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Tuition programs are good investments

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Monday, September 01, 2008

In the ups and downs of the economic cycle retaining skilled workers remains a constant concern for businesses. Departing employees can take your company knowledge to a competitor across the street, and hiring and training is costly.

Employee retention starts, naturally, with fair pay and benefits. But tuition reimbursement programs for employees are also effective in keeping workers satisfied. These programs vary among types of businesses, but the core purpose is to help employees gain new skills and knowledge that benefits them and, ultimately, the company as a whole.

Even when the flow of business and money slows in a struggling economy, companies say the extra expense of such programs is worth it.  

“It’s one of our more important programs,” says Robyn Benedetti, human resources manager at Reitmeier Mechanical, a contractor of indoor air systems for companies.

The Portland-based company pays for tuition and books of employees and apprentices attending the Northwest College of Construction as long as they keep at least a 3.0 grade point average. “In this trade you have to continually learn,” she says.

Jodi Albin, a human resource specialist for Pacific Continental Bank, credits the tuition reimbursement program for the company’s low turnover rate. The Eugene-headquartered bank pays up to $5,250 annually for the tuition of employees working on a college degree. They also pay for non-degree courses and seminars, such as business or finance classes.

“We encourage everyone to use [the tuition program],” Albin says. “We put a lot of stock into our employees.”

Businesses might fear that it’s money down the drain if employees take their subsidized knowledge and skills elsewhere. But that  “stock” can translate into long-term employee loyalty.

Workers who use the programs tend to stay longer with the company, Albin says.

That bodes well for smaller companies such as Power Equipment Services in Salem.  Paying for employees to take classes in marketing, math or language classes is minimal compared to the time and cost of training new employees, says Kelly Yunker, president of the service division at the technical parts distributing company.

“It’s definitely a long-term investment,” Benedetti says.                   


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