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Higher Ed’s Responsibility to Support Corporate Success

The future of higher ed lies in working in concert with industry to train, upskill, reskill and retain employees. But institutions can only accomplish that by closely collaborating with employers to understand their needs.

There must be programming that allows learners to upskill and reskill. It’s not only needed potential employees who require this type of education but also current employees, which means increased interest in corporate training. In this interview, Aaron Pereira discusses the evolution of corporate training, the value of partnerships and how to deliver programming that aligns more with industry needs.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): With the increasing demand for workforce skills, how have you seen corporate training evolve within the recent years?

Aaron Pereira (AP): This is a great question, and I’d like to provide some context by starting with WatSPEED’s inception. At the beginning of the pandemic, the University of Waterloo’s president convened CEOs from some of Canada’s largest organizations to discuss the challenges they faced and the role the university could play in helping them address them. These roundtable discussions quickly revealed that senior leaders were looking to the university to help them with recruiting and retaining talent and to support them as they navigated this complex and dynamically shifting technology landscape.

Since these early discussions, the pace of technology advancement has only increased. Look at generative AI. It is a once-in-a-generation technology development that holds massive potential if corporations, innovators and Canadians harness it properly. Globally, we are seeing massive uncertainty, and so organizations are looking at how to not just survive but thrive during these unprecedented periods of change.

The net result of these massive shifts is that training and workforce reskilling becomes a strategic lever for organizations. By necessity, it is aligned with their internal strategy and plays a key role in ensuring they have a workforce that is ready to embrace these new technologies, remain agile and keep pace with future disruption.

Evo: What are some qualities prospective corporate partners value most when considering a collaboration with higher ed institutions for training programs that allow employees to upskill and reskill?

AP: The two biggest qualities we see are trust and quality. There are many training programs out there, and the space has become a red ocean. When engaging with institutions like ours, senior organizational leaders look to us to provide an unbiased and comprehensive perspective. Our professional and executive education is independent of any platform or vendor. It provides a broad look at the good, the bad and the ugly. This comprehensive understanding is critical for both senior leaders who make strategic decisions and their workforce, so that they understand the trade-offs and gotchas as they recommend and support different solutions. That unbiased, comprehensive viewpoint is where higher ed plays a critical role.

To come back to the example of generative AI, as organizations contemplate a future where this technology has a potentially transformative effect, they are forced to consider more than the productivity and technology implications. There are broader questions around privacy and security, the impacts to the labor force, transparency and responsibility in AI. All these complex elements factor into the considerations around competitive advantage. So, outside, unbiased expertise can be crucial.

Evo: What are some challenges that come with corporate training?

AP: I talked about training aligning more closely with internal strategy. So, with corporate training, you’re getting up close and personal with organizations. We develop programming that supports their challenges and closely maps to the larger technology mandate they’re trying to implement. These initiatives are resource-intensive and demand a high level of client relationship management. You must navigate these conversations and understand their challenges to ensure training initiatives are successful and have a meaningful impact on organizations.

Specifically, when talking about an organization’s technology strategies, we often need to factor in internal cultural challenges. Is the organization ready to adapt? How is the transformation being communicated internally? Is the workforce open to engaging with this training? Everything we do is tied to the organization’s business directives in the organization or development strategies for broader technology or change management strategy.

Evo: What are some best practices to overcome these obstacles and begin delivering programming that’s aligned to industry needs?

AP: That client relationship management piece is key. We work with partners and guide them through an underlying shift or change management process, which requires a longer-term strategy. It goes beyond a single point of engagement and gives both parties stability.

Evo: What are some trends you’re keeping an eye on when it comes to the workforce?

AP: Corporations are becoming sophisticated at talking about their own workforce development strategies. They are engaging with a large number of content providers and solutions to provide a wealth of programming options to employees. I expect to see an increase in learning and development across the board.

What does this mean for higher ed? We must understand our value proposition within the space and carve it out. How do we play a role in this market and define the value for corporate partners? Often, it’s through a customized engagement tied to the fundamental business challenges our partners are dealing with. If we see that fulsome engagement, then we’re more likely to see positive outcomes at the other end for the objectives laid out in the beginning.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about corporate training?

AP: We must be market-driven and attuned to industry needs. Higher ed plays a key role in the economy, and there’s almost a moral imperative for us to lean in with corporations to help them thrive. Organizations are navigating a dynamically shifting landscape, so we need to help them in the ways we are best suited to do, which includes bringing together partners, alumni and internal stakeholders. We are constantly focused on enabling our partners, their workforce and ultimately our society to thrive.


This interview was edited for length and clarity.