HR Leads Business

Apr 3, 2019 | Alex Cooper

The Education Perks Younger Workers Value Most

Younger workers today are facing a huge debt after graduating from college and an economy that is barely on the uptick. In this terrain of financial instability, younger workers, typically millennials and Gen Z, are sizing up employment opportunities based on an employee package that includes strong benefits.

They are especially interested in education benefits. Sixty percent of millennials with student loan debt would trade a current benefit for repayment support. Here are a few options employers can offer to help meet that need.

Tuition Reimbursement & Student Loan Repayment

Tuition reimbursement and repayment are highly valued perks. This is most attractive to younger workers who want to gain new skills by going back to school for a specialization or degree.

Some companies are now going beyond tuition reimbursement and offering student loan repayment. According to The New York Times, financial advisers are hearing from younger clients that student debt is a growing concern. Those that are willing to help with that debt are seen as more attractive to these individuals -- especially since people in the  U.S. owe over $1 trillion in student loan debt.

The Times cites pharmaceutical company Abbott, which began offering student loan repayment in June 2018. "Our employees have invested a lot in themselves to earn their way into Abbott, and we don't want student loans to prevent them from beginning to save when time is on their side," said Steve Fussell, executive vice president of HR at Abbott, in a statement following the company’s announcement.

Joan Kuhl, researcher, author and speaker working on corporate equality, says that what she hears from younger workers is that companies rarely go beyond reimbursement: “From an education perspective, I think that [student loan repayment plans are] still contributing … it might not mean you’re getting a degree right now, but it reinforcing the value of the one you’ve already invested in.”

Repayment plans, she says, are “a big deal” for younger workers.

Options for Online Learning

“Learning and development is probably the biggest lever you can pull as it relates to attracting, engaging and retaining millennials and Generation Z,” says Ryan Jenkins, a generations speaker and author specializing in how companies can attract younger generations. It’s essential in the age of rapid technological growth.

He notes that younger workers are facing the longest career life of any previous generation. Because of that, there has to be innovation in learning. This, Jenkins says, can be confronted by solutions like designing engaging tools, microlearning, blended learning and on-demand learning.

Younger generations, Jenkins says, “have grown up with the largest how-to library at their fingertips—that was YouTube. They’ve been able to get on-demand learning … 24/7.” It’s what they’ve come to expect and want.

Another example of an educational perk is for your younger workers to have access to massive open online courses (MOOCs), or free digital classes that you can enroll in.

However, it’s important to note, Kuhl explains, that younger workers don’t want to be forced to complete these programs after hours. If your company wants to support these types of learning programs, set aside some hours for employees to take them.

Access to Mentors

Kuhl says that she and her associates found in 2016 that an overwhelming amount of young workers are “starving … for both growth and development and meaningful relationships.” Having a mentorship program in your company allows for you to provide both to your younger workers.

“[Companies} try to give them everything … and try to force something that the Googles and the Facebooks of the world do. While those things can be nice, it’s just dressing,” says Jenkins. One way, Jenkins says, to provide them something more substantive is exposing them to talent that is already in house.  

Both Kuhl and Jenkins say that mentorship programs of some sort can give workers both the training the relationships they desire.

Overall, Kuhl says, “If you don’t invest in your people, if you don’t think education should be integrated in their daily experiences, your people can provide that education and there are tools available.” It doesn’t have to be that difficult to provide these perks.

“The emerging generation just know that they are going to have to just be committed to continuous learning and if they see an employer that is making strides in learning, they see them as a partner that they want to be involved with,” Jenkins says. “Great companies start with great training.”

“If they can’t get that wrap-around support,” Kuhl explains, “they leave.”