As West Michigan businesses have identified a need for increased professional development and management training in the workplace, many of them have strengthened their ties to local colleges and universities.
Companies may have cut back on educational support during the recession as resources became scarce, but academic professionals say that more businesses these days are partnering with higher education as they seek to grow and develop their employees.
“As companies really evolve and become global organizations, they’re realizing that they need a lot of education in order to support that,” said David Lawrence, vice president of Davenport University’s Institute for Professional Excellence, which offers corporate training and professional development programs. “One of the big trends has been significantly more training for businesses and investing more into employees than they ever have before, in a way that you really hadn’t seen five years ago.”
While local universities have been providing companies with educational support services for decades, Lawrence said the programs have grown significantly in recent years, especially on the non-degree side. Businesses have turned to higher education for leadership training, management workshops and certification programs as those colleges and universities focus on academic flexibility and customization.
“A lot of organizations really, really like that they have more of a menu of choices now. It just depends on specifically what the organization’s needs are,” Lawrence said. “The rigor of the courses are still there. It’s just a customization of the delivery, of how somebody consumes it.”
The creation of programs has become increasingly cooperative as schools revise their processes to be more efficient. Some schools are going so far as to meet and discuss needs with individual companies before developing customized programs.
While many schools have open enrollment for their executive MBAs, the program at Grand Valley State University initially was offered exclusively to Spectrum Health employees. The 22-month, cohort-based program was created in 2013 with the goal of bringing Spectrum Health leaders closer together and to develop their strategic thinking, problem-solving and leadership skills through real-world projects.
It grew out of the organization’s specific desire to “create leaders that would help them navigate the changing landscape of health care,” said Sridhar Sundaram, associate dean of GVSU’s Seidman College of Business.
“We really are looking at a broad spectrum of needs,” he said. “What we’re finding more and more is that, for us, a successful strategy is engaging the regional business community and then finding out how we can serve their needs so there’s a commitment from them.”
As the program looks to grow beyond Spectrum Health by the fall semester of 2017, the university is working to identify those needs and create customized curriculums for other companies that would also like to develop their top executives. Even though many larger companies have their own “internal university” for training, Sundaram said specific needs still arise that require outside educational support. As such, GVSU will continue to offer and likely expand its non-degree programs as well, working directly with businesses to fill whatever educational gaps may exist, he said.
That’s also true at Davenport, according to Lawrence.
“Really, what we end up doing is taking a lot of the curriculum in the university, developing some of our own and then combining those for what the customers are looking for,” Lawrence said. “They may be looking for a degree. They may be looking for a certification. They may be looking for a leadership, supervisory or management course — something that’s in a different format and uniquely set up for the business itself. It’s education really tailored to what their needs are today.”