Prudential’s 2021 Pulse of the American Worker survey revealed some surprising results. It found that 25% of workers are planning to look for new work once the pandemic is over, and that “compensation, work-life balance and lack of growth opportunities” are their biggest priorities.
A 2020 McKinsey Global survey found that 87% of executives said they currently had a skills gap or were expecting one in the near future.
Further, research by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation suggests that after the pandemic ends, “companies will compete on how well they are able to find, source, develop, advance, and retain talent.” The report goes on to say that employees will need to increase their knowledge and skills to remain employable. It says “learners and workers will compete on skills and credentials and the ability to be agile in a dynamic labor market and economy.”
When these are all taken together, it shows one clear picture: nearly nine in ten companies are facing a skills shortage, employees are looking for new opportunities, and post-pandemic, companies and employees will all be competing with each other to retain and develop their skills.
In other words, if you want to survive the pandemic, you need to let your employees improve their skills and education.
Let them sharpen their digital skills and find your future company leaders
The digital skills gap has been a long time coming. For decades now, the chorus of voices from governments, business leaders and research institutes has been growing louder: the digital revolution is coming, and we need employees to answer the call.
Schools and universities have done what they can, but middle school students taking coding lessons is a future solution, not an immediate one for businesses in every conceivable industry that require computer engineers. Obviously, we will need this small army of young computer scientists when they do come of working age, but companies need workers right now, too.
That is where funding employee education can be so helpful. If business leaders and owners take the time to figure out where the knowledge gaps are in their workforce, they can either put out a highly specialised job ad and hope the right candidate comes along, or they can identify current employees with the ambition and talent to fill in the gaps themselves. By setting up a voluntary tuition assistance program, the talented and ambitious individuals will put themselves forward to put in the extra work to improve their skills and job performance. They identify themselves as future leaders and skilled workers just by volunteering for the program, and then they actually train themselves to be the solution to the skills gap problem.
Act like an agile startup now to be able to respond like an agile startup in the future
Startups love investing in employee education because it’s relatively simple to navigate the red tape and afford the tuition costs when you’re just talking about one or two employees at a time. This extra training gives employees the expertise and wide-ranging knowledge base to continue to offer innovative, agile solutions to clients’ issues. Larger companies have to work harder to be able to steer the ship so deftly in the swift currents of the modern era, but if they want to avoid the rocks, they too need staff who can offer creative solutions quickly.
When employees of diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to upskill and retrain, they bring both their original point of view and their new training to everything they do. This is how they can come up with truly creative solutions. But often, employees don’t have time to retrain, unless they no longer have a job to focus on the day-to-day.
This is where a culture of education and training at work can make a real difference, both to employees and, ultimately, to clients or company challenges.
Protect the education budget
There are times when it might seem most cost-effective to remove education benefits, but this is just short-term thinking. In the long term, investing money to help employees access things like online degrees or training programs makes the money back, and then some.
The National Bureau of Economic Research has been looking at education assistance programs, where companies pay for part or all of employees’ further education, for two decades, and in that time, they have found that employees who are taking advantage of these programs have a boost in productivity that can nearly entirely offset the cost of their tuition. Even more than that, though, their research has found that these employees also improve customer engagement and satisfaction, and they remain loyal employees for much longer than the employees that don’t take advantage of the benefit.
In the end, employees that have companies invest in them give much more than the monetary value back to the company. They are loyal and more engaged with customers, leading to higher customer satisfaction. They have the outside-the-box thinking that can address the challenges of the future, matching or even surpassing startup employees for creativity and innovation. And they will do all this in a self-selecting, voluntary system that allows businesses to identify and train their best and brightest. So if you really want your business to survive the pandemic and thrive in an ever more digital world, let your employees learn.