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Opening Doors with Education

Opening Doors with Education

July 9, 2019

Attracting and retaining great talent is more important than ever. Not surprisingly, employers consistently look for ways to differentiate themselves – inclusive of benefits and work perks. From pet insurance to free food and drink, benefits that were typically associated with Silicon Valley are now becoming more commonplace here in the now-dubbed “Silicone Prairie.” And, while these more unique benefits might be eye-catching, it’s important for businesses and individuals to step back and evaluate the true value of today’s trendier perks. (Read: It’s time to forget the ping-pong tables and invest in something that will actually benefit both parties.) 

The Importance of Educational Assistance 

As an HR professional, I pay close attention to the benefits that will attract and retain the best talent. Education assistance is a benefit that I truly believe is a win-win for both employers and employees. From our perspective, while it might not be the flashiest benefit on the block, investing in your employee’s education shows you’re invested in their future growth and development. At Wellmark, we believe a strong part of attracting and retaining intellectually curious talent is through continuous education, which is why we reimburse eligible employees up to $15,000 each year for educational assistance. While it helps us keep our employees around, it also helps ensure our workforce is staying updated with their skills, making their careers more fulfilling and Wellmark more successful.  

Student Loan Support

It’s also no secret that a large portion of college-educated employees entering the workforce today are carrying the burden of student loan debt. According to CBS News, this year’s graduates have an average student debt load of about $33,000, which means they’re coming to work with fresh minds, education and enthusiasm — but also a lot of financial stress. And, these loans aren’t affecting just recent grads. Student loan debt follows individuals for years and years beyond gradation, negatively impacting their financial well-being. This financial stress can quickly trickle down to affect overall well-being, which will affect productivity.

According to BenefitsPro, 78% of employees wish their employer offered student loan repayment, yet only 4% of companies currently offer that benefit. I’m proud to say that Wellmark is one of the few employers in the Des Moines metro area that offers a student loan repayment as a part of the educational assistance benefit. Interestingly, this benefit isn’t just helping our employees who graduated recently. The average age of someone using Wellmark’s student loan repayment benefit is 36.9 years, and 78% of participants are over the age of 30. 

Wellmark Takes the EDGE Pledge

As Des Moines-area employers demand more specialized jobs, it’s crucial that they support our local workforce in obtaining necessary education. Wellmark recently took the EDGE Pledge, a regional goal that ensures by 2025, 75 percent of working-age adults in Greater Des Moines (DSM)will have degrees, certificates and other credentials that align with workforce needs. Offering education assistance as a benefit is a natural fit with several of Wellmark’s core values: achievement, continuous learning and continuous improvement. We are proud to support our employees’ education efforts, and I hope that more employers take the EDGE Pledge and commit to supporting their employees’ educational journeys, too. 

Lastly, my advice to professionals considering education is this: Building skills and investing in your education is something that you always have and no one can take away. Pursuing education is a confidence builder that will help you open doors and put you in the driver’s seat of your career. Don’t go after a different job — instead, go after different skills. Jobs will come and go, but if you focus on building your skills, you will then have the opportunity to say, “yes, I want to do that,” or “no thank you, that’s not for me,” when new opportunities present themselves. If you don’t pursue education, it’s going to be a lot harder to find yourself in that driver’s seat. And, I might be biased, but you’ll get bonus points if you can find an employer that will share that growth mindset and will support you in building those skills. 

Please your support by signing up for EDGE and take the pledge today!

Education Drives our Greater Economy (EDGE) aims to ensure that 75% of DSM working-age adults have postsecondary degrees, certificates or other credentials by 2025 that align with workforce needs. Sign up and take the EDGE Pledge today!

Marci Chickering

Marci Chickering is the Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer for Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She has over 20 years of human resources experience across a variety of industries.