How Tech Skilling Can Help Working Adult Learners Overcome Common Mid-Career Hurdles
Data-backed insights on why mid-level employees are seeking out tech credentials to uplevel their careers, and how you can best retain this growing talent pool.
February 24th, 2022
Employers are seeking tech skilling opportunities for employees at multiple role levels.
But high-value roles that require tech and business savvy are notoriously susceptible to poaching.
For many Fortune 1000 employers, the war for talent, inflamed by the Great Resignation, has only exacerbated this issue.
As a result, when it comes to winning the war for talent, great minds must think differently.
What if, instead of sinking time and resources into head hunting, companies took the time to invest in and cultivate talent internally?
What if mid-level employees had access to opportunities for career advancement through education, skilling, and clearer internal mobility pathways instead of having to jump ship in order to achieve more senior roles?
Fortunately, leading Fortune 1000 companies are undertaking this work, and providing employees with better visibility into internal career opportunities, as well as the skills needed for advancement in the form of tuition-free tuition for degrees, bootcamps, and short-form credential programs.
Why leading Fortune 1000 companies are skilling mid-level employees into tech roles
It’s a winning strategy for all involved.
For tech and business skilling programs, this means an opportunity to support working adults at leading companies in gaining the skills and competencies that can help them unlock career mobility.
For working adult learners, this represents a crucial step in accessing equitable learning opportunities that can help them achieve career goals in both the near and long term.
And for employers, it means better retention.
It also addresses the widening skills gaps in tandem with equity-centered internal mobility.
Why mid-level professionals "job hop" (and how to get ahead of it)
Why do mid-level professionals leave or job hop, and how can tech skilling programs position themselves to help working adult learners navigate common pitfalls?
Guild surveyed a general population of over 800 employees across a variety of industries and job levels to understand their perceptions toward skilling opportunities.
Insights from this primary research can be leveraged to identify ways programs can help working adult learners better position themselves for advancement without necessarily having to switch employers.
1. Low to no internal mobility
Only 18% of individuals at the mid-career level who have plans to leave their current employer say that pathways for advancement at their current job are very clear.
How skilling programs can help: Innovative employers are seeing that investing in education opportunities for their employees not only improves retention, but enables them to create upwardly mobile pathways into in-demand roles within their own organizational structures.
Schools and programs that partner with employers willing to make this investment can help skilling programs better ensure the skills and credentials students gain align with real-world opportunities.
2. Burnout or career slump
A recent Gallup poll shows that 75% of workers feel burned out at least some of the time, and roughly 3 in 10 feel burned out all or most of the time.
“I’m trying to find a way to feel less overwhelmed and balance myself better.” —Mid-level employee on their reason for considering a career change
“I’m trying to find a way to feel less overwhelmed and balance myself better.”
Mid-Level Employee on Reason for Considering Career Change
How skilling programs can help: Embarking on a short-form learning opportunity to combat burnout may seem counterintuitive, but the prospect of learning new skills that can lead to a better position can be invigorating —provided the program is flexible.
A variety of start times, online and asynchronous access to student and academic services, and competency-based or self-paced options are essential for many working students.
Sometimes a big change is necessary.
In addition to helping working adult learners access more desirable roles within their own companies, skilling programs that demonstrate applicability across a range of role types and industries will better position students to see beyond the next rung on the career ladder to a latticework of opportunities.
3. Lack of professional development opportunities
In addition to career growth, the opportunity to continue learning new skills is essential in today’s knowledge economy —and employees know it.
A recent LinkedIn survey shows that 94% of employees would stay with their current company longer if their employer invested in their development.
Part of that certainly connects back to mobility: 73% of mid-career professionals who plan to leave their current employer say they need additional education to advance to their next destination role, yet only 11% of them indicated having access to tuition support from their employer.
How skilling programs can help: Understanding target destination roles is crucial for ensuring a student experience that is designed for outcomes that support individual advancement goals.
Nearly 1 in 3 workers planning on staying with their employer indicated that they have access to tuition support from their employer.
Furthermore, half of these workers said they already have plans to enroll in an education program, most commonly within the next year.
Insights to help drive solutions for mid-level employees skilling into new roles
The below insights stem from Guild’s primary research into the needs and goals of mid-level upskillers and may be useful in informing how schools and programs invested in approach driving better outcomes for working adult learners.
Mid-level employees see tech skilling as necessary for their current roles as well as their next role.
According to Guild’s survey data, mid-level employees are likelier than frontline workers and senior leaders to say they need additional education for both their current role, and the role they aspire to achieve next.
This nuance is important.
Although there is understandably a large focus on preparing low-level and frontline workers for jobs of the future through skilling and stackable short-form programs, individuals at the mid-level —many of them degreed, and with years of industry experience— are seeking the differentiation necessary to make themselves competitive for more senior roles while balancing the urgency of needing to skill to keep up with the demands of their current roles.
Mid-level skilling needs now vs. next role
Mid-level workers are likelier than any other job level to indicate they need skilling now and in order to achieve the next role.
This trend may also call to mind the importance of connecting students with both durable and perishable skills.
Although employers regularly seek those with the right durable skills upon which employees can build the industry and role-specific skills they need, within mid-level tech roles, staying up-to-date with perishable skills against a backdrop of constant evolution and innovation is a perennial need.
What do mid-level skillers want to learn?
Often, advancement from mid-level into more senior and executive roles comes with people management and leadership responsibilities.
This is reflected in Guild’s survey results, which encompassed a variety of industries, including:
Food & beverage
Health and wellness
Mid-level skillers are seeking a combination of durable and perishable skills
The combination of durable (leadership, people management) and perishable (coding, cloud computing) skills indicates that these skills are in conversation with one another within the context of more senior roles, and upskillers are aware of it.
Fifty-two percent of mid-level skillers indicated that they feel they have many of the skills they need to advance into their next role.
This indicates that prospective students may consider skilling programs in terms of how well these programs can fill specific skills and knowledge gaps that working adult students know they will need to address before achieving their next role.
The characteristics that mid-level workers value the most in skilling programs reflect a variety of needs.
Primary concerns when choosing skilling programs
Guild asked survey respondents to indicate what their primary concerns were in choosing an skilling program.
Their top three considerations were, in order of popularity:
Cost of tuition (54%)
Time for family and friends (41%)
Value of the program to their careers (38%)
The first two concerns —cost and time— represent common structural barriers that working adult students face when it comes to education access and persistence.
Equitably-designed employer benefits will enable employees to earn degrees and credentials tuition-free and without upfront tuition costs.
Balancing the demands of work, family / caregiving responsibilities, and social lives means that working adult students will favor flexible learning options.
Prospective students’ shredded or limited time (sometimes referred to as time poverty) can also translate into limited time to navigate program choice.
What's important to mid-level employees navigating programs
The chart above shows that the top four attributes respondents indicated were most important are:
Learner outcomes (completion and job placement)
Although some skilling programs do not undergo an accreditation process, mid-level professionals still see the value in bootcamps and skills-based learning: 69% indicated that these programs are valuable in their destination fields.
Emphasis on course content and student outcomes data indicate what we already know.
This population has an understanding (though not always thorough) of the skills necessary for their advancement, and therefore values indicators that provide evidence of of how relevant skilling programs will be to their learning needs as well as how well these programs have positioned past students to achieve academic and career success.
Mid-level professionals look at a variety of characteristics to evaluate how well an skilling program is positioned to meet their needs.
Given that this audience overwhelmingly prefers online learning —over 75% of mid-level skillers favor learning in at least a hybrid if not fully online environment — it may be surprising that close to 30% of survey respondents indicated that whether or not an institution is local matters to them in evaluating an education or training program.
It may also be puzzling to see that the location of a program carries more weight than brand recognition.
In reality, local brands may be more recognizable, and their importance to learners likely underscores the importance of how well a program connects to career: Particularly for advancers who already live where they want to work, there may be a perception that a local institution will be more in tune with industry trends, opportunities and needs where its students live and work.
One of the strongest ways skilling programs can align with the needs of mid-level professionals is to connect with employers who invest in their talent.
As the majority of mid-level skillers intend to stay with their current employer, connecting with employers willing to make the investment in professional development for their talent is key.
Employees of these companies are more likely to stay and see tangible pathways for their own advancement. The more that skilling programs connect with these specific needs, the better the outcomes for working adult students will be.