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Employee Education: Time and Money Well-Spent

Joetta L. Wagner

Joetta L. Wagner

employee education

high-deductible health plans and other benefits education

“Learning is the only thing a mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.” Leonardo da Vinci

As one of the masters in the field of fine art, da Vinci knew what it took to move forward and excel in a field. It’s an essential truth whether it’s fine art or applied mathematics. He apprenticed with Andrea del Verricho, learning all there was to sculpting and painting. He built upon what he was taught to become one of the greatest artists in human history. And it all started with education.

From ancient to contemporary times, apprenticeships have been utilized in many fields, and are the foundation for a number of careers. Apprenticeship programs are found in law enforcement, forestry, civil engineering, the culinary arts and film and video production. But apprenticeships aren’t available for the majority of jobs in the US marketplace. For many, the best avenue to self-improvement and climbing the career ladder is taking advantage of tuition reimbursements.

Tuition reimbursement is a classic element of an employee’s benefit package. Large companies such as Chipotle, UPS and Ford have developed dynamic tuition aid programs. In 2015, The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans (IFEBP) conducted a study to determine what the contemporary parameters are for tuition aid. They determined 83% of companies and organizations offer some form of educational assistance to their employees. The top three reasons for offering educational benefits are to:

  • Retaining current employees (52.1%)
  • Maintaining/increasing employee satisfaction and loyalty (42.6%)
  • Keeping employees current on evolving skill sets required for organization (41.1%)

In 2017, the number of US companies offering tuition assistance rose to 93%, according to a World at Work survey.

The ABCs of Educational Perks

Advancement is one of the reasons why employers offer their workers educational programs. There are five basic levels an employee can avail him/herself of. They are Associate’s degree courses, undergraduate and graduate degree courses, and online education, which may lead to a degree and professional certification courses. University of Pennsylvania professor Peter Cappelli looked into why employers are willing to pick up the tab for employee education in his paper Why Do Employers Pay for College?. He found that companies that offer tuition assistance programs are able to hire better quality, more educated and more productive employees. There are caveats though, including reimbursement by the employee to the company if s/he leaves the organization for another position in less than a year after the coursework’s completion.

The most common benefits program is health insurance. But aside from that, one of the most attractive benefits to employees is tuition reimbursement. People have left companies that offer no tuition assistance to join companies that do. The amount of assistance varies from company to company. On average, it’s up to $5,250, which is tax deductible for employers per employee per year. This program is an affordable perk to offer, as the employee learns a range of general and job-specific skills, and the company gets an employee with improved productivity plus an additional tax deduction. A newer perk that millennials are finding extremely attractive is student loan assistance. Many individuals graduate and are faced with loan debts that range from annoying to cataclysmically huge.

Clearing the path for employee progress is a boon to a company’s good health. Human Resources personnel are the people entrusted to manage complex and endlessly variable benefits programs. There are concerns that upper management might voice about the costs of individual benefits, but one that has proved over the years to be a good investment is financial assistance for employee education. Tom Cherry writes in his article published on SHRM’s website Rejuvenating Tuition Reimbursement Programs: “Successful employers recognize the importance of enabling employees to reach their personal goals while also creating a pool of qualified staff to contribute to the business.”

Human Resources: The Heroes of Employee Education

There are four key considerations for setting up a tuition and/or student loan assistance program.

  • Make sure the points of the policy are clear and understandable. If the total amount of money an employer will give per year is $5,000, and that doesn’t include textbooks, make that clear.
  • Adjust the time frame, a practice already in place for vacation time. Many companies use an employee’s work anniversary to calculate the time frame.
  • Don’t lock in end dates. The best tuition reimbursement policies try to make the payment cover a semester or a term.
  • Ask employees to share what they’ve learned. The information learned by one can prove useful to many.

Be the heroic leader of education, a hidden gem of the benefits world.

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