- The automation of jobs is driving employees to have "unprecedented interest" in tuition reimbursement and other educational benefits, according to a Bright Horizons survey of 30,000 workers.
- The leading reasons workers are pursuing more education through their employers are to "keep pace with or get ahead of changes" in their roles, earn more money, or to seek a new career or opportunities at another organization.
- Half of the surveyed workers (52%) ranked tuition reimbursement as one of their company's most important benefits. Roughly eight in 10 workers said the skills or degrees earned through their employer helped them prepare for the workplace and made them better employees.
Automation is poised to wipe out millions of jobs and change employees' responsibilities, requiring a massive retraining of the workforce.
Employees are taking note. Nine in 10 workers surveyed by Bright Horizons believe automation will "impact their industry and transform jobs."
In turn, employers are more interested in offering educational benefits since the economy improved following the Great Recession. Mega-employers such as Walmart and Chipotle are expanding their tuition reimbursement programs through Guild Education, a company that allows workers to access a network of online degrees.
Many institutions providing degrees through that platform — including Brandman University, University of Arizona and Southern New Hampshire University — offer competency-based education, allowing workers to complete their education mostly at their own pace.
Survey respondents indicated the ability to work on their degree on their own schedule was important to them. More than half (55%) of the employees said the time needed to earn a credential was the biggest hurdle they faced while pursuing a credential using their employer's tuition assistance benefits.
About 57% of surveyed workers, however, earned their bachelor's degrees in less than four years. The report's authors believe this may be due to colleges and universities accepting students' prior credits, on-the-job training and other learning experiences.
Yet observers say colleges can better prepare workers for automation.
"Most surprising to me is how limited efforts have been by universities to see a relationship between themselves and the students as extending over multiple decades," André Dua, a senior partner at McKinsey & Co., told Education Dive in July.
Some universities have been making moves to forge stronger ties with companies.
Earlier this year, Arizona State University launched the public benefit corporation InStride with a private equity fund. It aims to connect colleges and companies that want to provide educational benefits. The university already works with Uber and Starbucks to offer employees of those companies tuition-free college.
Other institutions see an opportunity to partner with corporations to drive enrollment in their programs. For example, the University of Memphis Global partnered with FedEx Express last year to offer 11,000 employees tuition-free college and the ability to earn a high school equivalency diploma.