Competition for great talent is at a fever pitch, with so many companies trying to one-up each other on desirable employment packages. Signing bonuses, flexible work policies, outrageous perks — how can a small business compete? The answer comes in the form of a growing trend: education as an employee benefit. 

Employees today are curious; they enjoy seeking new ways to grow personally and professionally, which makes educational opportunities a magnet of sorts. So if your small business wants to attract and retain a dedicated and loyal workforce, prioritize learning. Can small businesses really afford to offer the kinds of growth and development today’s workforce wants? Yes! Here are three ways to turn education into a top employee benefit. 


Education allowances

At Salesforce, we’ve always believed business can be the greatest platform for change; so we’re thrilled to see entrepreneurs create profitable new models that serve the greater good. A great example is Guild Education, which brings together employers and nonprofit universities to offer education as an official employee benefit. 

Guild helps companies turn traditional tuition assistance programs into a value-add recruitment and retention tool. Not only does Guild partner with a large network of nonprofit universities that understand the schedules of working adults, it also offers a team of coaches dedicated to helping each employee find the right program and succeed in higher education. What a gift to help employees achieve their career and educational goals — debt-free.


Student loan repayment

College is supposed to be an equalizer — not an albatross — but recent statistics suggest otherwise: Student loan debt is at its highest point ever, the average monthly payment is now $393, and the number of Americans over 60 with student loan debt has more than doubled in the last decade. 

Employers today can help. Institutions have popped up in recent years to fight the student debt crisis by helping companies offer student loan repayment as a benefit. One such company is Gradifi, which helps employees pay off their student debts through flexible employer contributions. Another is FutureFuel, which helps employers offer benefits to “crush student debts” with technology-driven solutions. 

86% of employees say they’d commit to a company for five years in exchange for help with student loans. With the war for talent what it is, why not offer employees a benefit that keeps them happy and engaged? 


Professional development

The number of people seeking education and development rises every year, yet the number of formal academic institutions hasn’t grown at the same speed. So institutions have modernized, offering flexible online courses to fill the need. Khan Academy became a sensation when one man’s efforts to tutor his cousins online became a forum that now offers “a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” And here at Salesforce, we’re excited certain colleges are now offering credit for courses through Trailhead, our online learning branch. 

Access to new ideas and education helps employees grow, keeps them engaged, and increases their on-the-job satisfaction. The key is to offer a variety of opportunities, plus the time and *encouragement* to get out there. Professional development can be as simple as offering employees scheduled time to watch free webinars. If budget allows, seek out full courses or conferences. You can bring in a leader to offer a seminar right in your office. Even an office yoga class is a helpful distraction. 


Education: Invest in your employees and they’ll invest in you

Companies often use work perks like ping-pong tables and “Bagel Fridays” as a carrot to lure in millennials, but investing in your employees’ future is something that generates far better returns. Offering education allowances, assistance with student loans, and professional development programs are a great way to not only improve retention, but to attract the caliber of employee who prioritizes their own growth and development — and that gets an A+ in our book. 

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