Labor and skills shortages continue to plague organizations across industries, and nearly 60% of chief executive officers expect the talent gap to remain a serious threat to their organizations over the next year. University partnerships can offer a lifeline by giving business leaders an innovative solution for upskilling and reskilling their existing workforce. But with economic uncertainty on everyone’s minds, the big question is whether these kinds of partnerships are worth the investment.

The simple truth is that employee training should be top of mind for all leaders, especially since 58% of the workforce currently needs new skills to do their jobs efficiently. Although executives may be tempted to slash learning and development (L&D) programs during times of economic uncertainty, training offers a clear business advantage: Organizations that invest in education as a business strategy report a 129% ROI as a result of improved retention rates and talent management.

Growth-conscious organizations increasingly rely on a mix of upskilling, reskilling and hiring practices to renew their talent pools in the face of a skills shortage. A culture of lifelong learning, enabled by learning resources from accredited universities, can ultimately drive bottom-line growth and prevent future role disruptions. But the key is knowing how to squeeze maximum impact from university partnership investments.

Why Lifelong Learning Matters During a Talent Shortage

Believe it or not, the talent shortage has more than tripled in the last ten years. With already low employment rates leaving a record number of jobs unfilled, employees face higher workloads and fewer advancement opportunities within their organization.

To retain these employees, it’s even more important for organizations to make upward mobility a part of their employee experience — especially since 41% of the workforce cites a lack of career development as the no. 1 reason for quitting their jobs.

At the end of the day, employees need to know that their organization values them. When employees feel engaged and supported, they are more likely to be more productive and attuned to their customer needs. These behaviors result in 21% greater profitability and make promotions and transfers within the company more likely.

L&D opportunities are clearly top-of-mind for employees, so don’t hold back from offering them. Incentives like tuition reimbursements and online learning resources continue to increase satisfaction at work, showing that upskilling is a tried and true recipe for success.

How To Make the Most of University Partnerships

The process of partnering with higher education institutions can bring a host of new challenges that you will have to address as leaders. Here are four tips to help maximize the return on investment (ROI) of your partnerships:

  1. Align L&D strategy with business goals. Determine why you want to offer the program to employees in the first place. Understand your workforce’s business and training needs, and narrow down some key competencies you want to address. For example, maybe you want to attract more diverse talent or develop more coding skills within your workforce. You should also address future business needs and gauge what you want from your employees in the long run. With these strategic objectives in mind, you can better align with training both employee and company needs.
  2. Secure external L&D support. Many organizations have generalists who manage education benefit programs among various other things. It’s ambitious to think this person can fully operationalize an educational program and keep tabs on its progress. Instead, consider investing in an external partner who is experienced in corporate university partnerships. Rather than allocating budgets directly to employees who may struggle to leverage education benefits, delegate these tasks to the external team. The right partner will work with your organization to facilitate a strong in class experience for your employees and provide customized solutions for their unique professional needs.
  3. Choose the right university partner. Needless to say, not all universities and programs are created equal — you’ll need to look for opportunities that produce specific career-centered outcomes for your workforce. Recognizable universities with high graduation and retention rates will ultimately create a strong network of partnerships to upskill your workforce.
  4. Measure the impact of your partnerships. You can’t maximize the ROI of your organization’s educational investments without measuring the impact of your L&D strategy. Post-completion retention and promotion rates are useful metrics for tracking progress, but there may be others depending on your business goals. For example, if you are aligning your education program to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, you might look at how many employees are first-generation college students. Use a measurement tool to leverage key analytical insights from your partnerships and gauge whether new applicants are being drawn to your education program. With a full picture of how your employees are responding to these programs, you can better identify opportunities within the labor market and ensure your program’s long-term success.

Regardless of where you are in L&D planning, it’s never too late to start investing in a strategic education program. In the face of a talent shortage, it is critical to adopt strategies that promote continuous, lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling in your workforce. In return, your organization will reap the benefits of a dedicated talent pool with higher employee engagement and productivity rates.