Published on 2012/09/04

Building Sustainable University-Employer Partnerships

Establishing an advisory board with a learning partner can make all the difference when providing training material that can be replicated for any number of subject matter training requests, but is still nuanced enough to meet the particular needs of individual clients.

Seventy percent of employers say today’s employees need continuous education and training to keep their jobs, and $772 billion is spent on postsecondary education and training each year. Yet, only sixteen percent of employers believe there is an adequate availability of college programs tailored to their needs.[1]

As Extended Education units with a mission to provide relevant workforce development training and education, are we missing the mark? Moreover, are we missing opportunities? How can we regroup and become the “go-to” partner for employers?

Many employers will tell you that their operations are unique. They are right. Though the same learning objectives may exist from company to company—for example distribution center A has employees that need to understand and apply lean principles along the supply chain and distribution center B needs its employees to do the same—company culture, workforce demographics, existing skill sets, and much more result in the need to individualize the education. One size does not fit all; however it’s not a sustainable practice for a university to develop entirely new curriculum for every potential partner.

We have successfully partnered with private, public and non-profit business, government, and the military in order to develop and provide training and education. Our operations are not “rocket science”; however, we have learned that we need to have the right people around the table. Listening is key, and continuous process improvement procedures must be in place and followed.

Advisory boards are an invaluable resource in understanding the nuances and agendas of the stakeholders at the partner company and beyond. Operating through Peter Drucker’s five key questions, identify the following:

  • What is the mission?
  • Who is the customer?
  • What does the customer value?
  • What are the results?
  • What is the plan?

We must determine who will sit on our advisory boards? Who are the subject matter experts from inside and outside the company? And, moreover, subject matter experts on what? The skill set to be addressed, the industry sector, the company culture, the customers identified as the students. The latter two categories are just as important, and maybe more so, than the first two categories. Without knowledge of the company culture and the individuals who will participate in the training, the best laid plans with respect to topic areas will fail. Most employers are looking for outcomes that will be measured vis-à-vis implementation of learning. Company culture must be addressed so that it does not become the barrier to implementation.

Do not forget that the university has a mission. Developing programs that are applicable to only one offering is not a sustainable practice. Build development models that can be replicated for any number of subject matter training requests. Develop curriculum in modules that can be repurposed from industry to industry. Major content areas using recognized bodies of knowledge and specific across industries can be customized by using company specific case studies.

Yes, nothing new, but the best way to describe a good partnership Is that it’s a win-win-win for the university, employer and employees/trainees.

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[1] The Voice of the Employer on the Effects and Opportunities of Professional Development, Destiny Solutions, May 2012; Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, Carnevale, A., Smith, N., Strohl, J., June 2010

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Readers Comments

Charles Zahn 2012/09/05 at 10:05 am

We ran a customized program a few years ago and took a similar route of putting together an advisory board of executives, employees and HR reps to track the progress of the program and develop strategies to improve it. However, we had trouble getting buy-in to the idea and ultimately not many people wanted to take part.

How did you convince your clients to take time out of their day to be a part of a program review and advisory board?

    Nancy Salzman 2012/09/17 at 1:17 pm

    We didn’t have too much trouble pulling together the advisory board. The request does carry a commitment that is difficult for individuals who are already extremely busy both professionally and personally; however we acknowledged that and tried to provide alternatives for contribution. All meetings could be attended in person or by conference call. We also elicited responses to questions via email and encouraged a continuing dialogue by email following meetings.
    I would definitely like to hear from others as to how they obtained participation.

Neville Lansing 2012/09/05 at 11:15 pm

I would actually also be interested to know what tactics you use to manage the expectations of high-level executives involved with the training process. This has been an issue we have both had trouble with and had trouble as a result of.

I say “as a result of” because, certainly, the C-level executives have very particular ideas in mind about the outcomes they want to see from ongoing learning and professional development. However, those ideas can differ from the ideas housed within the HR department, and their timelines and ideas of processes can differ from the reality.

Once the C-level executives are involved, it’s extremely important to manage their expectations.

Nancy Salzman 2012/09/17 at 1:23 pm

Contributions from the C-levels are an important part of the process. They best understand the vision and mission of their organizations. When we work with businesses to provide custom programming, we must align that programming with the mission, vision and goals of the organization. We also want to make sure that our students are receiving an education that provides a cross functional view in order to best serve the needs of the entire organization. We have found that C-levels welcome the opportunity to be a part of defining outcomes and evaluation of the development and training process as well as the evaluation of the implemented training.

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