Continuing education is a pursuit employers can get behind

When Jodie Lockwood would sit down to study while working toward her master’s in nursing, she would often join her two children at the table. It was great to be together, but she had an even greater purpose in mind.

“It was a good example for them,” she says. “They could see that even when you get into your 40s, you can still learn.”

Jodie Lockwood is working on her Ph.D., with help from her employer, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

Lockwood’s kids will be getting an even greater opportunity to see their mom’s continued educational pursuit in the next couple years as she works toward her Ph.D. Although Lockwood hasn’t decided where she will study or whether she will get a degree in Nursing Education or Nursing Practice, she’s definitely going to complete the degree and earn the right to be called “Dr. Lockwood.”

“That would be nice,” she says.

Even better, a good chunk of her tuition will be covered by her employer, Nemours/Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children. Fourteen years ago, Lockwood began at Nemours as a surgical technician, while she was earning her associate’s degree from Delaware County Community College in suburban Philadelphia. During her time of employ, she has completed her masters’ degree and made steady progress on her professional path.

Lockwood has been a nurse, a coordinator, a charge nurse, a patient flow supervisor and is now a nurse manager for Peri-Operative Services, which means she helps oversee the nursing staff in the Nemours operating rooms from pre-op through patient recovery. Nemours’ willingness to champion her growth has meant a lot to her.

“To know you are supported means the hospital is invested in you as a person,” she says. “In our department, we have a lot of people going to school, and we work the schedule around their classes, we get together on weekends to study, and some nurses are even taking classes together.

“Nemours lets people know what is possible.”

Nemours is not the only business in Delaware that encourages employees to work through degree and certification programs through tuition reimbursement and by cultivating an environment that encourages people to improve their credentials. And thanks to relationships developed with educational institutions, companies can help create specific programs to prepare workers for future challenges. In a fast-moving business climate, it benefits all parties to have people able to gain enhanced training and classroom instruction.

“We are enhancing the skills and knowledge our associates bring to their existing jobs, and we also have a very, very strong commitment to filling positions from within and developing our associates for future opportunities,” says Judy Stefan, Nemours’ Director, Total Rewards, part of the company’s human resources department.

“At the end of the day, what that ultimately does is enable us to provide the best care to our patients and their families.”

In 2018, Nemours provided $2.2 million in tuition reimbursement to 614 employees (out of about 8,000). Those who have worked 90 days are entitled to $5,250 each year, if they are 40-hour/week workers. (Part-time workers’ benefits are pro-rated.) This can be toward degree programs at two- and four-year institutions or just courses at institutions that could help improve one’s knowledge and ability to move forward in his or her career.

Of course, Nemours is not the only company in the state that provides such benefits. AstraZeneca offers up to $10,000/year for individual courses, associate, bachelor’s or advanced-degree programs. Christiana Care offers up to $5,000 a year for employees. At DuPont, employees working toward degrees or taking classes in approved topics receive reimbursement for tuition and textbooks.

At Wilmington’s Wayman Fire Protection, employees who must become recertified in their various disciplines receive the flexibility in their schedules to attend classes or meetings that provide credit toward their goals and financial support for any fees they encounter in the process. 

“It’s about working professionals finding the time to follow administrative guidelines to go to meetings and get recertified,” Wayman vice president Alisha Bryson says.“It’s not easy to find the time to do that. We’ll provide the resources and flexibility in schedules for that to happen.”

George & Lynch President and CEO Chris Baker says that just about every one of the estimated 250 employees at the Dover-based infrastructure contractor must take part in continuing education and certification programs — from the company’s CFO, who must keep abreast of accounting laws and trends, to certified traffic technicians, to himself, a civil engineer. Therefore, the company is quite supportive. “We pay for any necessary program,”he says.

As companies support their employees’ desires to become more educated, they are also working with institutions of higher learning to develop programs tailored to their specific needs. Delaware Technical Community College responds to requests from employers to create courses and specific training opportunities. It also listens to its advisory board, which is made up of business leaders who provide guidance about directions DTCC can go to help employees improve their credentials. 

The offerings are diverse. They can be in the classroom, online and at a company’s location and can take place days, evenings, weekends or any combination of the three. DTCC has crafted programs for Agilent Technologies and Dover Air Force Base, among many others. The school helps those in the IT field get uptraining on new software.

“We have close relationships with employers,” says Justina Sapna, vice president for Academic Affairs at DelTech. “When they have a need, we react. The advisory committee allows our personnel to keep in touch with industry needs.”

The University of Delaware’s Professional and Continuing Studies office offers programs that help employees gain credit toward degrees, offering 100 courses that provide specific training, such as a certificate in project management. There is also the opportunity at UD to produce some customized learning opportunities for industries such as banking and for government agencies. 

“Part of my role is to enhance the skills of people in organizations by taking programs to them,” says Shaun Sutherell, director of professional programs. “Right now, we are running a Certificate of Data Analytics program with JP Morgan Chase through our Lerner College of Business.”

The strong relationship between the educational institutions and the business community assures there will be ample opportunities for employees to enhance their credentials and to move forward in the workplace. It demonstrates a more service-oriented approach by colleges than has been prevalent in the past. And it shows that companies understand how important it is to help employees develop.

“We want our instructors and faculty to be practitioners in the industry, so these organizations will keep coming back to us and will see immediate results from our programs,” Sutherell says.

“We want students to have experiences that help their careers.”

And help them grow. 

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