We know that continuing education benefits employees by giving them knowledge and skills, boosting their confidence and increasing engagement and job satisfaction, among other perks.
But how does that employee education help employers?
There’s a proven connection between companies that create a culture of lifelong learning and their organizational success. A 2021 article in Forbes found firms that promote continuous learning are 46 percent more likely to be first to market. They experience 37 percent higher productivity. And they are 92 percent more likely to innovate.
Specifically, employers report that providing training and education – everything from workshops and credentialing to college degrees – offers these organizational benefits:
- Creates a highly skilled workforce to support innovation
- Improves productivity and drives profits
- Retains employees by keeping them engaged and interested
- Leaves a positive impact on company culture
Because it’s so good for the business and the bottom line, companies from Exact Sciences and American Family Insurance here in Madison to Starbucks Coffee have been recognized for this culture of lifelong learning. For example, through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, any qualifying full- or part-time Starbucks employee can have their bachelor’s degree covered, and military members or veterans can extend the same benefit to one family member of their choice.
What can we learn from successful companies about how to build a culture of continuing ed?
First, walk the talk. Executives and directors already making continuing education a regular part of their lives benefit from both sharing new information with their team members and actively empowering them to seek out new learning. To foster this sense of community around education, leaders can create opportunities for social learning and even build a library of resources.
Second, leaders should recognize the different learning styles and needs of their employees and provide a variety of educational options. Some people want to increase specific skills during a one-time LinkedIn seminar and others want to earn a degree at an accredited college.
Third, companies can make learning user-friendly and convenient. Knowing they are working with busy adults who are trying to balance work and home life, they should provide continuing education that fits into a variety of schedules – some within the workday, others online. Businesses should also build a feedback loop so employees can suggest the best ways to offer education.
Fourth, employers can formalize the learning process and make it part of their expectations for employees. Supervisors could help people set SMART learning goals and check in on their progress. They can build lifelong learning into their performance review systems, then reward employees who pursue learning opportunities.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, companies can pay for continuing education for their employees. Price is often the only thing standing in the way of someone taking steps to learn something new. Continuing education is a worthwhile investment in the wellbeing of your employees – and your business.
The Lifelong Learner is a monthly feature written by UW–Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. Autumn Sanchez, UW–Madison adult student advisor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on May 14, 2023.