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Corporate Universities Are Catching On

June 1, 1997
Related Topics: Behavioral Training, Career Development, Basic Skills Training, Employee Career Development, Featured Article
Corporate universities are far from new. But they're becoming more commonplace than ever before. And they're evolving to meet changing demands. Lynn Slavenski, who heads up the Atlanta-based Equifax university, defines the concept. "Corporate universities aren't a place, but a concept for organized learning that's designed to perpetuate the organization."

Equifax started its corporate university seven years ago. "Our curriculum is geared to employees on all levels and offers professional management development, self-study programs, and an in-house MBA program offered in cooperation with a local university," Slavenski explains.

Northern States Power Co., headquartered in Minneapolis, set up its corporate academy just a few years ago. "We wanted to consolidate and leverage the value that corporate universities can bring to organizations," says Mark Fritsch, director of the company's Quality Academy. The academy provides training in leadership, team-building, time and project management, technical skills and more. "We have no separate building. We're a virtual university, meaning we maintain training facilities wherever it makes sense."

Fritsch says his academy has made a quality breakthrough by cross-training employees. "Some corporate universities don't align corporate and technical business training," he says. "But we might train line people to install transformers and to deal with customers. We know those interpersonal skills can enhance the technical skills."

Basking Ridge, New Jersey-based AT&T requires employees to pay for some classes. On the flip side, June Maul, AT&T's district manager of development and multimedia development, explains that her students sometimes receive credit toward college degrees. "The University of Phoenix and St. John's in New York City allow credits for some of our courses, if students take additional courses from them."

Corporate training programs widen their reach.
While in-house personnel continue to be the trainer's main focus, some trainers also are being asked to serve such other constituent groups as vendors, customers or even community residents.

"We provide training to other companies, customers and suppliers," says Fritsch. "If instructors aren't busy, we can open up classes for external needs. Because of our university approach, it may be cheaper for them to go with us than somewhere else."

Abbott Laboratories, a pharmaceutical, medical equipment and nutritional products company based in Abbott Park, Illinois, recently began to offer basic skills training to nonemployees. "We went to the local community college and asked [its administrative staff] to review the skills our workforce needs," says Keith Mitchell, manager of testing and assessment for Abbott. "They developed a training curriculum for such basic skills as reading, math, problem-solving, communication, interviewing, test-taking, mechanical comprehension and documentation." The company offers free sessions to employment applicants who fail to pass the initial entrance exams three times a year, each over a period of 12 weeks. Local college interns are sometimes used as trainers.

Mitchell started this program to help applicants who don't pass his employee entrance exams the first time, but who, through remediation, might be given a second chance. "We don't want to screen out people through testing," he says, "but to help them improve their skills so they might later qualify for employment. What we get out of the program is an increasing pool of qualified candidates to fill future jobs."

So you think corporate training is a big job now? When your in-house university opens its doors, you may find your role expanding beyond your company's walls.

Workforce, June 1997, Vol. 76, No. 7, p. 96.

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