Liz Sheffield

4 Smart Ways to Start Investing In Employee Education

You probably spend a fair amount of time thinking about what investments are worth making in your business. Don’t overlook one of the largest investments you have to capitalize on — your employees.

Why Employee Education Matters for the Long Run

Offering an employee education program can be an excellent way to support your company’s long-term growth, increasing staff retention and cementing your workforce as a group of highly skilled employees. According to a 2017 survey of businesses, 92% of U.S. companies offer some form of a tuition assistance program for employees, such as a stipend or tuition reimbursement. Employees have taken notice: If asked to choose between similar jobs, nearly 60% of workers would pick a job that offers professional development over one with regular pay increases.

Beyond the obvious business benefits of having a staff of people on the cutting edge, receiving support to pursue personal passions contributes to employees’ sense of well-being and provides motivation. In turn, this boosts their productivity and engagement at work. Engaged employees arrive at work with passion and a renewed sense of energy — and they’re more likely to stick around for the long run.

Employee education may even be worth factoring into how you budget for the total cost of your employees. However, there’s not just one right way to nurture your employees’ future success, and you don’t have to blow your budget to find worthwhile options.

4 Ways to Prioritize Employee Education

New educational opportunities enter the scene all the time; which ones you adopt depends on your budget, business needs and workforce. Here are four ways small businesses can use an employee education program to help their employees further their education.

Tuition Assistance

Tuition assistance programs provide funds for courses, programs and workshops in advance. This tends to be popular with employees because it means they don’t have to save as much money to cover the costs. Even assisting with a portion of the tuition costs — such as books, class fees or required tests — can help employees who want to further their education but may not have the means to do so.

Now, rapidly rising costs in higher education may make this offering seem unaffordable. One way companies keep tuition costs down is by establishing partnerships with designated schools and paying them directly for employee tuition in specific programs.

Tuition Reimbursement

Tuition reimbursement programs also offer money for education — just after the fact. Though this is still a powerful benefit to add to your offerings, getting reimbursement after a course has ended will be less useful for employees who struggle to come up with the money to pay for the course in the first place.

Micro-Credentials

Micro-credentials are becoming a popular way for professionals to learn and track the new skills they acquire. These online certifications help employees master new skills both formal and informal.

Some of the earliest micro-credentials were related to computer programming skills, but modern credentials extend far beyond that now. Depending on the course, participants must complete online courses, attend conferences or present a portfolio of work to earn the certification. If you want your employees to take advantage of these bite-sized education programs, take a poll to determine areas of interest, and then research whether any relevant micro-credentials are available.

Flexible Education Budgets

Other organizations use flexible education budgets to grant employee scholarships. These are typically limited in number, and employers generally require employees complete an application process. Some companies may also extend this offering to employees’ family members. Though not available to all employees, this option does allow an organization to subsidize education costs for the most highly motivated among your staff.

Another option for flexible education budgets is to provide employees with a monthly book stipend they can use to fund reading on industry developments and professional skills. As an extension of this program, you could encourage employees to read the same book and then host a monthly book club discussion — that way, they have a chance to share what they’ve learned. Ideally, the conversation will include highlights that other staff members can apply to their own work.

As you consider whether an education program would benefit your business, check to see if there are any tax benefits to prioritizing employee education. Internal Revenue Service guidelines indicate that an employer may exclude up to $5,250 from an employee’s wages for expenses paid on behalf of the employee for qualified educational assistance. As always, consult your legal advisor to ensure you’re complying with any relevant regulations.

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