As part of the $858 billion tax package passed by Congress and signed by President Obama on December 17, 2010, employers and employees will continue to receive a tax break on their tuition expenses. As part of the “Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010,” Section 127 of the IRS Code—employer-provided education assistance—has been extended for two years through December 31, 2012.
Section 127 enables an employee to exclude from her income up to $5,250 per year in employer-provided tuition assistance for any type of educational course, undergraduate or graduate. Employers who use this benefit can deduct these costs as a business expense when determining their income tax liability.
ASTD is a member of The Coalition to Preserve Employer Provided Education Assistance (CPEPEA), a group that advocates for the permanent extension of Section 127. Section 127 was
originally established in 1978 as a five-year provision, to give officials time to study it. It has been extended eight times since then (in some cases retroactively after it had expired) and most recently in 2001 for 10 years.
Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that by 2015, 76 percent of U.S. jobs will require workers with special skills in the “STEM” subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math. In 2007, 45 percent of Section 127 recipients majored in business and the STEM subjects. Another 28 percent of recipients majored in education and health. Educational attainment will continue to be a critical tool in building a skilled workforce: BLS estimates that 60 percent of the fastest-growing occupations will require an associate degree or higher.
Learn more about Section 127 at www.irs.gov or by consulting a tax advisor. Background information about the two-year extension may be found at www.cpepea.com. ASTD Public Policy will continue to advocate to make Section 127 permanent. Updates will be provided in ASTD LINKS.
Top 10 Project Management Trends for 2011
By Stephanie Castellano
Project managers are gaining influence within their organizations this year, as employers recognize their critical role in driving operational efficiencies.
Citing leadership among the abilities a project manager (PM) should possess, a panel of consultants and senior executives formed by ESI International identified 10 top trends that will influence project management in 2011 in its annual “Top 10 Global Project Management Trends for 2011” report. Among these are greater use of informal and experiential training methods, partnership with “change agents,” and a focus on talent management and retention strategies.
In an effort to capture more informal learning opportunities, organizations will continue to use social media tools such as blogs, social networking sites, wikis, and webcasts. The influx of Millennials into the workforce will translate to more effective leveraging of these technologies, making social learning a fixture in workplace learning for PMs in 2011. Other popular methods of informal learning will include mentoring and communities of practice.
Experiential learning will also enable professional development for PMs. Training providers must equip PMs with applicable skills as training methods shift from classroom settings to reality-based and on-the-job training. Universities offering project management degrees will design their courses around the growing conviction that the lecture mode is dead, and students must be equipped with more pragmatic skills.
The growing discipline of change management will also align closely with project management this year. Because PMs often initiate change within their organizations by delivering a new product or service, the skills needed to facilitate change are more sought after than ever. PMs are partnering with change experts to ensure that their organizations experience smooth transitions. The ESI panel also predicts that project teams will begin adopting change management methods.
Talent management strategies using competency models will play a key role in helping senior leaders and learning officers map out professional development and advancement for PMs. Because they outline the skills most valued within the organization and for the project at hand, company-specific competency models are especially valuable to organizations seeking to retain their most promising PMs and to groom them for taking on more complex projects and initiatives.
With more effective training methods and talent management schemes for PMs in place, building the influence of PMs is rising on the 2011 agenda for many organizations. “Savvy business leaders are putting more stead in project management to fine tune their competitive advantage,” says J. LeRoy Ward, executive vice president of ESI International. “Alongside technical savvy, other skills such as negotiation, communication, critical thinking, change management, and leadership are taking on new importance for project managers. Influence and organizational agility will be key factors for performance improvement going forward.”
T+D MARCH 11 // FAST FACT //
Local and National Governments Highlight Workplace Skills
The need for workplace skills development is becoming a high priority in public policy, both locally and around the globe.
The Morton, Illinois, Chamber of Commerce has created a leadership academy that focuses on nine key leadership skills, including managing conflict, raising the bar (performance expectations), and volunteerism. Business leaders in the community will host sessions, and community businesses can send employees who they have identified as the leaders of tomorrow. “We think it is important that our course provides insight from many different perspectives,” Kim Uhlig, the chamber’s business development director said in an article in the MortonTimesNews. “We believe different leaders will provide different perspectives.”
The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce has created an Alaska Business Week camp for high school students to help students prepare for a career, deal with workplace issues, manage money, leverage networking skills, and understand business etiquette and ethics. The one-week program, hosted on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, taught students team building, life, and leadership skills. “The benefits of the program speak volumes about helping to shape the future of our youth and our state,” Kip Knudson told a reporter for HomerNews.com.
Changes may also be coming to U.K. universities. While some British universities already offer courses specifically geared toward workplace skills development, students do not get credit for those classes. That may be changing. Some universities are looking at offering credits for classes that impart skills needed in the job market and the workplace, including the ability to lead a meeting and to negotiate skillfully. Critics of the reform argue that a shift toward workplace skills will distract from teaching students to think critically.
The high unemployment rate is underscoring the need to equip job seekers with the skills necessary to succeed in the fast-changing business environment, and governments are taking on the responsibility of ensuring that their local businesses can find qualified applicants to remain viable business competitors.
T+D MARCH 11 // WORKFORCE RECOVERY //
Canadian Workers Have High Hopes for 2011
By Phaedra Brotherton
As the economy grows, Canadians are expecting their companies to invest more in training and hiring in 2011.
Working Canadians seem to be getting good vibes from their employers about 2011. According to a new survey, working Canadians believe that their employers will be investing more in their skills and adding more employees.
In an online survey conducted by BMO Bank of Montreal, 33 percent of working Canadians think their employers will invest in training in 2011, 29 percent expect to see new equipment purchases, and Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 expect to see more hiring. The survey included responses from 1,506 Canadians, 18 years and older.
This optimism comes at a time when Canadians are seeing the economy starting to recover, says Richard Rudderham, deputy head of human resources for BMO. The Canadian economy is projected to grow by 2.7 percent in 2011, which is expected to increase the demand for labor by slightly more than 1 percent, notes Sal Guatieri, senior economist, BMO Capital Markets. Plus, the unemployment rate is supposed to drop to 7.4 percent by the end of the year, he adds.
“Employees are the very foundation of a successful business and can be a source of competitive advantage. How a company attracts, develops, and retains individuals executing the business strategy should be a top priority for leaders,” says Lynn Rodger, senior vice president, talent strategies and executive resourcing at BMO Financial Group.
Working Canadians in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which, at 5.1 and 5.5 percent, respectively, have the lowest unemployment rate in all provinces (7.6 percent) and had the highest expectations. Forty-two percent of employees predict that their companies will invest in employee training, compared to the average of 33 percent, and 37 percent believe their employers will invest in hiring new talent.
“Generally, I think as we start to see more indicators that the economy has emerged from the recession, and that confidence is returning, we will see Canadians’ optimism grow as well,” Rudderham says. “Business owners seem to recognize that well-trained, productive, and innovative employees are a catalyst for business growth.”
This survey of worker attitudes is important to the business community because it gives them an idea of what their employees are thinking.
“We often see surveys designed to measure employer confidence, attitudes, and plans, but seldom do we hear what employees have to say,” says Rudderham. “It’s always important that business leaders have a sense of what employers are feeling, what their expectations are (including when it comes to professional development opportunities), and how engaged they are. Strong employee engagement is critical to getting it right with our customers and ultimately growing our company over the long term.”
T+D MARCH 11 // INFOGRAPH //
The Good Ole Days Are Long Gone
According to a Robert Half Management Resources survey of more than 1,400 chief financial officers in U.S. companies with 20 or more employees, being a boss is getting harder every day. More than 80 percent of respondents believe it is more difficult to be a company leader than it was five years ago.