What’s driving workers’ demand for education benefits?

For the estimated 14 million U.S. workers who are balancing a career and continuing their education, their motivations and aspirations are as varied as they are.

Now a new study is uncovering just what those motivations and aspirations are.

Bright Horizons, which provides childcare and education benefits for the workforce, released its first annual Working Learner Index, which surveyed nearly 30,000 American working adults who are also pursuing higher education. With 90 percent of respondents expecting automation to change their job or industry, the findings suggest that anxiety about the future of work — and an estimated $1.5 billion in outstanding student debt — is driving unprecedented employee interest in benefits such as reimbursement, upskilling, and student loan repayment. Among the nation’s youngest workers, education and training now outrank paid/sick vacation leave and retirement benefits.

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According to a Georgetown University study, there are now 14 million Americans who are both active in the labor market — and formally enrolled in some form of postsecondary education or training. An overwhelming majority (84 percent) of all Working Learner Index respondents confirmed that the skills or degree earned through their employer’s tuition reimbursement program helped prepare them for the future of work, and 82 percent say they’re a more effective employee.

One generation, however, seemed to prioritize learning the most: Generation Z. Today’s youngest workers called education the most desirable benefit (not including healthcare), outpacing even paid sick/vacation leave and retirement savings programs. Eighty-eight percent say they would be more likely to recommend their employer because of its education benefits.

For workers of all ages, keeping pace with or getting ahead of changes in a job — more so than increased earning potential — was the top reason to pursue education while working. But financial concerns still remain; about half of survey respondents reported having some student loan debt, and 49 percent said they would not have pursued education if their employers had not offered tuition reimbursement programs.

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For employers, the research suggests that education benefits are crucial for recruiting and retaining talent: 76 percent of respondents agree they are more likely to stay with their employer because of its tuition reimbursement benefit.

Michael O'Brien
Michael J. O'Brienhttp://
Michael J. O’Brien is former web editor with Human Resource Executive®.