Are Corporate Universities the Answer?

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    In any discussion of educating or training our young, we must talk about both education and training. We want our managers, and certainly our CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CTOs, and quite a few others to have impressive degrees and from impressive institutions of higher learning. The levels have changed over the years. A long time ago, a college-educated man was rare, and he could rise to the top of the corporate ladder. It mattered what school. Then it was ratcheted up a notch so the higher-ups had masters degrees, then MBAs, and then later they had to be from the prestigious business colleges as well–with the MBA.

    The chief complaint: our institutions of higher learning were simply not putting out the graduates capable of going into a company and being ready to go to work. Hence, the development of the means of which to take those new employees and train them in the company or industry-specific areas.

    That’s not to say those requirements weren’t needed as the world became a more complicated place. As business became more worldly, it took a sophistication requiring well-educated individuals who could operate in the broader context; however, business is still “nuts and bolt”s so it had to develop requirements separate from those at other levels where education wasn’t enough to get you in the door; you needed special skills besides–and experience. As everyone focused on getting the education to get the degrees that opened doors, someone had to say, “who’s going to do the work.” Who is going to be the backbone of the company.” Mr. Ivy League School? Mr. Premiere Business Institution? Mr. Prestigious Law School? And, to attack that glass ceiling, the ladies had to do the same and more.

    Still, discussions in the community are centered around how to attract qualified workers to do the work-work. Can’t find them here, some companies go overseas, where workers are cheaper and are willing to learn your business and will pay for the opportunity. Oops! You go where you can find qualified workers or you don’t grow or succeed. Workers overseas don’t often have the options of the right schools to get them in the door. Next best thing: corporate universities. Can we develop our home-grown workers? We’d like to. For the right price.

    No one was saying forget higher education and concentrate on the practical, but it would have made the job of finding workers easier if someone could walk in off the street and immediately go to work. Granted there are some sharp individuals who can do that, but only in very remote instances.

    Of course, if they could all walk off the campus and go to work, where would we trainers be?

    Make it specific to the company’s needs and ta-da!–a corporate university. Apparently they work. Look around any industrial area and you’ll find institutions of higher training, better known as Corporate Universities.

    So, now that we have education and are willing to take only a certain level of a job because we have that education, what now?

    David Baucus and Melissa Baucus authored a piece, titled The Changing Shape of Corporate Universities. The gist of the article is how the e-learning and corporate universities we know today grew out of the technological innovation that came several years back. They say that there is no doubt that the e-learning industry–a part of that technological innovation–contributed to the growth of corporate universities. Both authors have the education to tell us this authoritatively. Check their website and bios to be sure.

    “Early in the evolution of the industry, corporate universities represented a reasonable deployment of learning technologies. They enabled companies to deliver the right content to target markets (e.g., employees, partners, and customers) and to reduce training costs by substituting technology for labor.”

    Many years ago before the article above was written and when I was teaching at a small proprietary college in Virginia, I remember sitting on a committee looking at the direct education and placement of students in the workplace. The committee was made up of educators, trainers, business, corporate and community leaders all looking at what education could do in the world of work. The little guys can’t afford to create a corporate university. No longer were we talking about the value of general education, but how we could mold future workers, managers, and leaders of the business and corporate world. Education alone wasn’t the answer.

    No longer were we talking about the value of general education, but how we could mold future workers, managers, and leaders of the business and corporate world. Education alone wasn’t the answer.

    The chief complaint: our institutions of higher learning were simply not putting out the graduates capable of going into a company and being ready to go to work. Hence, the development of the means of which to take those new employees and train them in the company or industry-specific areas.

    Bring in the trainers and the technology. Make it specific to the company’s needs and ta-da!–a corporate university. Of course, it’s not that simple, but apparently they work. Look around any industrial area and you’ll find institutions of higher training, better known as Corporate Universities. McDonald’s Hamburger University, Motorola University, Boeing University, TD Bank University, Pfizer University, Trump Institute–to name a few. Some are well-established, and some are new to the scene. Look around your own neighborhood. Pretty much any large corporation will have one. In 1997, there were around 400 in existence in the U.S.; today that number in the thousands changes daily, and they are also worldwide. Like it or not, they will soon eclipse regular institutions of higher learning in number.

    Technological innovation wasn’t responsible for it alone. We grew up and we grew wide. We became international. We can communicate and operate around the world without leaving out desks. It’s a good thing we can concentrate what we know about the company in one place; however, we should probably do it with an eye toward broadening our awareness of other companies and what they do and how they differ. Mergers are commonplace. Companies don’t just change names; they change focus; they expand.

    Training programs should expand or at least be expandable. (Trainers everywhere are rejoicing, and not just those who work for a corporate university.) There are joint university and corporate university projects in all areas of the business and corporate world. There are corporate universities within traditional universities. There are universities that exist only online. Not the correspondence schools or diploma mills of the past, but the basic idea of long distance learning–only bigger, and hopefully improved. As the educators mulled over the problems of putting graduates directly in the workplace, I suspect they weren’t sitting on their hands either; this is bigger than business alone. It’s our economy, our very lives at stake. Our GNP and the stability of our currency in the world economy. We are dominoes in this affecting economies internationally. If those dots are eyes, they need to be wide open.

    Just my thoughts on corporate universities and the world. Broad topic. What are your thoughts? For more of my hopefully not-so-crazy thoughts, check out my website. I have more to say on training, on communication, on performance, and even on theatre arts, but I can only be in one place at one time.

    For more resources about training, see the Training library.

    By the my way, my next post will be a little different, but certainly affects all trainers. What if can do as others say I can with training your company? Any good making that pitch? Next time. Meanwhile, next time. Serious with a playful streak. For a look at the human side of training from my Cave Man perspective, please check out my book, The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development. Happy training.