to employer and industry requirements.
  • Budget: Employers may not want to have this conversation, but it’s an important one when evaluating specific programs or services. It helps separate the “must haves” from the “can live withouts.” Building a budget framework will ensure the strategic learning partner and organization are on the same page when it comes to creating a tailored program.

Driving Measurable Outcomes for Employers and Employees

By outlining specific objectives based on key issues, an organization will have a program that it can measure and manage based on the impact. That’s how the industry will move learning and training programs beyond the employee benefits silo and position them more as strategic business assets.

To see this point illustrated in action, let’s take an example from the ever-evolving cybersecurity space. Cyberthreats are a big risk factor today, and organizations often have a difficult time dealing with them. A new malware virus recently arose called “WannaCry” ransomware, which hacks into company data and holds it ransom for money. These types of viruses wreak havoc on many organizations, because they have no policies or experience in how to handle it.

A strategic learning partner could provide value with this type of situation by making cybersecurity a primary component of an organization’s curriculum. They could establish a program with the coursework and training platforms needed for selected employees to get up to speed on cyberthreats and policy. In addition to building background knowledge and skills within an organization’s workforce, this process would help to refine cybersecurity strategy and policies for the future.

The Last Word

Whether organizations want to address a specific need like cybersecurity or other numerous overarching objectives, education partners should have a bigger hand in strategy and workforce development. An organization’s reputation rests on the shoulders of its employees, and modern learning programs help offer a competitive differentiator. Today’s learning platforms are much more than a TA program. They set the tone for the leaders driving business goals and innovation forward every day.