Published on 2012/09/18

Not Enough Programming Scheduled for Working Professionals

Higher education institutions need to do more to make sure their programs fit the schedules of working adults who must balance ongoing education with work and family priorities.

The following interview is with Bob Ballantyne, the Vice President and General Manager of Klune Industries. Klune offers tuition reimbursement to its staff in the order of approximately two-thousand dollars per year, but a very small percentage of employees take advantage of it. In this interview, Ballantyne discusses the reasons behind that low participation rate and gives his opinion on what employers and higher education institutions can do to get more professionals involved in training and development.

To listen to The EvoLLLution’s interview with Bob Ballantyne, please click here.

1. A recent research study found that, when it comes to employees taking advantage of tuition reimbursement, a participation rate of 10% was considered very high. Why do you think so few employees take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs?

I believe few employees seek higher education. I believe that employees and career-minded people almost pre-determine their future shortly out of high school. … I see that once a person becomes entrenched into a blue-collar position it’s socially and economically pretty challenging for them to continue to work full-time—because of their bills and commitments—and commit to seeking a full degreed education.

2. Are there distinct advantages for employees who take part in continuing education?

The advantages are, I believe, they improve their standard of living because they elevate themselves into a higher earning capability with greater flexibility and more cross-training and a broader career path.

3. Are there any changes employers could make in order to make continuing education a more enticing option for their employees?

It’s a pretty challenging question, nowadays. Employers and corporations and boards of directors seek so much marked improvement and performance to stay competitive in the world economy that I’m sure there’s options on how they can do that. But if a person is committed to work on a full-time job, giving them time off to go to school… in addition to tuition reimbursement probably isn’t an economic option.

I have given that some thought and I do believe that in most cases where employees choose to take advantage of tuition reimbursement—if they are pursuing educational degrees that are applicable to the business—they have a high likelihood of being retained in that business because they’re so familiar with the culture and process and environment. I think that’s an upside for tuition reimbursement. But it’s pretty challenging in today’s environment to incentivize employees any more than tuition reimbursement, which is a fairly significant benefit.

4. What about higher education institutions? What do you think they could do to make continuing education and ongoing learning more appealing to professionals?

University of Phoenix had a pretty good model on that. In my prior employment with the Boeing company, I would say 75 percent of the employees that had been promoted into lower management positions took advantage of that opportunity because it was structured around… someone who worked full-time, had responsibilities and obligations and could attend school in a structured group environment in the evenings and often on weekends that would mesh well with their lifestyle.

I think it all boils down to a certain point about a person’s lifestyle and commitments. If a person chooses a blue collar path originally and has a family and responsibilities and a mortgage, that limits their ability to excel at a university based on the times and the structure of the times that course work is offered, which is primarily catered—in a very structured environment—to a daytime attending student. …

When [the University of Phoenix] first came out, they were considered maybe not quite a first-run opportunity, but if I’m not mistaken over the years they have improved their reputation—although I know they’re fairly expensive. But… I know that the Boeing Company was more than willing to pay the higher tuition to receive the benefit from the education that their managers received.

5. So ensuring that education meets the scheduling needs of a working professional is pretty important in this context?

I think it’s probably the most important thing, in addition to the tuition reimbursement. I think a person becomes overwhelmed and I believe you have a smaller percentage of the workforce that honestly has the drive and the intestinal fortitude to work 8 or 10 hours a day at work and then 6 or 7 hours a day at school in the evening. That’s a 15 or a 16 hour day. That’s pretty tough.

6. Is there anything you would like to add about tuition reimbursement and getting more employees involved in higher education?

I believe it’s an excellent opportunity. We don’t limit the people in our facility, in our organization, that the benefit is offered to. I do agree with you that [participation] always appears to be on the lower end of the spectrum but I believe, going forward, forming a workshop or a consortium or an effort between industry and higher education is probably a necessity if we want to truly harness the opportunity of those individuals. …

My parting comment would be; I believe there’s a lot of work that can be done in cooperation between higher education and industry to structure educational opportunities for those individuals that want to better their lives and return to school as working adults.

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Readers Comments

Renee Smith 2012/09/18 at 9:34 am

It’s really interesting to consider than split between white-collar and blue-collar workers, and their approach to ongoing education.

I think blue-collar workers have more to gain from ongoing learning but, as you hear toward the end of the interview, see it as a pathway to an irrelevant skill-set.

Universities need to shed this perception that we are providing useless skills and need to do a better job of marketing the fact that they provide functional and important skill-sets that go beyond “the ability to aggressively research and solve a problem and communicate that finding in a report”.

You know, the more I think about it, when employers carry that perception of higher education it creates a culture of real misunderstanding and disinterest in ongoing learning. That needs to be avoided as well.

Tina Nunez 2012/09/18 at 2:31 pm

It’s interesting that you bring up the middle-skill employees as those least likely to take ongoing classes. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce came out with a report today pushing for a stronger career and technical education system in the US.

I think the solution runs very much along the lines Renee is suggesting; on the one hand we need to make more programming available to the working adult. On the other hand, more needs to be done from inside corporations to show employees why it’s worthwhile for them to engage in ongoing learning.

It’s more that just the chance for promotion; industries change rapidly and workers need to constantly be updating their skills to stay on top of those changes. You may not need a BA, but you definitely need ongoing learning to keep up in this economy.

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