Education benefits are a critical offering to retain top talent

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The American workplace is changing rapidly and so are the expectations workers have of their employers. Under pressure to keep pace with technology’s transformation of the labor market, employers are racing to up- and re-skill their workforce. They know that frontline workers, whose tasks are often most susceptible to automation, need training to remain viable and competitive.

According to this year’s Bright Horizons Working Learning Index, which surveyed more than 30,000 working learners, employees are well aware that their workplace is changing. When asked to select their top three reasons for pursuing more education or training, the most prevalent answer was that they wanted to “keep pace with or get ahead of changes in my position.” This beat out all other reasons, including advancement, opportunities at another organization and even earning more money at work.

Generation Z workers now rank education over all other benefits in importance, excluding healthcare. But they tend to differentiate between education and training, ranking education benefits above training and development.

That’s with good reason: a college degree is still the great lever for economic mobility and career advancement among frontline workers, driving higher lifetime earnings that total more than $2 million, on average. But with college costs rising, Gen Z is looking to employers to fill the gap. About four in ten Gen Z employees believe their tuition reimbursement program is the single best benefit offered by their employer. Twice as many say it is among the top three voluntary benefits.

Among the surveyed workers, three-quarters (76%) say a tuition reimbursement program would make them more likely to remain at their organization, and eight in 10 (81%) say it would make them more likely to recommend working there to a friend. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say such benefits make them “happier at work.”

Indeed, employees of all generations rank education benefits far above those offered for wellness and even above highly coveted benefits like life or disability insurance and paid family leave. In this survey, only retirement savings programs and paid sick or vacation time ranked more highly.

Importantly, nearly half (49%) said they would not have pursued education if their employers did not offer tuition assistance. Slightly more (55%) say the time commitment required for a degree or certification under their employer’s tuition assistance program is the biggest challenge they faced — as a result, many see the value of competency-based and self-paced learning options, often delivered online.

Data like this may change the calculus for employers considering investments in not just upskilling but education. While it may seem counterintuitive, employers must offer their frontline workers broad learning opportunities and educational benefits that can help them move beyond their current positions and pursue the next steps of their careers. Companies must have the foresight to invest in their potential.

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