Training pays off for employers and workers

April 22nd, 2016

News Coverage:

April 21, 2016

Training pays off for employers and workers

Linda Lipp | KPC News

With skilled workers at a premium in northeast Indiana, employers may face a dilemma when they pay for training for their workers or reimburse them for tuition costs.

After all, they are making them more employable and more attractive to other companies who might try to hire them away. But they are also getting a better workforce and, if they play their other wage and benefit cards right, those workers might be more inclined to hang around.

“Hopefully, employers are thinking, yeah, ‘I could train these people and they could leave, but I could also not train them and they will stay,’ ” said Melissa Kurten, director of the training outreach program in the continuing studies department at Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne. “I think they’re leaning more toward training, and if (employees) leave they leave, but it’s better than having a workforce that isn’t as skilled as we need them to be.”

The shortage of skilled workers appears to be contributing to the current demand for training, said Kaylene Smith, lead program manager for Ivy Tech Northeast’s corporate college.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of employers looking internally to skill up their employees, to promote from within,” she said.

The University of Saint Francis, which has offered continuing education programs in the past, is beginning to get back into some of that again.

“For us it’s an area where we primarily do it on request from our employer partners. We don’t go out and promote it, but we are happy to meet their needs,” said Andrew Prall, vice president of academic affairs. “We’re seeing some uptick in demand so we’re just starting to gear up in this area.”

The opening of USF’s downtown campus in the fall may also pave the way for additional educational programs to be offered in the evening to accommodate work schedules, he said.

Who pays?

In a 2013 survey, the Society for Human Resources Management found that 61 percent of employers offered tuition assistance for workers pursuing bachelor’s degrees – although policies and practices varied widely. A much, much smaller percentage help new employees repay student loans, but with so many younger workers graduating with a lot of debt, that could become a more attractive hiring incentive to millennials.

“Education represents an investment in people, and it’s the best kind of investment that our organizations and businesses can make. It’s an investment that tends to pay off and yield a lot of benefits,” Prall said.

In IPFW’s training outreach program, about 70 to 80 percent of students have their programs paid for upfront by their employers, Kurten estimated. Fees are kept affordable, both to assist students who are paying themselves, and to make the courses attractive to employers, Kurten said.

Parkview Health is a big consumer of educational services, both degree and non-degree. Last year, it provided some 265,000 hours of training to employees in everything from technology to leadership, customer service and emotional intelligence.

Continued education at Parkview has become mandate in some critical areas. A year ago, the hospital began requiring newly hired registered and associate degree nurses to commit to earning a bachelor’s within five years.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise: we have a shortage of nurses,” said Dena Jacquay, chief human resources officer at Parkview. “And we’ve also wanted to increase the number of BSNs.”

To further that goal, Parkview offers tuition reimbursement of up to $4,000 per year to train nurses and those who fill other critical needs.

“It needs to be for something meaningful to Parkview,” Jacquay said.

A person in management or finance could qualify for reimbursement for pursing an MBA, for example. Or a physical therapy assistant could get tuition assistance to become a full-fledged physical therapist.

There are two caveats, however. The employee must maintain a grade average above a “C,” and for every dollar reimbursed, the hospital asks for an hour of continuing employment – “but we’re also hoping that among all the total rewards, that the whole package gets workers to remain,” Jacquay said.

Options abound

To meet its training needs, Parkview works with a number of partners. One of those is Indiana Wesleyan University, which is now offering a RN to BSN program to a cohort of nurses who started and will finish the program together.

The degree program is offered one course at a time, and nurses do classwork on site at Parkview and online. It takes about 20 months to complete the degree.

“It seemed like it was attractive to a lot of nurses who wanted to go back and get their bachelor’s,” said Jonelle Sherman, corporate representative for IWU’s Fort Wayne campus. A second cohort is expected to start this spring.

Indiana Wesleyan offers other undergraduate and graduate degree programs in partnership with various employers in Indiana, either in on-site cohorts or independently. A group of workers at ZimmerBiomet in Warsaw completed their bachelor’s of science degrees in management last fall.

Employees of those partners get a 10-percent discount on tuition, Sherman noted.

Training on demand

Flexibility is important to many employees. “There are some individuals who want to go back to school but they can’t go both to school full-time and work full-time,” Jacquay said. “It’s really all about the individual finding the right school that fits around their life.”

Saint Francis offers an RN to BSN program online, among others, and that also seems to suit employers.

“We really find that employers tend to prefer online programs for the flexibility and convenience,” Prall said. “With all of our programs, we do try to reach out to employers to make sure the program is aligned with the needs that are in the region.”

Ivy Tech regularly customizes training for employer partners. Much is it is in practical areas – machining, welding and computer programs such as Microsoft Excel – but there is a growing demand for training in leadership skills, Smith said.

With the customized training, it is usually the employer that identifies the workers to be trained, not the other way around. But Ivy Tech also has an open enrollment for courses. Training programs are generally short-term.

“We don’t just run on semesters, we run anytime we want to,” she said.