Although it may seem counterintuitive to some, in today's economic climate, it's especially important for companies to invest in their employees.
Verizon Wireless is doing just that through its onsite tuition-assisted college program called Learning Link. The program offers classes in nine of its contact centers, and over the next two years it will expand to 14 additional contact centers. Learning Link differs from other corporate tuition programs in that it doesn't require any initial employee cash outlay and supports up to $8,000 per year in tuition. Employees are responsible for any cost over that amount.
Dorothy Martin, national program manager for Verizon's Learning Link, says the impetus for the program is simple: Successful employees build a successful company. "[Investing in staff] gives a sense of security to employees in uncertain times that a company is doing well and profiting well," she says
Since the company first introduced the tuition-assistance program in 2005 more than 900 customer service representatives, nearly half of whom are contact center employees have received degrees. Of those, many have been promoted or have made lateral moves to other departments. As of the end of 2008, Verizon Wireless reported a job transfer rate of 28 percent for participants of the tuition assistance program, compared to just 13 percent for other employees. Of the participants, one third received promotions or career development moves.
"There are a lot of leadership opportunities within customer service," Martin says. "Some people have gone to marketing...sales is another area. It gives them a more well-rounded perspective on the business as well."
In addition, retention rates for those who have participated in the program are more than double that of Verizon Wireless' overall workforce. Martin says the company conducted a survey in 2006 among participants in the program, and 96 percent said they plan to stay with Verizon Wireless at least two years after receiving their degree. "It's saving them the time and trouble to go to a college campus," she says.
This program not only benefits employees; it's good for business. "By having a well-educated workforce, our employees are able to do a better job of meeting customers' needs," Martin says. "Happy employees are engaged and committed employees, which transmits to excellent customer service."