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Launching a Corporate University Published: Sunday, May 2, 1999 By: Ramón L. Rivera

The last ten years has seen an unprecedented growth of CORPORATE UNIVERSITIES as integrated in-house education and training systems with the help of outside experts. Increasingly corporations and other types of institutions are entering the business of education in order to ensure their own future survival. A recent study conducted in the U.S. estimates that there are over 1,600 corporate universities in existence today. At the current rate of growth, the number of corporate universities can surpass that of the traditional university by the year 2010 and become the primary educators of post-secondary students.

Our experience working with several experiments in Puerto Rico reveals that corporate universities have the potential to lead the way in experimenting with models of market-driven educational systems that, not only better serve the needs of working adults and the strategic intents of organizations, but they also bring efficiency to the process of designing, developing and deploying integrated learning programs.

While the concept has been around for the last fifty (50) years (with the launch of General Electric`s Crotonville in 1955), the real sure of interest in launching a corporate university as a strategic umbrella for managing an organization`s learning processes has skyrocketed during the last decade. During this period companies witnessed a radically shortened shelf-life of knowledge, and began to determine that they could no longer rely solely on institutions of higher education to re-tool their human capital. Instead, they have been setting out to create their own education system designs.

To understand the significance of the corporate university as both a state-of-the-art model for higher education and a key instrument for cultural change, it is necessary to understand the broad forces that have supported this phenomenon. Essentially, there are five: the emergence of the flat, flexible organization; the transformation of the economy into a knowledge one; the shortened shelf life of knowledge, the new focus on lifetime employability rather than lifetime employment; and a fundamental shift in the global education marketplace.

Once an organization`s management has resolved to create a strategic umbrella for all learning processes, there are eight building blocks necessary for a successful design. These include crafting a vision/purpose, creating an organization, identifying stakeholders and their needs, selecting learning partners, developing products and services, identifying funding mechanisms, drafting a technology/location strategy and instituting a measurement system. The general lesson in launching a corporate university is that it is an iterative process: it goes through several phases with each phase building on another and takes on average from six to eighteen months to go through the building blocks.

A corporate university differs from a training department in a number of ways. A training department tends to develop fragmented decentralized efforts in a reactive fashion, targeted primarily to training internal employees in functional job skills, while a corporate university is the integrated umbrella for the education of both employees and value chain members (customers, suppliers and business partner). Most importantly, a corporate university is charged with being the chief vehicle for disseminating the corporate culture and for tightly linking learning programs to real business goals and strategies.

The entrance of the private sector into the learning business is placing constructive pressure for transformation on institutions of higher education. These institutions need to recreate themselves for the knowledge economy. This recreation involves updating obsoletizing and developing new the contents, as well as altering the delivery system. Learning must be relevant to the competencies needed for success in the knowledge economy. While there are signs of change and progress, much of the experimentation learning is taking place in corporations.

While corporate universities differ in many surface aspects, they are organized around similar principles and goals. Ten clear-cut goals and principles are: Provide learning opportunities that support the organization`s critical business issues; Consider the corporate university model a process rather than a place; Design a curriculum to incorporate the three Cs: Corporate citizenship, Contextual framework, and Core competencies; Educate the value chain; Move to multiple formats of delivering learning; Involve formal leaders; Move from a corporate centralization model to one of interdependent the business units; Assume a global focus in developing learning solutions; Measure outputs as well as inputs; Utilize the corporate university for competitive advantage and to entry into new markets.

As companies look to the 21st century, change will be constant. New customers, new products and services, new alliances and new opportunities emerge from these changes. The corporate university`s real goal is to prepare all of an organization`s employees to take full advantage of these emerging changes by institutionalizing a culture of constant learning, aligned with the organization`s core business strategies.

 


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