This book is written for both employers and employees because their futures are inseparably intertwined. The main message our book is this: To ensure competitive companies and rewarding careers in the age of innovation, employers and employees must wholeheartedly embrace lifelong learning.
This will require from employers and employees some sacrifice, which is just another word that means investment. Innovators and entrepreneurs need to be as concerned about talent development as they are about technology development.
When investments in workforce development and education strategies are better aligned with business strategies, this will assure the near-term, intermediate and long-term payoffs the country needs. Without this commitment to investing energy and resources into reskilling and lifelong learning, there will be little return on investment for existing and growing companies or career seekers.
Benefits to Employers of Continuing Education
Many employers are skeptical about investing in employee development. Why not, reason many executives, just hire employees with the skills to fill the jobs? That is a common miscalculation.
Two decades of private industry and academic research, summarized in 2010 by Tim Lohrentz of the National Network of Sector Partners, confirms that employee development can improve employer bottom-line profitability by increasing revenues and lowering expenses.
The measurements come from a variety of methods including surveys, questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, tests, observation and performance records. A review of the employee development literature reveals the links to profitability in the following five main ways:
- Increased ability to take advantage of innovation
- Increased rate of employee retention
- Reduced rate of employee absenteeism
- Increased quality of work or service
- Increased productivity
Many employers are surprised by the following statistic: BusinessWeek magazine reported in 2009 that in the midst of the worst recession in 50 years, there are approximately 3 million jobs that employers are actively recruiting but cannot fill. “That’s more job openings than the entire population of Mississippi.”
Workers thrown out of shrinking sectors like construction, finance and retail lack the skills for growing fields like health care, data mining and accounting. That is why the nation has millions of jobs that go begging.
Without retraining, U.S. workers may not be able to fill them and take advantage of innovation. So isn’t this just a matter of paying higher wages to find the necessary talent? No, concludes BusinessWeek. “Some jobs require specialized skills for which no amount of money will generate higher labor supply until a new generation can be trained.”
What Employers Should Do
What are the implications of innovation and retraining for entrepreneurs and people leading companies in their regions? Here are seven actions entrepreneurs and company leaders should be taking:
1. Invest in Employee Training
Investment in employee training is rising but is under-used. According to the University Continuing Education Association, employers continue to increase their investment in employee education, a clear recognition that they need a highly skilled workforce to remain competitive.
2. Tuition Assistance Programs
Research conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates that employees who participate in tuition assistance programs were less likely to leave their jobs than those who did not participate. Participation in tuition assistance programs must be promoted at the organization. Unfortunately, only about one in five employees eligible for tuition assistance take advantage of this benefit.
3. Urge States to Invest in Adult Continuing Education
Organization leaders should urge state policy makers to include adult continuing education in state priorities. Recent trends indicate that higher education in general is receiving reduced support from state legislatures. While student aid from state grant programs has increased greatly in the last 50 years, only a small fraction of that money is available for part-time continuing education students.
4. Encourage Second-Career Workers
Organizations should create programs to retrain older workers and provide flexible part-time schedules. According to the AARP, 42 percent of workers age 50 and older would like to work after retiring from their current job, most likely part time for a new employer.
5. Allow Time Off for Continuing Education
One roadblock to reskilling is that many employees find it difficult to pursue continuing education while balancing work and family obligations. Employers should offer flexible, convenient educational options to help increase participation.
6. Confront the Looming Succession Crisis
Due to the impending retirement of millions of baby boomers, many organizations face a looming succession crisis. While retirement has always contributed to employee churn, soon a disproportionate share of employees will become eligible for retirement. Employers need to attack the succession problem with hiring and retention strategies aimed at mature workers, career changers and new younger hires. One recruitment incentive offered by the federal government with more frequency is the repayment of student loans.
7. Change Perceptions About Value of Online Education
Part of the solution to retrain American workers to be qualified for new technologies is to use new technology in the training. But the lingering attitude that online education lacks the rigor of traditional face-to-face classroom instruction needs to change. Fortunately, the increasing popularity of Web 2.0 tools – including blogs, social media, video sharing, and wikis – is positively influencing how Americans perceive online education.