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Education For Business' Sake

Even as unemployment continues to soar, companies are having a hard time finding talent that meets their needs. Employers have a simple, straightforward reason to invest in employee education: the bottom line.

July 26, 2011
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Related Topics: Management, Learning Delivery, Learning Delivery, Management
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America stands on the brink of a global employability crisis. There are too many available workers and not enough qualified talent. Some 90 percent of employers say candidate-specific factors — including a lack of necessary skills and experience — contribute to challenges filling mission-critical roles according to findings from a May talent shortage survey by global recruitment firm ManpowerGroup.

Findings from the Corporate Voices study “A Profile of Young Workers (16-26) in Low-Income Families,” also released in May, indicate that in an economic downtown, employees see fewer opportunities to advance their careers and often return to school to boost their skills and marketability.

“Since the financial crisis began, the climb up the career ladder has become higher and steeper,” said Donna Klein, executive chairman and CEO at Corporate Voices for Working Families. “There’s a huge skills gap we’re facing as a country. Those who are pursuing education to close the gap are greatly enabled to complete that education if they have support through their employer.”

That trend doesn’t apply for employed youth, only 1 percent of whom go back to school during an economic downtown to develop new skills.

Corporate America is making an effort to turn the tide for its talent pipeline. Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, Time Warner Cable boss Glenn Britt, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Eastman Kodak chief Antonio Perez and Sally Ride Science CEO Sally Ride joined forces with Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to form Change the Equation. The group appealed to state governors, urging them to set higher standards for student proficiency in science and mathematics, since only one fifth of today’s eighth-graders are proficient or advanced in math, according to figures from national educational assessments.

This problem may transcend elementary school borders. According to “The American Workforce,” an October 2009 survey of 600 executives as part of a Business Roundtable commission called the Springboard Project, two-thirds of employers say they require at least an associate’s degree for most positions. However, nearly 50 percent do not provide or require ongoing education or skills training for their employees.

Eighty percent of 1,000 workers surveyed for the same study said they understand the importance of having up-to-date skills but are hindered by cost, lack of choices and an absence of reliable information about the type of training they need. To address these problems, organizations such as The Boeing Co. have offered tuition reimbursement for more than 20 years. Traditionally the program supported ease of enrollment, participation and direct payment to schools to decrease out-of-pocket impact on learners. Recently, Boeing aligned the program more closely with business by:

• Refocusing tuition reimbursement on learning linked to career opportunities within the company.

• Helping employees make better education choices by strengthening managers’ roles in career planning and development.

• Creating online advising resources to support employees and managers in identifying university programs that develop strategic skills.

• Forming partnerships with higher education institutions that offer programs in critical fields of study.

• Partnering with schools to create new educational programs aimed at developing emerging strategic skills.

“We have made these changes in our program scope, school partnerships and funding focus to align our tuition reimbursement program with Boeing’s business direction and to make it more affordable,” said Norma Clayton, the company’s vice president of learning, training and development. “Additional changes include transitioning from funding programs for employee enrichment and personal interests to funding fields of study tied to identified skill needs. Also, establishing annual funding limits for undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs, with an exception for education related to science, technology, engineering and math.”

Tuition reimbursement benefits are offered to Boeing employees in more than 72 countries in an attempt to manage current and future skill needs and position the company for long-term growth. A customized website enables international employees to access the program anytime, anywhere.

“We aggressively reach out to high-demand talent pools to provide greater visibility of program benefits and develop custom programs with key education partners to support the development of high-demand and critical skill areas,” Clayton said.

Ladan Nikravan is associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at lnikravan@clomedia.com.

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