HR Strategy

InStride CEO talks education benefits, workforce planning, and L&D

Craig Maloney is leading InStride as it upends the workforce education space.
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Craig Maloney

· 4 min read

Craig Maloney, CEO at InStride, practically runs to his desk every morning. The CEO has been at the helm of the workforce education company since June 2023. Maloney has a long career leading tech-enabled services companies in the healthcare and benefits space, but when the opportunity to join InStride came along, he couldn’t pass it up.

There are “a lot of winners and losers in healthcare. When it’s hard for us to get access to care, understand our summary plan descriptions and benefits summaries, or the insurance companies are squeezing the doctors, someone’s going to lose,” Maloney said. “I love the [InStride] business model in that there’s really three stakeholders: There’s the employer…the learner, and the academic partner. If we do our jobs right, everybody actually wins.”

Maloney’s work at InStride comes amid a change in the way employers think about education benefits. InStride is connecting companies with education providers to create education opportunities for employees that are better aligned with company needs, whether that be improving retention or filling a skills gap.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s talk about continuing education as a benefit and how that looks different then other offerings.

When you talk about benefits, HR often talks about the expenses tied to benefits. What I’ve heard over and over…is the investments we’re making in benefits, and it’s a subtle change, but it’s really important. Just the framework of this benefit and how it not only helps the learner and the employee, but the return on investment has been pretty sound [for employers].

So, when you can talk about ROI…retention is a big component of that, promotability is a big component of that, filling open roles is a big part of that. And then there’s just the social impact side of it, which is kind of cool and fun. Who doesn’t want to drive more education or more upskilling at low or no cost and avoid the whole [student loan] debt situation?

How do education benefits like InStride fit into the larger workforce planning and L&D landscape?

I actually think it goes way beyond L&D. I think it’s part of the core human capital strategies at organizations, which generally are a function of business priorities.

So, the role of education in L&D, I actually think it’s evolving more, because what we do is fairly new. L&D has been around forever, right? And we could always train on our anti-harassment trainings and legal trainings, and [the] stuff corporations have to get done just in the normal course of business.

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When you start to get into bachelor degrees and graduate degrees and specialty degrees…There’s so many different dimensions to it. It’s just generally engaging, not only engaging for those career learners, but also engaging for those looking for more upward mobility, higher pay scales, etcetera.

Compare that to, say, a tuition reimbursement benefit?

[Tuition reimbursement] generally speaking, it’s an older benefit…There’s a place for TR, but when you think about the economic model of TR, it requires the learner to put money upfront, and that can be an obstacle. And if there are requirements tied to being reimbursed…those are setting up obstacles to actually pursue the additional learning.

In our world, the subsidy is coming from the employer…And there are levels of curation that we deliver if [the employer has] specific human capital needs and populations they’re trying to target or outcomes they’re trying to drive, we will actually consult with them to design the program that matches those needs.

That’s a much different way to think about continuing education—it really leans into the skill-based hiring we’ve heard a lot about.

Yeah, there are people out there who are qualified based on the skills they’ve accrued over time. Do they have a degree? They might not. The whole trend, you can’t throw a rock in our space right now and not hit a conversation about skills-based hiring, and there’s something to it.

Is algebra the key to success as an employee? No, absolutely not. Would someone be better off taking Excel…to get the next job perhaps? And I’m not saying you have to go either-or…It’s an and.

But to think that we need the traditional…“bachelor degree required.” It’s not actually the case, and I think employers are finally realizing that if they just look across their own population, there are plenty of people out there contributing to the workforce in their own businesses that don’t have degrees, and that’s okay. I think we have to get more comfortable with that.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.