Millennials' New View on Training

Millennial workers are willing to pay for their own training, according to a recent report. What's driving this trend? Will employers begin requiring workers to foot the bill for their own training?

By Julie Cook Ramirez

Praised for their enthusiasm and technological know-how, but criticized for supposedly possessing an entitlement mentality, millennials are an enigma to many. Frequently maligned for expecting to be rewarded too richly and too quickly -- without first paying their dues or climbing the proverbial corporate ladder -- these relatively new entrants to the workforce often are portrayed as spoiled and overindulged. However, a new study by Milwaukee-based Manpower Group suggests that view is wrong, particularly when it comes to training and development.

The report titled Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision is based on a qualitative global study of 19,000 working millennials and 1,500 hiring managers across 25 countries. According to the study, an astonishing number of American millennials (95 percent) say they are willing to foot the bill for training themselves.

Millennials are more willing to pay for their own training than previous generations because they grew up in a faster-paced world and "recognize their ability to stay relevant hinges on continuing to acquire skills," according to Ravin Jesuthasan, global leader and talent management managing director in the Chicago office of Willis Towers Watson. Coming off the recent recession, Jesuthasan says, millennials are accustomed to slashed training budgets. Thus, acquiring new skills entails changing jobs -- and potentially employers -- or picking up the tab for training themselves.

According to Ed Lawler, director of the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the shift is a direct result of the "changing contract between organizations and their employees around training, development and careers." Over the last decade, Lawler says, there has emerged a "free agent/you're on your own" mindset, which has been compounded by millennials' desire to change employers frequently throughout their working years. That said, Lawler believes it's more of a general workforce trend and not limited to the millennial generation."I think we're moving to a new era where individuals are going to be much more responsible for their careers and development," says Lawler. "That includes paying for training and making decisions about where they work and when they work."

At the same time, Lawler says, employers have become hesitant to pay for training because workers are increasingly likely to take their newly acquired skills and knowledge elsewhere. As a result, employers consider it a "risky investment" to cover the costs of building up their workers' skill sets because "we don't know if they'll be here." He's seen it firsthand with USC's Executive MBA program.  According to Lawler, the initial assumption was that companies would pay to put their high-potentials through the program. But it wasn't long before employers stopped picking up the tab. That required USC to re-think its policy on whom it would accept into the program.

"For a while, we wouldn't admit anybody if they weren't paid for by their company because we took that as evidence they probably weren't that talented and shouldn't be in the program," says Lawler. "Now, almost no company pays for that kind of education. It's a big-ticket item, but individuals are willing to pay for it on their own."

While training may be viewed as high-priced expenditures at many organizations, there are employers that are willing to pay for them. Indeed, a number of employers have begun programs to provide financial assistance to help workers complete their undergraduate degrees. KFC, Starbucks, JetBlue and others have moved beyond simple tuition-reimbursement programs to develop more innovative approaches to furthering employees' educations.

Both Starbucks and JetBlue have partnered with a public college -- Starbucks with Arizona State University and JetBlue with Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, N.J. -- to help employees earn a degree. Under the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, all U.S.-based, benefits-eligible employees may participate in the program as long as they do not yet have a Bachelor's degree. ASU awards each participant a scholarship that covers 42 percent of the costs. Starbucks reimburses the remaining costs after the employee has completed a degree in one of 60 different majors.

At JetBlue, any employee with at least two years of service and 15 prior credits from an accredited college may participate in the JetBlue Scholars Program, which enables them to convert aviation or military training into credits toward a degree in business, aviation, liberal studies, or information technology. The remaining coursework is completed online. Employees are only required to pay for the final three to six credits and may apply for a JetBlue scholarship to cover those costs.

As of this spring, KFC U.S. team members can apply for college credit for simply completing the training required to do their job. The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service has evaluated and recommended college credit for five of the Louisville, Ky.-based chain's restaurant and field level training programs: guest service training; cook training; shift supervisor training; assistant manager and restaurant general manager training; and above restaurant leader training, which is available to franchisees and their leadership teams, field operations and HR leaders.

According to John Kurnick, chief people officer at KFC, this new program is a "strong component" of the company's existing talent development offerings, which also include the REACH HIGH GED Program and the REACH Educational Grant Program, which awards 700 scholarships annually through the KFC Foundation. The goal of all three programs is to "give people a better chance to succeed in business," whether they stay with KFC or go elsewhere, although Kurnick says they do increase the likelihood someone will stay with the company.

"There's a certain sense of loyalty to an employer when they help you with your education," says Kurnick. "Once people have their degree, they absolutely are more committed and will stay longer." 

With regard to who foots the bill for training, Kurnick is adamant KFC would never "charge employees to learn how to properly manage and execute the KFC brand." Beyond that, however, he  says "you never say never" when it comes to millennials.

"It's an interesting group of people that are really challenging our thinking," says Kurnick. "If there are other training components we can develop that would allow folks to build skills and they wanted to pay for it, who knows? Perhaps we could do that."

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Jun 29, 2016
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