Collaborate to Make Work Better

Successful partnerships with higher education help to grow an organization’s internal talent, and boost capability and innovation in rapidly changing industries.

For many employers, the talent supply chain is broken.

In 2014, 4 out of 10 employers reported difficulty filling open positions with skilled workers, and since then, an improved economy and lower unemployment rates have only intensified this talent crisis. To hinder matters further, the disconnect between college and employer perceptions on a “prepared workforce” has been well documented. Also, in 2014 a joint study released by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation reported that 96 percent of college chief academic officers believed they were turning out work-ready graduates, while just 11 percent of business leaders believed the same.

The academic partnership is a proven effective strategy that improves workforce readiness. It can include sponsored training, degree or certificate programs, joint curriculum development and delivery, internships, mentoring or apprenticeships and is a win-win for employers and employees alike. For employers, the educational content provided through partnerships is customized to fit the company’s needs and can be used as a tool to recruit and retain talent. For employees, academic partnerships that are jointly developed provide an affordable way for employees to gain and upgrade the learning and skills needed for their jobs.

For example, the Health Care Service Corporation, which is currently working with John Wood Community College to keep its workforce competitive, is building a 17-hour certificate program in customer service skills. Credit earned in a certificate program may be applied toward an associate degree in office technology at the college. The program is being piloted in the Quincy, Illinois-area with plans to make it a virtual offering that can be accessed by employees who live outside the John Wood CC district.

Allstate is also benefitting from a long term partnership with Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. The company offers employees who wish to pursue an MBA the opportunity to go to class with fellow Allstate employees on-site at their Northbrook, Illinois, headquarters, or online. Allstate and Lake Forest Graduate School work closely together to ensure the company’s leadership competencies are integrated throughout the curriculum. That way no matter what course they are in, students are focused on how to use their skills to be an agile leader who advances strategy, innovation and the organization. In addition, Allstate and Lake Forest Graduate School of Management work closely to customize educational services through Corporate Learning Solutions which enhances employees’ strategic and essential business skills through training and development programs. 

Peter Logothetis, senior vice president and group information officer at Allstate is one of the company’s key faculty members. He said the partnership with the program has immediate value for both employees and the company.

“We are teaching professionals practical skills that can be used the very next day in their place of practice. It is not only theoretical, textbook-based learning,” he said. “We’re giving students tools that create solutions in their workplace, and that has great value to both employers and to students who are committed to success in their careers.

“The most rewarding thing is hearing the feedback from our students. After graduation, having students tell me that the things they learned in my class were immediately applicable to their business activities the next day.”

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning has helped many companies create and manage targeted academic partnerships (Editor’s note: The author works for the council). Two of the more mature ones include The Energy Providers Coalition for Education, or EPCE, and the National Coalition for Telecommunications for Education, or NACTEL. For more than 15 years, subject-matter experts from the electric utilities and the telecommunications industries have built customized online curriculum in collaboration with carefully selected colleges and universities to address the continued need to maintain the skill level in the technical workforce in these industry sectors. 

Both the NACTEL and EPCE work together as a unified coalition, and while there are many differences between electric utilities and telecommunications, the principles and value for the employers are similar and include:

A small number of carefully chosen and managed colleges allows employers to focus resources to collaboratively build a continually updated, state-of-the-art curriculum which can be offered online equally to a national and international workforce. 

  1. Targeted curriculum development, led by employers and managed by CAEL, allows a laser focus to continually prepare a technical workforce in two rapidly changing industry sectors.
  2. Employers working in partnership can build programs that are more far-reaching and robust than any could do alone.
  3. Both are employer-centric, meaning that new colleges are added and new curriculum developed only when there is a verified need. 

Steve Gackstetter, director of site engineering for Exelon and a member of EPCE, said he is passionate about employer driven education partnerships like the one offered through EPCE. “I am convinced they help not only my company but the industry and the community by delivering real solutions that benefit all stakeholders.” 

Creating partnerships with higher education delivers tangible benefits to both employees and employers. Such partnerships help to create a well trained workforce that not only ensures a stronger more competitive organization, but also industries that are prepared to meet tomorrow’s business needs.