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Building a Corporate Education Culture

Switzerland is considered to be a continuing education country. According to a national survey conducted by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, the overall demand for continuing education is on the increase. This applies not only to large companies (from 250 employees): 96 percent of all medium-sized (50 to 249 employees) and 80 percent of small enterprises (10 to 49 employees) regularly engage in some form of continuing education.

More and more companies are discovering continuing education as an instrument for pursuing their corporate goals. Surveys show that training is used to establish values and strengthen organizational culture, to identify and implement business strategies in specific projects, and to design and facilitate change processes.

Corporate universities or academies are becoming increasingly popular, but the term refers to more than just a trend. According to a study by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, continuing education can be understood to mean an in-house initiative that closely links the goals of HR and corporate development, deriving strategically relevant measures from them.

As soon as continuing education measures have been recognized as strategically relevant, the next concern will automatically be their effectiveness. The more target-oriented and customized a training measure is, the greater its impact. Needs analysis, a concept, and implementation planning are required, and these consume money and other resources. How can such things be made available when times are hard? Interestingly, differences in corporate culture are also in evidence here: While some companies immediately reduce their training budgets, others will focus specifically on continuing education as a tool to avoid losing staff. Companies that engage in continuing education activities usually cite lack of capacity and time restraints as obstacles rather than the financial cost. This is why they typically seek to hire an external partner and, together, determine the corporate education goals. The contracted partner must be able to understand clearly what the company needs, provide expertise concerning content, and offer an appropriate teaching format. The more closely the educational topics are linked to the company's strategy and core processes, the more closely coordinated and application-oriented their efforts need to be. Bespoke training solutions are needs- and target-group-oriented and focused on company-relevant topics, which can only be achieved with the company's active participation. Ideally, a company will even deploy key personnel to act as trainers or "lecturers". It is the partner, however, who provides the expertise, both in terms of content and teaching and learning methodology, based on academic achievement and practical experience. According to information provided by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office and surveys conducted in Germany, companies interested in continuing education prefer partners with a proven track record. This may not necessarily be the most expensive offer, but the provider must be reputable and have a recognized qualification. International orientation and recognition seem to play an increasingly important role. For this reason, cooperation is increasingly being sought with universities that are accredited and practically oriented. It may also have something to do with greater demands on the part of the trainees (employees) themselves. Further added value can be created by continuing education programs leading to a certificate that is recognized or awarded by the university, which can add not only to the attractiveness of the company's continuing education activities but also to its standing as an employer.

Corporate education mirrors the fundamental principle of a systematic, institutionalized in-house training program and, for this reason, corporate education is crucial in establishing a culture of continuing education. Research and experience have both shown that companies with a strong continuing education culture are less likely to have recruitment problems. At the same time, their continuing education practices have a positive influence on the performance and productivity of employees; in addition to developing the specialist skills of individuals, they also have valuable extra benefits by reinforcing the corporate sense of “we”, thereby promoting commitment and entrepreneurial thinking throughout the company.

The envisaged result is the long-term retention of young talent.

Authors: Petronella Vervoort, Dr. Albena Björck

The full article first appeared in KMU Magazin, No. 10, October 2017.