Published on 2012/08/15

Shaping Higher Education to Better Suit the Professional Development Market

There are some major changes higher education institutions must make if they want to re-shape themselves to better suit corporate clients. Photo by Grthirteen.

Rae, Martin, Ancliff and Hannon (2012) conducted a study on behalf of the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in England to examine enterprise education in 2010. The finding revealed “connections in institutional strategies between enterprise education, incubation/new venture support, graduate employability, innovation and academic enterprise. It reveals ‘hotspots’ and gaps in enterprise provision and offers ‘benchmarks’ for the sector” (p. 3), bringing the relevance of higher education as a provider of corporate services into question. In fact, Hughes, Bence, Grisoni, O’Regan and Wornham (2012) wrote that “within business and management there has been an ongoing and long-standing discussion around the question of the relevance of academic work to practice” (p. 93).

Questions like these suggest that there isn’t enough support in academic literature to inform graduates about what corporations face every day “on the ground”. Thus, without proper benchmarks learning and development will continue to be the first area organizations will look for cost saving sometimes in good economic times. What this says is that some organizations don’t fully understand the value of having well-trained and developed workers, especially in these nebulous global economic times.

Well-trained and developed workers can steer organizations forward in innovative ways, especially in these ill-defined undulating global economic environment. But to be able to add that kind of value to their respective organizations, workers will have to be retrained in mass for the new realities of globalizations and higher education can play a pivotal role in this endeavor if they go through this refining process themselves. Therefore, in order for higher education to get a bigger share of the corporate education market, they must be intentional in understanding their responsibility to the corporate communities.

Colleges and universities must also understand their role in helping organization navigate an uncertain operational environment with a suitably trained and developed human resource teams who can ground organizations and help them chart a course for a new future—the ones they create—rather than depending on those that are naturally created for them by internationalization and globalization. This is only possible if higher education institutions consider the following strategies.

Be open to scrutiny of others

First, higher education institutions must become more attuned to what’s happening “on the ground” and must be intentionally exposing themselves to the scrutiny of others though benchmarking with other institutional measure.

Institutions must open their processes, systems, people practices and future plans to the scrutiny of the corporate community as a way of increasing their confidence in the institution’s learning and development activities and their ability to meet their need as they navigate tenuous operating environment.

This is possible by inviting members of the corporate community to provide feedback on curriculum issues and on program planning and augmentation. Members of the corporate community can also be invited to share about different issues in their world as part of a guest lecture series or to share in general about their training and development needs as part of a group. This can be done as part of an annual group event.

By encouraging this kind of interchange, higher education can become a friend of the corporate community. They must become likable in the communities served by doing the right things in those communities and for those communities and broadcast success stories and work diligently on improving weak areas. By letting the world know what the institution does and how well it does those things and showcase top producers of learning in the institution as well as top users of learning can be a major hook for higher education to become learning and developing partners with corporate entities.

Best-in-class positioning

It is the best higher education organizations that will attract corporate clients, so higher education institutions should be deliberate in striving to become best-in-class and to showcase that status.

Best-in-class status can be attained by developing internal systems for continuous improvement and accentuating those practices globally throughout the entity. Organizations can learn from these practices when higher education vets its practices, systems, processes and futuristic plans for their own organizations. Also, by conducting difference kinds of performance improvement studies within organizations others can take a look at themselves, decide where they want to be and begin to chart a course to get there for which higher education can be amazingly helpful.

The best-in-class status should be promoted at all levels and in every space, in ways that are inclusive and not exclusionary. People at all levels of organizations have something to add in decisions about their learning and development so it is important for those involved in learning and development to find ways to communicate with them, as doing differently may result in learning and development interventions that do not result in adequate skill transfer because employees and institutions are misaligned.

Right people development strategies

Many organizations are looking for something, but many of they don’t quite know what that something is quite yet. Higher education can help organizations develop language, practices and systems to articulate what they are seeking and how a given training exercise can assist in launching them forward.

This can be attained by developing a community of practice and knowledge systems for corporate entities to provide best practices and gleam ideas and best practices from others as a way of improving learning and development in organizations. These kinds of engagements can assist organizational leaders in becoming more practitioner-scholars that will transform their organizations in impactful ways and help position their entities for a global reality with proper theoretical support that aligns with the realities “on the ground.” Feedback from these endeavors can fuel more research activities and a different level of risk-taking which is the hallmark of innovation and new products. Providing services of these kinds should become a mainstay of higher education institutions and should be encouraged and properly supported.

People issues in partnering

Other things may serve as adjunctives in moving organizations forward, but the true engine that moves organizations forward is embodied in the knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes that people bring to a situation.

So, if people are not adequately trained and developed for their roles, their functioning will have less of an impact on organizations and organizations might end up operating more on the margins which is not a good place to be. Knowing this, higher education institutions must themselves recognize their need to pointedly develop their people so they can convey the right messages to the corporate community.

To do this, diverse constituent members must be considered in decision-making so that more global learning and development solutions can be constructed. The least-seen-and-heard should be considered in all decision-making because they might have important information suited for engaging customers and accentuating the higher education institution as a remarkable leader in corporate learning and development solutions.

In taking some of these developmental steps, higher education can truly become the resource of first and last resort. However, the key is to get closer enough to the corporate community; at the moment higher education is too far away to be considered a viable option.


Globalization calls for different kinds of relationships to be fostered between higher education institutions and the corporate community, in order for colleges and universities to continue being considered relevant.

To tell the truth, workers need to be differently trained and developed, and more innovative systems and practices need to be adopted for new lines of products and services to be developed. This will help launch organizations forward.

Doing contrarily leaves some entities ill-equipped and make others irrelevant because they lack a suitably trained and developed workforce, foresight and innovative capabilities. These kinds of things are most plausible when what the corporate community’s needs have been missed by higher education institutions and corporations don’t have the human and/or other resources to meet those needs themselves.

However, higher education-corporate partnerships can create different realities by their joint efforts, openness, commitment to continuous improvement and benchmarking activities. These relationships need to be symbiotic because to be less than mutually beneficial they will lead to mistrust, misalignment, a continuation of the status quo; ill-equipped workforce and less innovative organizations which can stall many economic development activities and stymie any nation’s progress and people development.

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