Despite growing economic uncertainty, employers are still fighting for talent, and workers are coming out ahead.
Now, businesses are expanding their benefits offerings with free college programs to attract and retain workers.
Most recently, Fidelity Investments said it will offer fully funded coaching degrees to 18,000 employees, including entry-level customer service over the phone representatives. The company, which was already offering student debt repayment, will cover the total cost of tuition, books and fees for selected schools for two and four years, avoiding the need for repayment.
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Other major financial institutions, including Citi and PNC, have announced similar offerings this year.
Citi’s nearly 38,000 front-line customer bank employees are eligible for its educational benefits program, including free college. The PNC tuition program is available to 62,000 employees.
“The war for talent is over,” PWC US President Tim Ryan said at CNBC’s Work Summit last month. “Ingenuity won.”
Coming out of the pandemic, these kinds of benefits are playing a big part in the struggles of workers and, as a result, more companies are offering opportunities to develop new skills, according to the Society for Human Resources Management’s recent employee benefits survey.
Currently, 48% of employers said that undergraduate or graduate tuition assistance is a benefit, according to the survey.
Nationwide pizza collar Papa John’s it also recently announced that it will offer fully funded degrees, as well as tuition assistance for associate degrees and professional teaching certificates.
Roughly 12,000 full- and part-time front-line workers, including delivery drivers and kitchen staff, who work less than 10 hours per week are eligible for the educational benefits program, free college, according to the company.
“Anywhere you can differentiate yourself is pretty critical,” said Marvin Boakye, Pope John’s chief people and diversity officer.
Other big corporate names, such as McDonald’s, T-Mobile, Amazon, He drove home, target, Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Chipotle and Starbucks They also have programs that help cover the cost of going to school. Great waste not only does it pay for college degrees and professional certification for employees, but it also offers this same benefit to their spouses and children.
Of course, employers paying for their employees to get a degree is not new. For decades, businesses have picked up the tab for white-collar jobs with graduate studies and MBAs.
However, many companies are now extending this benefit to front-line workers — such as drivers, cashiers and hourly workers — as well as heavily promoting the offer they already have.
Education benefits are ‘mutually beneficial’
For teachers, education-as-a-benefit is “mutually beneficial,” said Fidelity’s head of benefits, Megan Bourque.
“For associates who have obtained an undergraduate degree, they have greater retention, greater mobility within the organization and tend to perform better,” he said.
Chipotle Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung told CNBC that employees who take advantage of the company’s free grades are 3.5 times more likely to stay with the company and seven times more likely to be moved into management.
Not only does free or discounted higher education improve recruitment and retention, but it also cuts student debt while benefiting long-term employers, experts say.
Despite the benefits and what research shows is a strong desire among respondents to return to school, less than half of employees said they would be able to pursue educational goals in the next few years, mainly due to time commitment and financial obstacles, according to a survey by Bright Horizons.
The competition is greater among minority groups, Bright Horizons found: 44% of Black employees said they had trouble providing training, compared with 29% of white employees.
There is a similar contrast between men and women. About 36% of working women report financial barriers to education, compared to 22% of men.
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