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How education can create opportunity and ‘future-proof’ America’s workforce

Many traditional tuition reimbursement programs are unintentionally discriminatory. Guild Education’s platform removes structural barriers to access, giving organizations a competitive edge while upskilling workers.

In January 2020, the World Economic Forum made a dramatic prediction: More than 1 billion workers worldwide will require reskilling by 2030 to stay employable, as digital technologies become more prevalent and the pace of automation accelerates. The layoffs and dramatic workplace makeovers brought on by COVID-19 only intensified the urgency of the situation.

Even before the pandemic, many major companies had started offering employees education and training resources. The aim: Make continued education accessible to employees who typically haven’t used tuition reimbursement benefits due to financial barriers.

A survey from Guild Education, which provides an education and upskilling platform designed to support an organization’s talent strategy, found that almost half of all workers—and 67% of frontline workers—don’t use tuition reimbursement programs because they can’t afford the up-front investment. This fact is at odds with corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion values, suggests Guild CEO Rachel Carlson. “If you are asking the person to pay up front, then you are self-selecting who is going to benefit from it,” she says. “This flips the conversation.” 

Guild transforms traditional tuition and L&D programs—which tend to be cost centers—into a company’s competitive advantage, helping to retain and attract employees while building brand equity. They also make education and upskilling more attainable for individuals who may find traditional tuition reimbursement programs unaffordable or out of reach—including those with no prior degree, employees of color, single parents, or those with family obligations. The demographics of students working with Guild closely mirror the average frontline worker: 74% of participants have no prior degree, 56% are female, and 54% are people of color.

And Guild’s approach gets results. Fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle, for example, covers 100% of tuition costs for degrees in business and technology at several nonprofit universities; this program is available to employees who have been with the company for 120 days and work at least 15 hours weekly. It was expanded in 2020. Since partnering with Guild four years ago, Chipotle has seen a significant increase in employee retention, including 90% for those using the program. And employees who are enrolled in education are 7.5 times more likely to move into management roles.

Meanwhile, a retail partner found that Black team members who were participating in Guild’s educational programs were 2.1 times more likely to be promoted.

Guild customizes programs to its partnerships. They encompass a wide range: language learning and high school completion; two- and four-year degree programs; and micro-credentials and certificates—including “stackable” credentials and bootcamps that let learners gain new skills while building toward a longer-term degree. Collectively, Guild's offerings are built to fast-forward career growth. The company's breadth of academic partnerships continues to grow — in 2021 it will include a range of four-year universities, including historically Black colleges and universities, skilled trade schools, and organizations that specialize in clinical health professions.

Increasingly, CEOs recognize that it’s not only important to give employees the tools they need for career progression internally but also to help them grow and develop skills they can use anywhere. Carlson estimates that the average worker must reskill every five to 10 years to stay ahead in the fast-moving digital economy, and that at least 88 million Americans will need reskilling or upskilling to keep up. By offering the resources to do that, business leaders can futureproof their own workforces, she says. “You can be much more agile in a lifelong-learning economy.”