Move over 401(k). There is a new benefit that employers are adding to their packages.
Education as an employee benefit is landing on benefits packages at some of the largest employers across the U.S. But the value isn’t just for organizations with thousands of employees and large HR departments. There is significant value for small to medium-sized businesses as well. In particular, these programs can help attract new employees, retain existing employees, and establish a strong foundation for organic company growth.
At TEL Education, we not only see the impact this can have for SMBs across the country, but we are also embracing it as part of our own benefits package.
Our interest in providing education as a benefit is certainly part of our outward mission to provide equitable access to higher learning. But it is also a key component of our internal culture.
Learning and being a learner, as opposed to knowing and being a knower, is an open-ended proposition without a definitive endpoint. Being a learner is about being open to new ideas and opportunities, embracing change, thriving on failure, and becoming comfortable with unsolved mysteries. This philosophy applies to our business decisions and to our product roadmap. We want to help people get started on their journey in higher education and also to facilitate their journey as they continue moving forward to greater personal and professional success.
We are committed to hiring employees with great potential but who lack formal education overall or in the specific areas to which we assign them.
We have made conscious decisions to limit the number of outside “experts” we hire into the TEL Education organization. More specifically, we have tried to limit the hiring of existing experts to certain technology and leadership positions where it would be impractical to wait until we could train someone internally. For other positions, we look for potential employees who are bright, enthusiastic about our mission, have a high degree of ownership (of their learning and their work), and are comfortable working in a collaborative and supportive environment. As we continue to grow, this commitment to hiring means that we must be equally committed to providing our non-expert and unskilled employees with intentional learning opportunities and clear pathways for professional growth.
As an organization, we want to be a community that models our beliefs about the benefits of learning and its importance for individuals and societies.
As an organization committed to creating equitable learning opportunities and helping people begin and continue their life-learning journeys, it is important that we ourselves embody and reflect a learning mindset. If we do this, our products and services as well as our organizational and personal conversations will demonstrate that commitment.
Our interest in education-as-a-benefit for employees is related both to our market mission and to our organizational culture. TEL Education itself is an SMB and we have needs similar to those of other SMBs. We want to attract the right new employees, offer tangible benefits to retain the employees we currently have, and help our existing team members form an ever-strengthening foundation on which our organization can grow. To accomplish those goals, we aspire to implement education-as-a-benefit for our employees on two distinct levels.
We find that education-as-a-benefit has the greatest traction when it is integrated as part of the company’s core culture. This means providing diverse learning opportunities that span a range of informal and formal offerings. At TEL, we view learning as a mindset that means it should become part of our everyday group activities and personal goals. Here are a few of the ways we try to reinforce this learning culture within our organization.
- Learning more about each other. Learning is a mindset that extends to aspects of our lives well beyond specific information and skills. An organizational culture that prioritizes this mindset will find many informal ways to integrate learning into its culture. Such informal learning opportunities are often people-related. At TEL Education, we see this occurring in team-building activities and employee trivia contests, as well as monthly game days, and scheduled team lunches. Each of these activities is designed to encourage employees to explore new relationships and ideas in a fun way.
- Learning more about ourselves. Reflection is an integral part of the learning mindset. At TEL, we incorporate professional reflection into our annual employee self-evaluation and regular one-on-one meetings with managers. We also support employee-organized book clubs, exercise activities, and personal development projects. These activities, such as our upcoming “Intentional Planning Using a Panda Planner” lunch and learn are necessarily open to every TEL employee and all materials are provided by the organization.
- Learning more about other roles and responsibilities in the organization. All TEL Education employees are required to complete annual training on the technology and processes used across our four teams: Technology, Curriculum Development, Academic Services, and Sales and Marketing. In addition, all employees in our main office (Technology, Curriculum Development, and Academic Services) are required to undergo varying levels of deeper cross-training so that members of one team can fill in for another team temporarily during periods of microburst activity. For example, we train members of our Technology and Curriculum Development teams to provide additional Student Support services (a division of Academic Services) in peak activity periods such as the start of new semesters. Likewise, members of our Academic Services team are cross-trained in Quality Assurance and Production (in Technology and Curriculum Development) to help out when we have learning platform updates or are launching new courses.
We are equally committed to offering TEL Education employees opportunities to grow professionally through free formal education opportunities. We do this through several programs to ensure that there is ample opportunity for our team members to grow according to their own needs and learning journey.
Because of our commitment to hiring employees with great potential but who lack formal education, we also provide free college-credit courses to our team members, with an option for earning an associate degree. These are online courses that we offer in a blended learning model with students meeting face-to-face once a week during lunch with a designated course facilitator (a qualified company employee).
In addition to helping our employees improve their personal and professional capacity, TEL also benefits by having its own team members work through the same course content and support that we provide to our university and school partners. This provides us with a different perspective on the efficacy of our courses and gives us useful feedback for future product revisions.
Leaders across the organization work with their teams to identify areas of interest for professional development and individual/team research. Based on their requests, TEL purchases requested books, access to digital subscription resources, and research reports. These purchases are primarily intended to support more personal areas of interest for growth or exploration and do not require a clear connection to current company projects or market interests.
TEL Education purchases LinkedIn Learning licenses for its employees and incorporates this learning resource into the annual evaluation of each employee. Executives and managers work with their teams to assign specific training and learning goals and these are tracked throughout the year. In addition, our employees are free to explore other areas of training on their own as a way of expanding their professional capabilities.
Depending on the team and role, we also offer select formal certification in role-specific skill areas. For example, we require members of TEL Education’s Curriculum Development team to complete the LXD certification program from LX Studios at the University of Central Oklahoma. For other teams and roles, we provide Scrum Master certification training.
Beyond helping our employees reach their fullest potential, our goal in providing education-as-a-benefit to our employees is to offer them a variety of options that they can use to create and own their own professional pathways. Whether they stay with our organization for the foreseeable future or decide to migrate to new opportunities, we want them to be as prepared and as successful as possible.