Internal Partnerships Make External Partnerships a Reality in Corporate EducationGeorge Irvine | Assistant Director of Organizational Learning Solutions, University of Delaware
The professional education and corporate training marketplaces are exploding in value, which makes them lucrative for universities but also more competitive. Standing out in this space requires institutions to go beyond simply offering programs; they must instead create enticing opportunities that help them differentiate from the non-academic providers in the space. In this interview, George Irvine expands on how strong internal partnerships are critical to this differentiation, because they help to truly leverage the full power of the institution.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are the differentiators that set universities apart from the competition as corporate training partners?
George Irvine (GI): There are a number of factors that come to mind. The first, though, is that a university isn’t really a corporate training partner in the traditional sense. Universities are similar to corporate training partners, but there are some key differences that make a university-to-business training partnership special.
One of the differences is that universities are perceived by employers as having and being able to deliver impartial knowledge that is usually based on research. Universities can play to that strength in building partnerships with organizations—whether it be a corporation or a state agency or a non-profit. We share our knowledge in a way that doesn’t seem like we’re pushing a specific solution, agenda or approach.
Evo: How do strong relationships between the corporate training team and other institutional divisions help universities stand out to prospective training clients?
GI: It really depends on the university structure. In my case I’m in a division that is required to work with other parts of the university. We don’t have our own faculty, so we have to partner with other colleges across the university to be able to collaborate with their faculty and leverage their research, knowledge and unique approaches to help outside partners.
That means you have to build an internal relationship with colleagues around the institution before you can build an external relationships with employers. The other option is to build an external relationship and then, once you understand their specific needs, look inside the institution to find who can deliver on those needs and then forge an internal relationship.
Successfully building relationships is dependent on finding a mutual benefit for the faculty, for the college and for the external partner. Part of what I do is to figure out those benefits to ensure that a partnership will be of sufficient interest to everyone and worth their time; especially for our internal partners. After all, any time a university department, division or faculty member spends working outside, they are fulfilling a public service role but they’re also being pulled away from doing other things that are important for the university. I always keep that in mind to ensure that there are proper incentives and benefits in place to help build a strong internal, intra-university team.
Evo: What are some of the barriers to strong internal partnerships?
GI: Budgeting and costing models are a major barrier to internal partnerships. Units within the university can choose to serve external partners individually rather than through collective action so that they can retain more of the revenue.
My incentive to partner with other units on campus is strong because I don’t really have my own faculty; I have instructors that I can position as practitioners but it’s far better to be able to bring research university faculty to the table as part of the instructional team. Unfortunately, sometimes you run into colleges who say, “We can do that ourselves; we don’t need to partner with you.” That means it’s really important to have incentives in place for colleges to partner.
Sometimes it’s the external partner who is pushing for internal partnerships because it s a lot easier for them. They don’t have to deal with two different parties within one university or manage different customer numbers. From the procedural perspective it’s a lot easier to just have one university partner who has figured out how to leverage the expertise of the campus to fit their needs. Sometimes, when we don’t partner internally, an external partner will look at us and ask, “But aren’t you both the same university? Why don’t you just work together?”
Evo: Beyond incentives, what are the other ingredients to a strong intra university relationship?
GI: Communication between departments within the university is critical. The work of colleges at my university is oriented towards the creation of new knowledge, towards research and getting grants. So one thing I like to do is figure out how to create research opportunities for university faculty out of these external engagements with companies. In some cases I’ve succeeded and a faculty member has been able to structure research around an employee engagement or a company. Faculty can create and publish papers that can lead them to promotions when I can work these arrangements into external partnerships. So that’s one ingredient that can increase the likelihood of attracting tenure-track faculty.