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Corporate Universities


By: Sandra Dillich

Being in the workforce full time no longer means leaving school behind. Many companies are now engaging their employees in one form or another of learning and some of the more progressive companies have gone a step further and have created corporate universities.

“Corporate universities very much cater to their (own) needs,” said Lillian Beltaos, dean of the School of Applied Media and Information Technology at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton.

“The education is really very specific to their (company’s) objective.”

According to Beltaos, companies form corporate universities in order to systemize the training function, maximize the investment in education, drive change in the organization, spread common culture and values, develop the employability of the workforce and remain competitive in the marketplace.

“In the midst of globalization and technological revolution, four-year degrees are just the beginning of a 40-year continuing education,” said the report Corporate E-Learning: Exploring a New Frontier by San Francisco-based WR Hambrecht & Co. “Corporations view learning increasingly as a competitive weapon rather than an annoying cost factor. . . . Corporate executives are beginning to understand that enhancing employee skills is key to creating a sustainable competitive advantage.”

However, it is not only a competitive advantage for the company.

“In the IT field it is extremely common (to provide career education) because, typically, young professionals are demanding, from their employers, to keep developing their skill sets,” said Beltaos.

She also noted because training can be very expensive younger IT professionals would rather be trained than receive a salary increase.

“That shows how acute the need for training is,” she said.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, 70 per cent of Fortune 1000 companies cite the lack of trained employees as their No. 1 barrier to sustained growth.

“Business managers realize that corporations that offer ongoing education and training enjoy a high rate of employee retention and the benefits of a better-skilled workforce,” the WR Hambrecht report said.

Beltaos said in order to create a corporate university that not only educates employees on the technology used within the company, but one which also provides them with skill sets to use throughout their career companies are partnering with universities or other formal educational institutes.

“They assist each other in delivering programs that are on a bachelor’s level, at times a master’s level and sometimes on a doctorate level,” she said.

According to an IDC study Purchase Requirements for Interactive Business/Soft Skills Training about 40 per cent of training budgets are spent on customized learning products.

“The demand for custom content (is growing) more quickly than demand for off-the-shelf products,” said the WR Hambrecht & Co. report. “In particular, large corporations value customized, high-quality training as a key differentiator in competition.”

According to Beltaos, not only does custom content have more value to the company, it also has a better retention rate by the employee.

Beltaos said “generic” training like Windows NT results in 20 to 25 per cent knowledge retention. However, when employees are trained with the relevance of the skill visible to them, the success rate of knowledge retention is between 65 and 80 per cent.

“So it’s a lot more relevant with corporate universities,” she said.

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