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Guest Post by Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer
As a company grows, there is a need to increase the ability of your workforce through further education. Between the skilled trades and the white-collar workforce, we are seeing a massive shift in the cost to provide continuing education and additional certification for the workforce. Blue collar fields have led the way in keeping improvement costs manageable. While they have increased steadily over the past few years, their increases have been below the inflation rate which means, comparatively, that training your workforce in blue-collar skills is less expensive today than it was ten years ago. For those of you who have a white collar workforce, you are not so lucky.
The way that you increase the skill level of a white collar workforce (formerly pink collar) is to send them back to school for new degrees. People with diplomas or GEDs are sent back to get associate’s degrees, those with associate’s degrees are sent back to get bachelor's degrees, and those with bachelor's degrees are sent back for their master’s degrees. While the costs of bachelor’s and master’s degrees are primarily reserved for those who have been with your company for more than seven years, the associate’s degree/certificate level employees are generally within their first three to five years of employment at your company.
This means, that while they have the most potential, they are also the employees most likely to go to another job after their training is complete. This leaves the employer in a catch-22, either train the employee, risking that they leave, and have a high-quality workforce or do not train the employee and work without the requisite skills in the field. The companies that adopted the earlier often squeeze companies who choose the latter out of existence. In the modern world, you need a developed workforce to be successful.
What if I were to tell you that you could have the best of both worlds. You can have a highly trained workforce, but not have to risk the tens of thousands of dollars that it costs to get an employee a certificate or associate’s degree at a four-year college. The United States, along with several other developed countries, has a robust system of junior and community colleges that provide this service to employers at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional four-year universities. One report shows that employers that send students in a 2x2 program (when you send students to a community college for two years and then to a four-year college for two years) can save an average of $50,000-$100,000. If a company is only funding the associate's degree or the certificate of an employee, the savings could be even more.
The 2x2 process has two significant challenges that hold back many companies from investing in their employees. The first problem is that there is a stigma around community college degrees that some companies see as prohibitive. There is a misinformation campaign around the quality of community college degrees in the United States. Several outlets challenge the quality of the degree because the faculty at community colleges do not publish (as often) in peer-reviewed (refereed) journals. This is an odd argument as the quality of research means nothing in the world of quality of teaching. Some of the best teachers in the world have never published a peer-reviewed article. Second is the fact that many community colleges only offer two-year programs. This is more of a paperwork issue than a significant problem; the two years, then a gap year, and later two more years model allows for employees to get their associate’s degree and then take some time between the associates and a bachelor’s degree. This will enable them to catch up, so they do not burn out.
The main benefit the 2x2 model is that your employees will come out of college with the same degree as if they did four years at one school. The diploma will not say "Two years of community college, two years from a university." It will merely show their final graduation date. This allows you to offer programs to help your employees continue their education without breaking your budget. A skilled workforce is the new requirement of the 21st century; are your employees ready to be that workforce?
Dr. Smithmyer is the Vice President of International Affairs at Brāv Online Conflict Management and an adjunct professor of business at Penn State and the University of South Florida. Dr. Smithmyer focuses his research on international and domestic conflict.