Relevance and Responsiveness: Keys to Success in the Corporate Training MarketplaceJoanne Goldstein | Associate Vice President for Workforce Development and Employer Engagement in the College of Professional Studies, Northeastern University
Recent estimates peg the value of the formal corporate learning marketplace at $177 billion, with even more being invested in informal employee education. As the economy becomes more and more knowledge-based, professional development and ongoing employee education will become even greater corporate priorities than they are now. To capture this exploding marketplace, it’s critical for colleges and universities to become more agile and responsive. In this interview, Joanne Goldstein assesses the needs of today’s employers when it comes to learning partnerships and shares her thoughts on what it takes for a university to form long term and mutually beneficial relationships with employers.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are employers most focused on when it comes to determining whether an educational investment was worthwhile?
Joanna Goldstein (JG): Employers are most focused on ensuring that the education delivery system matches their business needs and accounts for the employees’ skill sets and educational levels.
Employers are less concerned over the framework of the education delivery system and more focused on content and outcomes. For example, where employers used to say, “We need someone with an MBA,” they’re now receptive and open to other programs, like certificate programs, training programs, individual courses and even non-credit targeted programs, as well as the more traditional programs like MBAs. This reflects their concern for quality education provided in a timely and targeted way and for competencies delivered earlier than master’s degrees historically provided. They want to make sure that what they get is very tailored to their specific business, industry and needs.
Employers still largely require that employees have a bachelor’s degree. Post-baccalaureate level, though, employers are mostly focused on making sure that what their employees learn and what they take out of courses is targeted towards the employer’s specific business needs.
Evo: What responsibility do university leaders have in making sure that the content they’re creating for particular employers is specifically tailored to the business needs of that organization?
JG: University leaders have a dual obligation here. One is to make sure that they are creating a sense of value for employers who are partnering with us, which often means that the courses and the certificate program or degree program more broadly meets the employer’s needs.
However, university leaders also have an obligation to be true to their university role and make sure that the courses that they’re delivering are rigorous and academic. They need to ensure they are not taking short cuts or not delivering quality education just to satisfy an external partner.
Evo: How important is institutional agility in being able to meet the customized needs of employers while still making sure that the program is at a quality that the university is comfortable attaching its brand to?
JG: Agility is critical to a university being able to partner with employers. One of the things that drew me to Northeastern was its agility and understanding of what employers need and building on it.
What we try to do is listen, respond and then develop programs that will help the employer and benefit the employees. The more agile and the more responsive we can be and the sooner we can develop these programs, the better it is for all parties.
Evo: How can providing a really strong customer experience for employers—from creating a customized curriculum to registering students to determining the best delivery approach—impact their perception of value?
JG: It’s important to develop a strong customer experience for employers. Everyone wants value; corporations, trade associations, non-profits. We make sure that our partners understand that we are there for them and provide the kind of customer experience that matches their specifics and makes them feel that they have received value for their investment in both the university and in their employees.
At the end of the day, it benefits everyone. If an employer feels that a university is producing value, it will come back for more educational opportunities for maybe different employee populations. Employees feel that they’re getting value for the time they’re putting in and the university benefits because it become known as an institution that does have strong customer service and provides value to its partners. Not every company that comes here for an education for their employees becomes a full partner, but we certainly strive to have most of them become partners.
You also have non-traditional students—more working people who are coming back to school either through their employer or on their own to increase their skills, maybe change career lines, or enhance their education so they can progress within their own companies. We also have a large number of international students, some of whom come sponsored by employers or governments and some who come just the way any student would come to us. It’s important when you have all of these diverse student bodies—particularly the ones who come through employers—to make sure they feel like we’re being responsive to what they need and are providing value for what they’re paying to us.
Evo: What are some steps a university leader can take to enhance the sense of value for employers and a sense of value that makes them want to enter into a long-term partnership?
JG: The first step that a university leader should take is to first listen to what employers want and need. Universities speak different languages than the business sector speaks.
Once everyone’s on the same page about how the university can provide value, it’s then the university leader’s job to make sure we provide that value and that could take many forms. It could be devising a curriculum, it could be engaging in a partnership on research, working with a non-profit, or aligning our programs in a given field, like project management, to meet specific employer needs.
One thing that the university has to be mindful of is that the demographics of the workforce have changed and there are different ways in which millennials receive and process their education. Further, employers’ needs have changed over the course of time. It’s really important to be nimble and responsive and timely to all of the changes.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about what it takes for an institution to really create a sense of value for an employer and what some of the challenges are?
JG: One size does not fit all and what worked 10 years ago may no longer work today. A university needs to be responsive to an employer’s stated needs as well as understanding the trends in their particular industry, and the whole economy. It’s important to understand that the workforce issues in the economy should drive the educational delivery to employers.
This interview has been edited for length.