Learn while you earn
In a rough economy, most businesses still support education – especially online.
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When e-learning falls short, schools sometimes fill that void. When Robert Forsythe, dean of the College of Business at the University of South Florida in Tampa, talks with executives who hire new employees, one of the first issues they raise is the need to improve writing skills in an age of e-mail and text messaging. This includes both recent graduates and those hired 15 or 20 years ago who have hit a ceiling because of poor communication skills.Skip to next paragraph
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To meet that need, Dean Forsythe created a two-day writing workshop at the university for mid- and senior-level executives. The $400 course, limited to 25 participants, is always filled, and companies ask about bringing the program to their offices.
"My prior experience has been that when the economy heads south, executive education dollars dry up," says Forsythe. "But with highly tailored programs such as these, we're seeing good demand from the business community."
In a recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, 81 percent of organizations say they provide tuition assistance programs for employees. Tuition reimbursement represents a $20 billion industry. Nearly a third of businesses in the survey require employees to repay tuition if they leave the company within a year of completing a course. Some managers express concern that workers will take advantage of continuing education programs, then quit.
Quitting is not on the mind of Michael Zorn, assistant plant coordinator at Johnsonville Sausage in Sheboygan Falls, Wis. Continuing education, reimbursed by the company, has expanded his horizons and skills. One night a week for three years, he attended on-site classes given by a local technical college. In 2003 he received an associate's degree in supervisory management. Next May he expects to earn a bachelor's degree in business management.
"It helps you grow both personally and professionally," says Mr. Zorn, a 26-year employee. "It's made me improve my people skills, business knowledge, thinking and listening skills. I feel it's made me a better overall person. If it hadn't been for Johnsonville's vision on continuous learning, I don't think I would have pursued any of this."
In addition to enhancing workers' credentials, some training focuses on developing the whole person, says John McTigue, a managing partner of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network in Chicago. That includes instruction in everything from working with staff, superiors, and clients to getting involved in the community. "When a person feels more educated, they're happier, more confident, and able to show themselves better in the community," he says.
Whatever its form, workplace development remains critical for retention, says Alexandra Levit, author of "Success for Hire." "If you are cutting training now, you're going to have employees leaving. You get a reputation for being a company that doesn't support employees."