Injecting Creativity and Breaking Down Siloes: How Universities Can Grow their Share of the Corporate Learning MarketCatherine Jones | Associate Vice President of Workforce Development, McHenry County College
The corporate training market is incredibly lucrative, with some estimates valuing the space between $161 billion and $177 billion per year. For colleges and universities to increase their market share of this space, however, it’s critical for institutional leaders to conduct a frank assessment of their competitive advantages and to clearly identify areas where they lag behind private-sector competition. In this interview, Catherine Jones shares her thoughts on the advantages postsecondary institutions have in this space and reflects on how colleges and universities can address some of their weaknesses to increase market share.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are a few of the central advantages corporations can get from partnering with a university for customized education?
Catherine Jones (CJ): From a corporation’s vantage point, the key benefit of partnering with a university to create customized education revolves around the core idea of access. It’s access that includes connection to a broad range of subject matter expertise provided through skilled faculty teaching in diverse programs of study across the institution. It’s also this access to faculty that supports the introduction of cutting-edge research into the classroom and encourages the use of proven adult learning strategies in program design. And, as anyone who has ever participated in a training session held in a repurposed banquet hall will appreciate, it’s access to campus facilities, instructional technology, and amenities that are specifically designed to create an environment for learning.
Depending on the particular interests of the corporate partner and the extent of the proposed training solution that is required, working with a university provider can provide access to credit-bearing certificates or degrees, with the ability to contextualize instructional content to the needs of specific industries. This provides an excellent opportunity to achieve the benefits of customized education while supporting the lifelong educational goals of employees. Finally, an educational partnership with a university has the advantage of reaching well beyond just training and development by increasing access to a broad range of available workforce resources such as internships, apprenticeships and recruiting.
Evo: Conversely, what are some of the drawbacks a corporation can expect to run into when engaging in a corporate training partnership with a university?
CJ: Corporations express concern over the responsiveness, agility and relevance of university-based providers. Universities need to be cognizant of and successfully manage these perceptions, whether the perceptions are based in the reality of a previously negative experience with another institution or are merely based on a lack of awareness. The primary concern, both perceived and real, is a lack of responsiveness. For institutions that move at the pace of academic time that is framed by semesters, the urgency and immediate responsiveness required to partner successfully with the business community can present a significant challenge. Sustaining external responsiveness over time requires the cooperation and collaboration of everyone involved in selling, designing, and delivering workforce education.
Agility and relevance are the two additional drawbacks that all too frequently end up impacting the success of corporate partnerships. While the extent of available subject matter expertise within a university represents one of the greatest competitive advantages of university-based providers, it is a double-edged sword that can just as easily become one of the greatest liabilities if faculty members are not skilled in adapting curriculum to address specific workplace requirements, or are unwilling to do so. Repurposed slide decks with out of date references that were originally designed for semester-long courses have no place in short-duration customized programs.
Multinational corporations in need of global training solutions may overlook university providers in the assumption that only local or regional offerings are available. While teaching schedules and on-campus obligations do make extensive travel difficult for faculty members, deploying instructional technology can extend reach and remove a previous barrier.
Evo: On the flip side, what are some of the advantages of working with a non-institutional education provider to deliver customized training to employees?
CJ: There is a wide range of diversity when we look at non-institutional providers. It’s a group that includes individual practitioners, consulting firms that maintain training divisions, and specialty firms. Interestingly, each type presents its own set of unique advantages and accompanying challenges. Specialty firms and consulting organizations provide clients with the benefit of dedicated focus and deep expertise in specific subject areas and are often structured to provide global reach. However, there is a tendency for this expertise to lead to a one-size-fits-all approach that stems from proprietary methodology and an investment in published materials rather than the design of a client-specific solution. It may be easier for individual practitioners to offer truly customized learning experiences, yet they typically operate without the infrastructure that easily allows a training solution to be scaled for effective broad delivery.
Evo: To your mind, how must university-run corporate training divisions evolve to minimize the competitive advantages non-institutional providers have?
CJ: University-based providers have one unique and powerful competitive advantage that sets them apart from other providers and that is the ability to bring together resources from across the institution on behalf of the partnership. More difficult in practice than on paper, it requires breaking down the institutional silos of academia and shifting focus from a transactional to a solution-based orientation. With the proper internal structure in place, an educational institution is well-equipped to support all aspects of workforce development, from assessing the alignment of a partner’s current workforce with their corporate strategy, to designing and delivering customized training that develops existing employees, and then providing appropriate post-training follow-on services that embed learning into the workplace. The partnership should extend to securing the future talent pipeline through internships, apprenticeships, and access to on-campus and alumni recruiting. And what better place than a university for a corporate partner to be part of a vibrant learning community that provides exposure to new ideas and innovations?
In a solution-based model, the emphasis shifts from reacting to needs by “order taking” to operating in a proactive manner, monitoring emerging economic and employment trends and translating these trends into workforce solutions that address emerging needs. Placing greater attention on relevance and agility may require providing curriculum development resources to faculty during the process of creating and customizing curriculum for adult learners. One effective design technique aids in agility and supports relevance by breaking down core theory into modularized sections that are then paired with experiential exercises, simulations, and case studies that are unique to the client and/or the industry.
I have two final recommendations to add to the competitive to-do list for university training divisions. First, explore the instructional technology that already exists within the institution that can be leveraged on behalf of corporate partners. The creative use of course management systems, video lecture capture, and synchronous and asynchronous course delivery tools make a global reach possible with limited infrastructure investment. Second, another great way to extend global reach on behalf of corporate clients is to establish partnerships with other educational institutions that are located near a client’s international locations. This approach can be very beneficial when there is a need for translation or contextualization of content to the local culture.
Each of the components that add up to sustainable competitive advantage is within reach for university-based providers; they just require the addition of a solid dose of creativity, the willingness to work across institutional silos, and a shift from a reactive to a more proactive standpoint.