According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021 – the highest number on record. As employers continue to battle The Great Resignation and look for ways to retain their top talent, their first stop on the road to talent acquisition is ensuring their organization’s benefit offerings meet the needs and demands of various employee groups.

An important employee group to retain are working parents, almost half of today’s workforce. There is no question that benefits like child care and flexible work hours rank among the most important for working parents. In fact, in Bright Horizons modern family index survey, nearly half (46%) of working parents said they hope their employer will provide some form of child care.

Similar to other employee groups, working parents are concerned about the future of their careers as technology continues to sweep across industries in what is known as the digital era. According to the World Economic Forum, 44% of the skills that employees will need to perform their roles effectively will change by 2025. Based on Bright Horizons education index on workforce education and equity in the workplace, 87% of working Americans feel learning new skills is important for success down the line, and 77% saying it is a critical factor for success.

Despite a great interest in advancing their education, less than half of working Americans have been able to pursue an education program in the last five years, stating that money, time and busy personal lives are the biggest barriers to education. For working parents, these obstacles can be even more challenging, with family needs taking precedence over going back to school.

With the talent crisis at an all-time high, employers need to focus on upskilling their talent in ways that are manageable and fiscally feasible for all employees. Automation and innovative technologies are changing the job industry, making it an impending need to train top talent with the skills they need to meet the future of the workforce.

As a result of this great awakening, many employers are realizing the multitude of educational pathways for employees based on their required skills, career path and personal stressors. Organizations offering flexible and cost-effective education benefits will stand out in a sea of employers, particularly for employees with a busy work-life balance, like working parents.

Education benefits that allow employees to obtain a bachelor’s degree on a flexible schedule, without the financial burden, can support working parents’ professional development. For example, Abbott’s FreeU program provides tuition-free, general education classes, but also financial relief for textbooks and academic advising. The classes are held online, enabling employees to study at their own pace, around their work and family obligations. These general education credits can be transferred to a partner university, where employees can complete the remainder of their degrees debt free with Abbott’s tuition reimbursement.

  • No-cost or low-cost options to remove financial barriers: By covering upfront tuition costs or partnering with schools to offer discounted education programs, employers will open the doors to education for many more employees, including working parents.
  • Non-degree programs that are short term with flexible class schedules: The length and flexibility associated with non-degree programs — like certificates, bootcamps and professional certifications — allow working parents to enhance their skills in a way that is amenable to busy schedules and demands at home.
  • Additional support benefits, like child care: For an employee already balancing work and family, the addition of class time and homework can seem impossible to take on. Offering a benefit for child care would help remove a major barrier for working parent’s career progression.
  • Complimentary benefits, like a student loan support program: Financial support for student loan repayment eliminates another barrier to education for working parents, who may be more concerned about saving for their children’s future education than taking on education expenses for themselves.

In today’s competitive war on talent, education programs like this go a long way for employees. Many organizations similar to Abbott, have seen great interest with their education benefits among working parents, many of whom have been looking for the right opportunity to pursue their education but couldn’t find a program that fit their lives.

Lacey Henry, a field clinical engineer in Abbott’s medical devices division and a busy mother to a 12-year-old son, is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree through the program — something she has been wanting to do for 20 years. Before the FreeU program, she was never able to find a program that offered the flexibility she needed to complete her studies and maintain a work life balance.

Similarly, companies like Memorial Hermann Health System are complementing student loan repayment programs with education benefits to help employees manage the costs of advancing their education. According to the company’s 2020 data, the health care organization experienced a 95% retention rate for student loan program participants and increased first-year nursing retention to 87%.

Today, employers are battling in a war for talent, and employees have the upper hand. If employers decide to listen closely to their employees’ needs, as well as invest in their career development and advancement within the organization, they will win the talent war with a workforce that is both loyal and armed with the skills required for the future.