InStride named a 2023 Most Innovative Company by Fast Company
February 8, 2023


6 min read

Employees want continuing education – here’s how to give it to them

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In this post:

Today’s employees expect their company to deliver on learning and development opportunities. And the benefits of employee education go both ways  – companies whose education programs align with their business goals see increased retention, engagement and overall productivity. 

It’s likely that your organization has some sort of learning or workforce education program already in place, but many companies still struggle to see a definitive business impact from these efforts. Let’s talk about how organizations can create workforce education programs that actually deliver results.


Modern employees seek out continuing education in the workplace

Skyrocketing tuition costs have made higher education increasingly inaccessible. Many who opt for a traditional degree often graduate with crippling debt — and then often find themselves unable to pay anything beyond the interest. Their loan balance stays high, even with steady monthly payments. 

The situation is even more challenging for the 22% who started college but never completed their degree. They leave with an untenable debt-to-income ratio and also none of the career advancement that comes with a degree. 

With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why a company offering debt-free access to training and ongoing education is highly attractive for employees. Nearly 30% of both Millennial and Gen-Z employees surveyed by Deloitte list learning and development opportunities as a quality they look for in potential employers.


Employee continuing education and engagement

Employee continuing education and the engagement dilemma

Traditional workforce education programs, such as tuition reimbursement, are often held as the gold-star solution for employee learning and development. However, many of these programs are designed without accessibility in mind and thus, fail to engage employees and deliver on meaningful business results.

Organizations pour a collective $28 billion into tuition benefits every year, but InStride data shows that just 2% of employees participate in these programs, despite 80% expressing interest in returning to school while on the job. 

What gives? 

Employees don’t know it’s an option. The same InStride research showed that out of the 80% of employees that wanted to pursue further education, just 40% knew their employer offered a relevant program in the first place. 

And what of the remaining 40% who do know about the program and state that they want to return to school? Why aren’t they taking advantage of this opportunity and what can organizations do to increase participation? Here’s why:


  • Lack of accessibility
    Most programs rely on a tuition reimbursement model which requires employees to pay upfront. This is simply too high of an out-of-pocket expense for many employees. This model favors those with greater financial means.


  • Limited learning options
    People come from all different kinds of educational backgrounds. Some might be ready to jump into a full-fledged four-year degree program, while others may be looking to complete their high school diploma or pursue a professional certification. Successful learning programs need to offer a variety of options to meet each and every learner where they are in their education journey.


  • Career outcomes are not clearly defined for learners
    Workers may not feel motivated to participate in educational programs that don’t offer a clear pathway to career advancement. Employees want to know that their time and effort will result in a real career outcome – whether that’s a promotion or gaining new skills that allow them to succeed in their current role. When an organization takes the time to align education initiatives with existing career pathways, every hour of learning feels relevant to employee success.


  • No cultural support 
    In companies with a strong culture of learning, excitement and support of education are integrated into every facet of the organization. Without this, employees may feel ambivalent about opportunities or perhaps even dissuaded by managers. When leaders don’t prioritize internal program marketing, many may be unaware that educational programs exist. Employees interested in pursuing a degree may feel pressure to stay focused on work. In all these cases, employees do not receive the support they need.



The importance of continuing education for employees

The value of employee continuing education

A continuing education initiative that your employees actually engage in can provide a variety of benefits to your organization. These include:


Boosted productivity through better engagement

It’s proven that learning opportunities can help to increase employee engagement  — a key driver of productivity. Engaged employees are up to 44% more productive than their detached peers and 80% of employees stated they would feel more engaged if given better L&D opportunities by their employer.


Ability to better address skills gaps

With technology evolving rapidly, upskilling and reskilling are integral to maintaining an agile workforce. Even so, 87% of companies report having current or impending skills gaps. An effective workforce education can address these critical needs through a diverse mix of learning options that exist to fill the most pressing skills gaps within your business — from degree programs to professional certifications and even short-term training courses.


skills gap analysis template cta


Build an internal talent pipeline

With 75% of HR leaders struggling to fill open positions, prioritizing internal talent development can save your business time and money by mitigating the need to recruit, hire and train external talent. Providing employees with the ability to continue their education while on the job enables you to engage high-potential talent and grow a more robust internal talent pipeline.


Maximize employee lifetime value

Investing in education opportunities offers some of the strongest returns on employee lifetime value (ELTV). Think of it as a domino effect — when employees are learning on the job, they’re more engaged and more likely to stay with the company for longer. During that period of time, the skills they’re picking up as a result of their learning can help them be more productive and contribute even more to the organization. 


How to deliver impactful continuing education

How to deliver continuing employee education that drives business impact

What an effective workforce education strategy looks like for your business will uniquely depend on your specific needs. Regardless of what those are, here are some baseline requirements you might consider:


Align learning options with career paths and in-demand skills

The goal of an education program is not to offer as many learning options as possible. Instead, what you offer should directly reflect the current and future skills needs of your company — these should ultimately lead your employees towards tangible career opportunities within the organization.


Lead with accessibility

From the start, be sure to prioritize accessibility when developing our program. The more accessible it is, the more likely employees are to participate and actually follow through with their desired learning program.

Think through what level of support your employees will need and how to best deliver it to them. This means investing in ongoing support to help individuals navigate every stage of their learning journey – from choosing a program to application, enrollment and eventually, program completion. For example, some programs come with live support that ensures there are education experts available on standby to answer any questions your employees may have.

When it comes to the mode of delivery, consider going entirely digital. Online learning enables employees to access coursework on their own schedule, at their own pace and in the format that works best for each individual learning style

Finally, consider adopting a direct-bill model that takes the financial burden off employees’ shoulders. Instead of having to pay tuition upfront and wait for reimbursement later, a direct-bill program enables your organization to work directly with the academic institution to organize payment.


Actively promote program awareness and engagement

Simply put, your education program will only succeed if your employees know it exists and know how to take advantage of it. 

Strategize how you can use existing internal communications channels, such as email, to spread awareness of your initiatives. Train people managers on how to talk about continuing education with their teams and direct reports. Give specific guidance on how managers and other leaders can speak to the program, showcase how employees can benefit and highlight the level of support provided to those who decide to enroll.


Measuring continuous education impact

Measuring the impact of your continuous education initiatives

It’s critical to keep an eye on program functionality so you can catch any pitfalls and make adjustments as needed. When evaluating your continuing education initiatives, consider these questions:

  • Do your employees know the program exists?


  • Are employees enrolling? Are they graduating? What is the rate of completion? How are they utilizing their new skills after graduation?


  • Is this program generating an ROI? Are employees staying with your company longer? Are they advancing? Are you seeing an increase in productivity? What is the average ELTV and has it increased? 


While the ELTV question may take longer for a valid answer, others can provide quick and early insight into program results. If you don’t have the right technology in place, you may need to invest in additional analytics to accurately assess the success of your program. Understanding enrollment rates, ROI and other critical metrics will allow you to design a flexible and future-proof program, and help make the argument for budget allocations in coming years.


The future of continuing employee education

For employees today, learning opportunities are not a perk. They are a must — a must for recruitment, retention and advancement. For organizations, strategic workforce education is not a cost line, but a potentially transformative initiative for your company’s long-term health. Recognizing the potential impact of continuing employee education – and investing in it as a critical aspect of your corporate strategy – can drive company growth and acceleration. 

Unlock more workforce education resources: Download our 3-step guide to learn how you can leverage workforce education to maximize diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes for your business.