This week, Designer Brands, Inc. announced a partnership that will enable its associates to access new learning opportunities—including pathways to degrees in undergraduate and graduate programs from a number of public and private universities.
The program, developed in partnership with employee education management platform Workforce Edge, encourages Designer Brands employees to prioritize personal and professional development. Staff who take advantage of courses will be eligible for up to $5,250 in tuition reimbursement each year.
Full-time Designer Brands associates can choose between low-to-no-cost options at online Strayer University or Capella University, or select degree programs at other eligible institutions through the Workforce Edge platform. Part-time associates will be granted access to Sophia Learning, an online platform that provides college-level courses on an on-demand, self-paced basis. Other discounted tuition programs are also available to Designer Brands’ part-time associates through Workforce Edge.
“We are proud to partner with Workforce Edge to offer our valued associates streamlined access to top-quality tuition assistance benefits and discounts, making it easier for our associates get to the next step of their career,” David Giesman, vice president of Global Total Rewards at Designer Brands, said in a statement.
“We’ve especially seen the flexibility online learning has provided to our associates—many of whom may be first-generation college students—as they pursue their degree, and we value their dedication towards continuous learning and growth,” he added.
The Workforce Edge platform will act as a centralized portal for Designer Brands’ associate students to manage their educational experience and receive tuition assistance benefits.
“It is always encouraging when we see an innovative company like Designer Brands invest in the skill building and economic mobility of their workforce,” Karl McDonnell, president and CEO of Workforce Edge parent company Strategic Education, said. “With a best-in-class tuition assistance program administered through a user-friendly platform, Designer Brands will not only be positioned as an attractive employer, it will also help the company retain their highly skilled associates.” The education management platform, which launched in January, already aids more than 1,000 employers in upskilling efforts for their employees.
Designer Brands is not the only major retail player investing in educating its workforce, particularly as a tight labor market spurs rivals to vie for available talent. Walmart, Amazon and Target have all announced tuition-assistance programs in recent months. Walmart’s Live Better U program covers 100 percent of the costs of tuition and books for roughly 1.5 million full- and part-time Walmart and Sam’s Club associates, the mass merchant announced in July.
“We are creating a path of opportunity for our associates to grow their careers at Walmart, so they can continue to build better lives for themselves and their families,” said Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president of learning and leadership at Walmart, which is pouring $1 billion into learning-based opportunities in the next five years. “This investment is another way we can support our associates to pursue their passion and purpose while removing the barriers that too often keep adult working learners from obtaining degrees.”
Last month, Target unveiled what it described as the “most comprehensive debt-free education assistance program available” in retail. Full- and part-time store staff, distribution center employees and headquarters employees can pursue no-debt education assistance starting this fall as part of Target’s $200 million investment over the next four years.
“Target employs team members at every life stage and helps our team learn, develop and build their skills, whether they’re with us for a year or a career. A significant number of our hourly team members build their careers at Target, and we know many would like to pursue additional education opportunities,” said Melissa Kremer, Target’s chief human resources officer, noting the retailer’s ambition to remove cost as a barrier and make education “accessible” to everyone.
“Our team members are the heart of Target’s strategy and success, and we have a long history of investing in industry-leading pay, extensive benefits and career opportunities to help our team thrive and have rewarding careers at Target,” she added.
Eligible Target employees can select from 250 company-related programs from more than 40 schools, colleges and universities. The retailer will also cover up to $10,000 each year for master’s degree programs.
And last week, Amazon came out with the big guns, touting a $1.2 billion investment in education opportunities for “front-line” operations employees. In addition to fully bankrolling college degrees, Amazon is also funding high school diplomas, GED programs and English as a second language proficiency training for any staffer employed for more than 90 days.
As America’s “largest job creator,” Amazon’s efforts in education “can have a huge impact for hundreds of thousands of families across the country,” said Dave Clark, CEO of Worldwide Consumer at the Seattle tech giant, which is recruiting 125,000 workers for the holiday.
“We launched Career Choice almost ten years ago to help remove the biggest barriers to continuing education—time and money—and we are now expanding it even further to pay full tuition and add several new fields of study,” he added. “This new investment builds on years of experience supporting employees in growing their careers, including some unique initiatives like building more than 110 on-site classrooms for our employees in Amazon fulfillment centers across 37 states. Today, over 50,000 Amazon employees around the world have already participated in Career Choice and we’ve seen first-hand how it can transform their lives.”