Institutions Thrive from Success in the Corporate Training MarketplaceKirk White | Director of the Center for Healthcare Professionals, Houston Community College
The following interview is with Kirk White, director for the Center for Healthcare Professionals at Houston Community College. As higher education leaders are beginning to focus more and more on finding new revenue streams to help their institutions remain viable, one market that has long been central to many colleges and universities is beginning to bubble to the surface: Training partnerships. In this interview, White shares his thoughts on the ins and outs of competing in this marketplace and discusses the benefits of succeeding in this market for institutions.
1. What are the most common misconceptions about training partnerships between higher education institutions and corporations?
Being here at a college in Texas, it is actually legislatively mandated that our community college provide contract training to business and industry within our service area. It may vary from state to state, … but here in Texas it is [part of our core mission] so it becomes an important part of what we do in the non-credit area, and sometimes it actually reaches into the college credit area.
Some of the other misconceptions are that big business typically only wants to work with universities and not necessarily community colleges. In some situations that may be true, the universities tend to carry a bit more prestige—they’re seen as more of the professional level training—but what big business tends to forget sometimes is that community colleges are the ones that produce the vast majority of training for entry level and mid-level workforce. …
One of the other misconceptions is that there’s not much profit in doing one-time training contracts with business and industry. That’s somewhat shortsighted because those one-time training sales get you in the door. They get you at a conversation with that business and with the administration of that company so that you can start working on a long-term relationship. Sometimes spending a little extra effort on one-time training will actually buy you a relationship that will go much further into the future and produce much more contract training opportunities.
Finally, there seems to be a misconception about staffing in the corporate training departments and who should actually be hired to be the salesperson to sell training. A lot of times colleges and universities think a good salesperson can sell just about anything, and that doesn’t always work when it comes to providing training for business and industry. … In any really specialized industry, industry players really would prefer talking with somebody that came from their industry and understands how they do business, understands their language and then can bridge the gap between education and industry through that contract training.
2. How do training partnerships benefit the college or university?
They’re an additional funding stream; they help generate unrestricted funds which are not often readily available to colleges and universities . … When you get into the contract training area, you’re generating cash that can be used to subsidize or support any other part of the college.
Beyond the money, the front-line people [are beneficial]. They are up there in the business and industry world, they are talking with the people that are hiring your graduates, they are helping to build your partnerships with your local economy. … If you get somebody that’s involved in a local chamber of commerce, committee or work group, or a local workforce board that is also tied to corporate training, you’ve got somebody that is actually seeing, hearing the needs, hearing where the pain points are on the business and industry side—where do they need help and then being able to go back to college and say, “How do we design training for them?”
Finally, and this has been my argument for many years, it’s maximizing the resources of the college. We all have specialized curriculum, we have faculty, we have equipment, we have facilities that business and industry do not. If we are not using all of those things for college credit programs, continuing education programs, … we’re not using our resources to the maximum potential.
3. What are the most important things for postsecondary leaders to keep in mind when entering into a training partnership with a corporation?
Contract training, especially if a college or university is just starting a new department, is going to take a while to develop because what you’re really developing is a new small business. They have to develop their clientele base, they have to go out and build support. … Pick the right industry people to be your staff and then fund the department for a startup period, knowing that they’re going to be going out there and striking some small contracts at first. Those contracts will hopefully pay for the training but may not pay for the total overhead of the new department but in time [the division will become self-supporting].
I know colleges whose contract training departments crank out lots of revenue for their colleges. I also know other colleges who struggle and what I’ve seen is the difference is who they hire.
The other things that come to mind in what to expect are adapting and shifting to needs. A contract is a place to start. You may be working with a company where this is the training they said they wanted so this is what they did to get their foot in the door, but then all of a sudden you get in there and something changes. The division of contract training has to be very adaptable and able to amend the contracts and shift with what the needs of the business partner are.
The last one: don’t ever over-promise. Don’t say you can do what you can’t. Your contract training division has to be very clear on what the college resources are, what expertise you have, what turnaround time you might be looking at, what are the limitations of what you can and can’t do so that when you’re sitting in front of the business partner and they’re asking for something you can’t do, you don’t say yes. … The first time you promise and don’t produce will probably be the last time they’ll sign a contract with you for training.
4. Is there anything you’d like to add about the corporate training marketplace and what postsecondary leaders can do to mend these programs and make sure they’re successful?
There is no magic bullet other than to say, it has to be in line with what your local businesses and industry are like. … As you build these relationships you’re also going to want them to participate in your college in other ways. These are your source of potential advisory committee meeting members for your workforce programs. These are potential donors to the college. You may want this corporation to cough up some cash in support of a special event, a new building. You have to think long-term.
Remember that they are now your partner and they will be potentially hiring your graduates from your regular programs, they may be offering internships or clinic placements to your regular degree-seeking students. They may be your partners in a variety of ways. The contract training division really is part training, part public relations, part business and industry liaison, part economic development representative. It’s a very unique part of the college or university. It has to be supported financially and the leadership of the institution really needs to understand the value of it and what it can bring to the college or university.