A Path Forward: Companies support employees through tuition assistance, leadership programs
A panel discussion at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce shined a light on ways the business community can support and keep employees on board as they climb the corporate ladder.
Education is a key component.
Nearly 30 businesses in the Springfield area provide some form of tuition assistance or reimbursement, according to a chamber-produced employer guide published in 2016.
Springfield ReManufacturing Corp. has helped its employees further their education since it opened in 1983, said Krisi Schell, director of talent, culture and community development with parent company SRC Holdings.
“A key part of our culture is promoting from within, and obviously education is a key within that,” Schell said.
Brandon Jones, an employee at SRC Electrical, was among those on the July 12 panel – part of an ongoing workforce event series organized by the chamber. He said SRC has been very flexible with his class schedule, allowing him time to attend during the workday. Jones does have to make up hours he misses later but said it’s worth it to be able to pursue his degree. It’s all part of the culture at SRC he said keeps people loyal.
“We really do feel like a family,” he said. “We’re employee-owners, 1,500 or greater now, and we still have that family feel.”
With SRC paying 100 percent of his tuition, Jones said he’s obtained an associate degree in manufacturing technology from Ozarks Technical Community College, a bachelor’s in technology management from MSU, and he’s currently working on his master’s in project management from MSU.
A helping hand
An educational opportunity of a different track is emphasized in MSU’s Bachelor of General Studies degree, an interdisciplinary program that requires completion of coursework in two or three programs instead of one major and a minor.
Amy Marie Aufdembrink, assistant director of interdisciplinary programs at MSU, said program admission started in 2016 and requires at least 75 hours of college, including transfer and dual credit hours. The program is a minimum 45 credit hours, with at least nine of the hours to be in 400-level or above coursework.
The average age for enrollees in the program is 40, and more than 70 students have graduated from the program, Aufdembrink said, “which is pretty amazing since we are only two years old as a major.”
Aufdembrink said she currently is advising about 70 students within the general studies program. The students represent a variety of the workforce: currently employed but seeking new career paths; need a degree to advance in their companies; and high-level staffers re-examining options after big internal changes.
Employer reimbursement is not very common with the students, Aufdembrink noted, and she said most come to her knowing it’s going to be an out-of-pocket expense. For seated courses, three credit hours cost about $650, while a three-credit online course is $900. “We’re meeting a need. Students have been asking for something like this for a long, long time,” she said, noting the program gives people a career-minded reason to return to college.
Leading by example
One enrollee is Joselyn Baldner, executive vice president and chief retail officer with Central Bank of the Ozarks.
“I’m a testament to a 41-year-old going back to school,” Baldner said at the July 12 panel.
She recently returned to school with 40 hours to finish her degree after previously earning 80 hours at MSU years ago.
“I’ve been very successful in my career,” Baldner said. “I’ve been able to come up through banking and haven’t had to have it. But I’m at the point where I need it to move on any further.”
In the office, Baldner said two years of workplace discussion with management at Central Bank led to the creation of an internal leadership development program. Stemming from an employee strategic planning session, it’s designed after the chamber’s leadership program.
Central Bank employees must apply for the two-year program that teaches participants about all facets of the bank.
“We really want everyone to have a much better understanding of what everybody else does, not just your own area,” she said.
The first year covers education on how each division makes money, and the second year focuses on leadership development, Baldner said. The capstone is a class project to design something that can help the bank make more money.
“That’s with the hope that they get engaged and they stick around and really become tomorrow’s leaders that we keep in our organization,” Baldner said, noting the path to get there isn’t easy. “I think it’s a soft thing that you can’t always relate to hard dollars. Tuition assistance? Yes. But when you look at leadership programs, you can’t always determine where the light on that is. That’s an unknown that some company leaders don’t like to see. It takes a lot of faith.”