How to Create a Continuing Education Program for Your Business — And Why You Should

Continuing education and employee training programs are widely viewed as vital to a business’ success. Most Fortune 500 companies report spending billions on employee development every year, and multiple studies have shown that education and training are the cornerstone of a happy and productive workforce. For instance, one poll indicated that more than 40 percent of workers who did not have the opportunity for additional training plan to leave their jobs within in a year — and another study found that education and training opportunities are the most sought after job benefit, especially among millennials.

As a small to mid-size business, you most likely don’t have the multimillion-dollar training budgets that major corporations like GE do. So how do you implement an employee development program?

Employee Training Options

Workplace continuing education programs run the gamut from tuition reimbursement programs for formal degrees to more casual “lunch and learn” sessions on a wide range of topics. What all of the most successful programs have in common, though, is that there is a formal plan and program in place, employer sponsorship, and that they are available to all employees within the organization.

That being said, there are a few options that tend to work well within small businesses.

Tuition reimbursement. Full or partial reimbursement for coursework related to their jobs is a popular benefit for many employees, especially those seeking to earn advanced degrees. There is a great deal of management involved in a tuition assistance program, as you will need to define parameters related to who qualifies for assistance, what type of education you’ll pay for and how much, and policies related to minimum performance standards and retention. However, there are some tax benefits to implementing this type of program, so it’s worth considering.

Local college partnerships. Most community colleges and universities offer robust continuing education programs, including everything from individual courses designed to improve specific skills to multi-course certificate programs. These courses tend to be relatively inexpensive, making them a good option for small businesses that need to train employees who need specific skills, but not necessarily a full degree. Some schools are even willing to work with small and mid-size businesses to develop customized programs.

Self-directed learning. Self-directed learning programs are becoming more popular due to their ability to be customized to specific employee goals and ease of access with many being online. Employees can develop a learning program that meets their needs; for example, earning an IT certification such as the important SSCP certification to ensure you have an employee or two capable of protecting your IT infrastructure. While students can choose any methods they wish to learn, offering a subscription to on-demand video courses can make the learning process easier and more affordable, and allow your team to grow and learn at their own pace. Then, once employees finish taking the courses online, you pay for the necessary exams.

In-house training. While you may not be able to hire a full-time trainer for your business, some small businesses opt to bring in trainers on a short-term basis (a few days or weeks maximum) to train employees in specific skills. These programs do tend to cost more than some of the others, but if your whole team is lacking in a specific area, it will be a worthwhile investment.

Planning Your Program

Again, the key to a successful employee training program is that it needs to be formal, and developed in accordance with your business goals. While your employees may enjoy being able to take art classes on the company dime, unless watercolor painting is a part of your strategy, it’s not the best use of funds.

Therefore, as you develop your educational plan, consider the following questions:

  • What is our budget? How much can we spend per employee?
  • Who will be eligible for training? Most employee development programs have specific criteria, including status (full or part time), length of service, and performance.
  • What are we hoping to gain from the additional training? Will we only offer training in specific areas, such as IT certifications?
  • What requirements will there be for those who take advantage of the benefit; i.e., GPA, how long employees must remain with the company post education, sharing of knowledge?
  • What are the educational options in this area? Are there services that will allow us to save money?
  • When will employees be able to learn? Can they use work time to take classes or study?
  • What are the tax implications of this program?

Creating a continuing education program for your employees requires attending to a number of details, but the benefits to your company are clear. Considering that two-thirds of employees state that they would stay with a company that offers education opportunities, it’s well worth the investment of time and money.