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7 Steps to Develop or Scale an Education Assistance Program and Improve Employee Retention 

Finding and retaining talent is the greatest challenge businesses are facing across the country. To support employers in our region, the Detroit Regional Chamber developed the Workforce Success Toolkit, and accompanying Workforce Success Webinar Series, to help employers navigate strategies to attract, develop, advance and retain current and future talent.  

The first webinar in the series, Getting Started with Education Assistance, was hosted on Feb. 15 and explored how organizations can develop a new or scale an existing education assistance program to improve employee retention and promotion outcomes.   

The webinar was led by Jon Kaplan, former chief learning officer at Discover Financial Services, national leader in employer-led upskilling and tuition assistance support, and principal and founder of Corvantus Consulting, an upskilling and reskilling consulting firm. He has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and CNN Money because of his work with tuition and education assistance at Discover.  

Kaplan shared the seven steps to developing or scaling an education assistance program during the webinar. Watch a recording of the webinar below or keep reading to learn more. 

Step One: Define Your Objectives 

There are five objectives of an education assistance program that companies can use to sell the program internally to stakeholders: 

  • Talent acquisition 
  • Talent retention 
  • Skill development 
  • Capability building 
  • Corporate branding 

In this step, organizations should decide which objectives they want to meet with their program, as it’s seldom that a program will successfully meet all of them.  

 According to Kaplan, chief executive officers often focus on corporate branding or talent acquisition or retention; chief human resource officers focus on the HR budget; chief learning officers, skills and capabilities; and business leaders, attrition.  

Pro Tip: “Choose one objective as a core area, and all other objectives can be spillover benefits.” 

Step Two: Gather Your Data 

Every problem in an organization has a cost associated with it. Does your company have difficulty attracting the right talent? Recruiting costs. How about retaining employees? High attrition costs. Do your employees struggle to handle the complexity of their work? Mistakes cost.  

By estimating the cost of the problems your company faces, you can determine whether the cost of education assistance is a feasible solution. 

Step Three: Run Your Numbers 

In this step, Kaplan suggests developing a back-of-the-envelope model to quantify the financial tradeoffs of an education assistance program. Consider how much the program will cost, including how many employees will participate, the average cost per participant, and the overall program administration costs. This step is also when you should do a cost-benefits analysis to show that the program benefits will mostly offset the program’s estimated cost. 

Pro Tip: “Don’t get too hung up on the technical accuracy of your model. It’s simply meant to give you a best guess estimate because it gives your executives comfort that you explored the numbers and how the costs compare to the benefits, and nobody else in the company will have a more accurate way to figure it out.”  

Step Four: Gather Feedback and Build Alliances 

Spend time talking to all potential program beneficiaries and get them on your side. Kaplan encouraged engaging stakeholders to validate your assumptions and find out what you may have missed. Use their feedback to develop your program design and final pitch; doing this will only create more allies. 

Pro Tip: “Recognize the different interests your stakeholders may have and be prepared to shift the focus of your pitch to where their interests align.” Refer back to the objectives. 

Step Five: Envision the Optimal Program 

Research is key here. You will want to answer as many questions as possible to cover all bases. Some questions to ask yourself include: 

  1. Who will be eligible? Are there tenure requirements? 
  2. What types of education will you cover? Degrees? What about non-degree programs? 
  3. How much will you pay per employee? How will you handle fees, books, and supplies? 
  4. How will you administer the program? Will you outsource administration? 
  5. How will you market and drive the adoption of the program? 
  6. What type of wrap-around services will you provide? 

 Pro-Tip: “Document the details of your future program. Follow thought leaders and update your vision as you learn from the latest innovations.” 

Step Six: Phase Your Rollout 

Once your ideal program is mapped out, Kaplan said to choose the bare minimum starting attributes. He recommends choosing the least complex parts to improve your chance of success and document positive feedback from stakeholders and employees.  

Pro-Tip: “Avoid trying to be ‘all things to all people’ too early in your program’s evolution. Expand your program as new objectives are defined. It’s okay to only focus on one degree at a time.” 

Step Seven: Make Your Pitch 

When pitching key decision-makers, make sure to frame your pitch around what they care about. Refer to the objectives and tailor your presentation to that. Kaplan also recommends referencing the support you have from your allies and not promising too much. If necessary, you should also be willing to start with a limited trial or proof of concept.  

Pro-Tip: “Remember that it’s rare that execs have the opportunity to meet the needs of shareholders, employees, customers, and community members all at the same time. Your key decision-maker might be looking for a reason to say ‘yes.'”  

Learn more, hear the Q&A, and find out the considerations Discover Financial Services made when implementing these seven steps by watching the recording of Getting Started with Education Assistance.