Ongoing employee training programs are critically important as they keep companies competitive. According to Deloitte’s 2014 Corporate Learning Factbook, U.S. spending on corporate training grew to $70 billion, a 15 percent increase over last year.
Still, picking the right learning vehicle for employees has become increasingly complex. Options range from internal programming to professional certificates to full post-graduate degrees.
Then there are custom learning or “non-degree” programs. These programs utilize university faculty expertise — many of whom are considered leading industry experts — to create customized learning programs and give an organization’s workforce immediate real-world application of critical skills and knowledge.
Depending on the organization’s educational need, time constraints and access, custom programs can often be the best solution.
Nature: Companies dealing with proprietary issues, such as security or unique projects still in research and development, should consider custom programs as a learning resource. Universities sign extensive non-disclosure agreements to protect the company and discreetly solve or make recommendations to improve operational issues.
Custom programs also have been used in delicate situations in specific industries such as transportation that are facing challenges related to shifting cultural norms. For example, Metrolink, a regional rail service in Los Angeles, requested a custom program to further develop and promote safety culture within its organization.
If the custom program route doesn’t appeal, another development scenario is to bridge knowledge gaps with team learning activities. For example, if systems engineers need to work closely with computer programmers, both would be more versatile and effective if they had a fundamental knowledge of each other’s workflow and processes.
Timing: Companies face real-time issues that need to be addressed in days, weeks or months, not years. Custom programs can be rolled out to meet these varying time demands. The length of these programs is typically measured in hours completed, ranging from four to 90 hours. They can be set up as one-day seminars or deployed as a scheduled series over the course of weeks or months.
Access: Custom courses also are great for improving team knowledge and efficiency. For maximum interaction, the ideal custom class size is 20-25 employees, although seminar based programs can run as high as 200 students.
If you’re considering the flexibility of an online custom program, look for a university partner with the latest interactive technologies to ensure employees get the best experience possible. For example, the University of Southern California, where the author works, offers programs during varying times of the day so a global organization’s international sites can engage in the same program at the same time.
Performing a needs assessment is a crucial first step when developing a custom program, as it provides the framework for the program and outlines how it will be structured.
USC program administrators tailor their needs assessment questionnaire for each client, but every assessment should address the following:
- What are the learning program’s short- and long-term goals?
- What is the timetable for development and deployment?
- How many employees need access to the program, and what are their roles within the organization?
- Do faculty members need to be on-site, online or on-campus?
Once an initial needs assessment is completed, the partnering university should work closely with its academic departments to identify faculty members whose expertise matches the client company’s goals. Identified faculty then design the course curriculum to meet each goal and objective. Each hour should be carefully planned and scheduled so the program maintains its rigor and delivers the maximum benefit to the employees.
Of course, one of the most important considerations is pricing. Custom programs can offer a number of cost benefits, including providing employees with a top-quality educational experience at a flexible program price not tied to traditional tuition rates. Further, online offerings cut down on the number of employees who have to travel for a course. Customization also allows the program to zero in on key company needs so employees can get exactly what they need and then immediately start applying their new skills to their day-to-day responsibilities.
Candace House is the executive director of corporate and professional programs at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.