Provincial Aerospace Ltd. is helping its employees’ careers take flight with its tuition assistance program and professional development initiatives.

The aerospace firm and regional airline, with headquarters in St. John’s, Nfld., provides no-limit tuition subsidies for staff who want to grow within their current roles or set themselves up for other positions in the company.

“Education and development is really important to our employees and to us as an employer,” says Laura Cashin, the company’s director of human resources policy and programs.

The program has been in place for years and is central to PAL’s focus on internal movement, which makes unique sense for the company. It’s a part of the PAL Group of Companies, which has businesses around the world, so employees have the opportunity to move and develop their career within the group.

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“All of our jobs are posted internally and we see a lot of employees keeping an eye out and finding the opportunities that suit them,” says Cashin. “We are a connected group of companies that do similar things . . . and we wanted to point that out to employees and make it known that we’ll support you as you want to grow and change your career here. We are in many provinces across Canada and we also have opportunities internationally. If you want to stay in Newfoundland, there’s a ton of opportunities, but if you want to go see Curaçao or you want to experience working in the United Arab Emirates, we have opportunities there too.”

PAL also has many positions that Cashin calls highly regulated, including flight crew, radar operators and aircraft maintenance technicians. These roles require ongoing education, such as simulator training, when employees move from working on one type of aircraft to another.

In addition, PAL recruits young people fresh out of school. “Becoming a pilot, [it] can be a challenging thing to get a job and get onto the aircraft you want,” says Cashin. “We bring in pilots who are developing and they want to become a first officer. They’ll join our company in a different role and use our internal movement process and growth opportunities to move their way through to captain. We’re looking for opportunities to get people who are junior in their career in here and learning with us.”

Read: Amazon, seeking more skilled workers, will offer free training

While certain employees, such as pilots, require continued learning to stay certified, the tuition support program is available to all employees. If an employee wants to go back to school — whether for a one-day seminar, a one-year certificate or even a master’s program — they must fill out an application form and speak with their manager, outlining their professional goals and how they believe the program they’re interested in would support them. The request then goes through an internal review process by the HR department and, if it’s approved, the employee is eliible for the full tuition amount to be covered by PAL.

“It’s not every program or any program,” says Cashin. “It needs to be relevant and something where the goals are in line with the goals of the company.”

PAL works closely with Memorial University’s Gardiner Centre, a professional development hub in St. John’s that offers practical certificate programs and seminars, as well as with other colleges across Canada, particularly those with aircraft maintenance programs. PAL also receives some funding for its tuition assistance program through Newfoundland and Labrador’s job grants program, which helps offset some of the costs to the employer.

Supporting employees’ education

According to a 2019 WorldatWork survey, 86 per cent of North American companies now offer tuition reimbursement, while a further 20 per cent offer tuition discounts.

“Tuition subsidies and tuition reimbursement is one of the most popular and prominent programs offered in any development program by an organization,” says Steve Boddy, content director at WorldatWork.

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However, Dominic Lévesque, president of Randstad Professionals Canada and Innovation Labs, notes PAL’s program is unique in offering unlimited reimbursement and allowing people in new positions to complete the training necessary to do their jobs well. “I don’t think we see this enough,” he says. “A lot of organizations usually train people once in a [new] job and it’s usually too late, because they might screw up for six months. . . . If you start to train them and get them prepared for that job, it’s great.”

How are employers promoting continuing education? 

95% allow staff to attend outside seminars and/or conferences

93% support classroom and virtual learning

88% offer leadership training

86% offer tuition reimbursement

20% offer tuition discounts

Source: WorldatWork, 2019

Tuition benefits are growing in popularity due to the need to retain the best talent, says Lévesque, noting this is particularly true in sectors that are highly technical, such as information technology, engineering and finance. “There’s a trend in the market of reskilling and upskilling,” he says. “The world of work is shifting quickly. Technology is shifting quite rapidly. It’s not only a perk; it’s becoming a necessity to keep the best talent.”

Many tuition programs include a grade-equivalent or recognized level that employees must achieve to be reimbursed, says Boddy. For example, if a class is graded as a pass or fail, employees would have to pass to receive credit from their employer. He’s also seen more complicated programs that offer levels of reimbursement depending on the final grade, so an A grade may warrant a 100 per cent reimbursement while a C grade may only receive 50 per cent coverage.

Read: Walmart introduces tuition benefit for U.S. employees

On the other hand, Lévesque says it’s more common for employees to receive a flat maximum amount per year for education, with the average typically between $2,000 and $5,000. Some organizations may offer less generous programs, such as a 50 per cent reimbursement, but are more open to supporting non-technical skills training, such as leadership development and people skills workshops that can enhance their employees’ careers in other ways.

Easy as 1, 2, 3

For employers that aren’t yet reimbursing employees’ education costs but want to do so, Lévesque suggests they consider three key things.

Firstly, the cost. “You need to understand that a lot of people — [particularly] the new generation — want to be trained. You need to make sure you can afford it financially or fund it somewhere else.”

He suggests companies review their benefits plan to determine if there are offerings that aren’t being used or any training budgets that haven’t had uptake, and reallocate those funds toward tuition coverage.

Also, employers should identify how education support fits into the company’s broader strategy and philosophy. Lévesque suggests thinking about the company’s direction and what kinds of talent and skills it requires to succeed. “It needs to be tied with the company strategy, and not just a program to offer to keep people from leaving.”

Read: ‘War for talent’ to drive employers’ total rewards strategy in 2020

And finally, he says companies should get management on board, ensuring they understand the purpose of the program so they can make the best use of it.

Employers that offer tuition reimbursement could see a significant cultural benefit, says Boddy. “Not only does the employee get a great deal of satisfaction, knowing a company is supporting their personal growth, development and learning opportunities, but it also creates a culture of learning, a culture of support.”

Kelsey Rolfe is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.

Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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