As more big companies offer free college benefits to attract and retain workers, skepticism has emerged about how many employees these programs will help.
Rollouts of new tuition benefits have generated mostly positive headlines. But experts have pointed to typically low employee participation rates (sometimes 2 percent or less). Recent news coverage also has emphasized
that pursuing a college degree can be an insurmountable challenge for front-line workers who have demanding and unpredictable schedules at their jobs.
Likewise, some observers question whether online degrees earned through programs offered by Amazon
, and other employers will pay off.
“They’re doing this because it sounds great and it’s cheap—almost no one can use them, they are all online/cut rate degree programs,” Peter Cappelli
, director of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Human Resources, recently told CNBC
Outcomes and Microcredentials:
A new analysis
digs deeper on employer attitudes about workplace learning programs, as well as how much they’re investing in them. The report
from Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy draws from interviews with 37 HR leaders and learning officials in the tech, manufacturing, and health-care industries.
is chief advocacy officer for Ascension Seton Texas, where he leads the nonprofit health-care system’s workforce development and diversity efforts
. Rodriguez told the researchers that employer learning programs should not be measured by how many workers are participating or how many classes they offer.
“I want outcomes or goals,” Rodriguez said. “What educational certificate or degree are they getting, and frankly, what’s the job they’re getting hired into? Otherwise, we’re failing the individual and our community’s quality of life.”
- Investments by companies in employee learning appear to be growing, reversing a pre-pandemic trend.
- Learning programs are now seen as a key competitive differentiator and vehicle for employee engagement and retention.
- The more digital world of workplace learning increasingly includes microlearning, content curation, and “learning experience” platforms.
The report found that certificates and microcredentials may be an increasing focus of workplace learning, in part because shorter-term programs can meet employers’ immediate needs for job-related skills while also offering workers the possibility of stacking up credentials to a degree.
“Microcredentials help the employees demonstrate skills mastered much sooner than a traditional degree,” says Rashid Mosley
, one of the report’s coauthors and an assistant professor at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies. “This can benefit the employee seeking to demonstrate specific skills to their existing employer or for future job opportunities.”