When an employer offers to provide new hires with paid training, then who “owns” the skill set that is being built within the employee? Obviously, the employee himself owns the skill set, right? How could it be any other way?
Well, maybe there is a way in which the employer could retain partial-ownership of a skill that he has paid you to learn. And if he could, then that would have a very happy side-effect in that it would give the employer an incentive to offer you more paid training. There are just three special challenges that would need to be resolved: Measureability, Enforceability and a Compensation-Structure.
Learning to speak Spanish
Presumably, any new job-skill that you learn will (statistically speaking) increase your future ability to make money. And some skills will increase your future ability to make money more than other skills. This is an important distinction to grasp, since, obviously, for the purposes of making money, it makes sense to learn skills that are likely to provide a bigger payoff, rather than skills that will only provide a minimal (or zero) future payoff.
For example, lets suppose that your employer offers to pay you to learn how to speak Spanish. Now, for most companies, having that extra language ability will mean that you are going to be worth more to the company. So you will probably be offered a higher wage once your training is complete.
Exactly how much higher of a wage will you be offered? Well, that is a difficult question to answer. But lets imagine that the Training Company (TC) (who pays you to learn Spanish) has a way to measure exactly how much more you are going to be paid (due to your ability to speak Spanish) in each of your subsequent jobs (say with Employers-A, B and C). Then wouldn’t it kind of make sense that the TC would have a legitimate claim to receive (at least) some of the increase in your future salaries? Sort of like a royalty payment?
A special clause in the contract
This idea probably runs counter to our usual way of thinking about who owns the skill sets that we have – even when we get paid to learn them. But lets suppose that you could start out with that kind of a special clause in your TC contract. In other words, suppose that, from the very beginning, you had made an agreement with the TC such that:
- TC will pay you to learn Spanish, and
- For all future jobs that you get for the rest of your life, you will be required to pay a royalty fee back to TC, where the royalty fee will be equal to 50% of the *fraction* of your increased pay that you receive due to your added Spanish skill.
So, if you take a job with Employer-A, in which there is *no* added salary due to your ability to speak Spanish, then you would not be paying anything back to TC. But, if you subsequently take a job with Employer-B, in which there is an additional $10K in your annual salary (due to your ability to speak Spanish), then you would have to pay TC a $5K annual royalty fee.
Of course, the problem is that it is going to be very difficult to measure just how much more an employee will be earning (at future jobs) due to their ability to speak Spanish.
The other challenge is the question of Enforceability. For example, a dishonest person (who was originally trained by the TC to learn to speak Spanish) might just say to a future Employer-X: “By the way, I can also speak Spanish, so I am sure that you will be willing to pay me a little more, right? But, just don’t report that back to TC, because then I’ll have to pay that ridiculous royalty fee. In fact, why don’t we just split the difference of the royalty fee between you and me? Wink-wink.”
An employer is not going to pay you to learn a new skill unless they believe that there is going to be a long-term profit potential for the company. Normally, when an employer offers paid training, they are hoping and expecting that the employee will use their new skill in on-going (paid) service of the company that did the training. The longer that it takes for an employee to complete the paid training phase, the longer that the company will need for the employee to stick around (following the paid training) in order to make it worthwhile for the company to have paid for the training.
But, in the scenario in which the TC maintains partial ownership of the skill that has been taught to the employee, then, whether or not the employee stays with the TC or not, the TC still has a reason to hope that it will make a profit on it’s training investment. This is because of the contracted agreement for future partial payments which would come back to the original TC.
In the example “contract” that we described above, the TC was going to receive 50% of the increase in the employee’s future wages (due to the paid training.) But that number (50%) and the time frame (all jobs for the rest of your life) were just drawn out of a hat. In practice, there would need to be a careful balance struck, so that the TC could be reasonably certain that they were going to make their money back (on the one hand), and so that the would-be learner would be willing to agree to mortgage their future earnings (on the other hand.)
The exact details of the contract would form a Compensation-Structure agreement that would have to be signed by both parties. And that could get complicated.
Definitely near-term … and probably long-term
We can clearly see how the TC’s investment in an employee’s education would definitely be a near-term plus for the employee (since the employee would be getting paid to learn the new skill.) And we can also see how an investment in the employee’s education would probably become a long-term plus for both TC and the employee (since both TC and the employee will probably make more money from future jobs as well.)
The only thing standing in the way of making this kind of a win-win deal happen is that we would need to resolve the three challenges of Measurability, Enforceability and the Compensation-Structure. So, how can these three challenges be solved?
If you can think of a way, then you get the job!