It’s back to school. But for some in the United States, especially full-time employees, traditional education is not an option. Yet they want to develop their skills, position themselves for promotions, or transition to a new career. Cue skill-based education. Fortunately, there is growing support for skills-based programs such as boot camps, certificate programs, and workforce training, especially in the wake of the pandemic and the Great Shakeup.
However, there are glaring omissions in the upskilling and reskilling conversation as it relates to the digital economy and the jobs in demand for today’s labor market. And business leaders who are willing to invest in skills programs and need a skilled workforce to scale and weather economic downturns should be aware of these five factors when it comes to skills-based education.
1. Don’t forget basic skills training and prerequisites.
The skills gap is real. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 31% of working-age Americans have limited or no digital skills: one in six cannot use email, web search or other online tools basic. There is an emphasis on skills courses and not enough on pre-education courses to give learners the basic digital skills or prerequisites for success. Focusing on foundational skills to prepare learners for more rigorous courses or training is key to success. Why is this important in today’s job market? Millions of jobs in the United States require significant digital skills. The Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program found in a 2017 study that nearly 100 million American workers are in highly or moderately digital jobs. Companies should consider partnering with reputable training providers who offer basic technology programs.
2. Employers say they support the training of their employees, but there are financial limits to this support.
Of U.S. employers who provide employee education benefits, only 25% were willing to offer education assistance equal to or greater than the IRS tax exclusion of $5,250, according to the Society for Human Resource. Management. And the Aspen Institute noted in a 2020 report that from 2008 to 2018, companies receiving education benefits fell from 66% to 51%. Additionally, many employers only offer refunds instead of upfront payments, which could be a barrier for workers enrolling in job training. Business leaders need to assess how these limitations are affecting business results and impacting their employees’ ability to learn the skills they need in an increasingly digital economy.
3. Formal pathways to promotions and entry-level positions are often elusive for workers.
While many people are motivated to enroll in skills programs, the skills education industry has not done a satisfactory job of helping learners understand at graduation how they can get an entry-level job with their newly acquired skills with their current employer. Although there is growing discussion on this topic, there needs to be an intentional effort to teach graduates how to navigate their careers and empower them to seek out new professional opportunities. Companies can foster a culture of talent development by considering internal candidates who have upskilled or requalified and encouraging them to apply for open positions.
4. A single timeline for program completion does not meet the needs of learners.
The amount of time individuals are willing to devote to skills development programs varies considerably depending on whether they work full time, the type of work they do and whether they have families. A recent study by my employer, the Chegg Skills Study, found that 61% of working-age adults between the ages of 18 and 50 cite balancing family and personal responsibilities as the biggest barrier to completing their curriculum. Having flexible schedule templates will allow more people to complete a program. Unfortunately, most – with a few notable exceptions – have developed one-size-fits-all programs. Skills programs should make program requirements and timelines flexible to accommodate learners. Employers can offer flexible hours to support workers continuing their education.
5. Hiring bias is real.
Unfortunately, there is a bias in the hiring market towards graduates of skills programs. While the choir for the removal of the “paper cap” grows, the fact remains that graduates of skills and boot camps are not being hired at the same rate as those who have gone through more traditional education programs. Assessing and hiring workers based on their skills and knowledge should become normalized over time. Business leaders can revise their hiring policies and baseline requirements to include skills and certificate programs, focusing on what workers know, not where they learned it.