In corporate America the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge is at the core of most business, industry, and government entities. These organizations either provide knowledge (e.g., software, information technology, biotechnology) or process knowledge (e.g., telecommunications, banking, advertising). In an era where information is critical, the emphasis is on speed, flexibility, technical expertise, and innovation. These factors drive business processes and affect the bottom line. Successful organizations continually update their knowledge base and the skills of their workforce to keep pace with the changing demands of the global marketplace and the technological advances that provide a competitive advantage.
A corporation's future is determined in part by its involvement in the development of its intellectual resources. Enterprises are expanding the education and training segments of their business activities. Chief executive officers (CEOs) realize that without this effort, they will lose their edge in the highly competitive global economy. Continuing education is vital to the future success of any organization, but it is of equal or greater importance that employees remain adaptable and agile learners, able to profit personally and professionally from opportunities generated by the global economy. Investing in the right course of study for the right people at the right time continues to be a challenge for businesses as they plan and prepare for the future.
Corporate restructuring and technological advances give employees broader responsibilities that require more skills and training for self-managed, cross-functional teams. In the past, frontline staff would communicate with middle management who made decisions and solved problems. Today, middle management is disappearing. Frontline workers are expected to process information, make decisions, and solve problems as they occur. Entrylevel workers are required to be skilled, knowledgeable, and adaptable. If they do not have these skills when they are hired, the company must provide the education necessary for these employees to be successful.
TYPES OF CORPORATE EDUCATION
Typically, four types of corporate education are used to enhance employees' knowledge and skills. These include independent study, apprenticeships and on-the-job training, traditional classroom instruction, and unconventional training programs.
Independent study is a growing trend in corporate education. Interactive Web-based training allows participants to acquire new skills without leaving their desks. This reduces time and travel costs compared with traditional classroom training. Employees are given the flexibility to learn at their convenience, at their own pace, and from almost any location. This method is beneficial for those who lack the time to attend regularly scheduled classes or those who are uncomfortable in traditional classroom situations.
The value of an independent-study program is enhanced when used in conjunction with electronic mail, synchronous chat discussions, asynchronous discussion forums, and desktop videoconferencing. These tools allow employees to participate in electronic discussion groups that serve to reinforce learning objectives. Online learning via the "virtual classroom" relies more on students' learning from collaborative discussions and team projects than from traditional lectures. As high-speed forms of communication become more readily available, CEOs and chief learning officers or chief information officers of many large corporations are encouraging their workforce to be trained in online skills. In terms of a forward-thinking public image, these organizations project an aura of familiarity and competency with cutting-edge technology. This earns confidence from customers and associates and respect from rivals.
Apprenticeships and On-the-Job Training
Apprenticeships are a form of on-the-job training (OJT) where individuals with little or no experience are prepared for occupations as skilled craftspeople and earn hourly wages as they learn. Experienced workers train novice employees to become, for example, accomplished electricians, machinists, operating engineers, carpenters, or tool-anddie makers. These programs usually require a prescribed number of hours of related classroom instruction. Examples of coursework include safety, mathematics, schematic reading, and technical courses to meet particular state or federal licensing or certification requirements.
Other OJT programs are customized for participants who have some job-related skills but need to become more knowledgeable and proficient in a particular trade. As with apprenticeships, employees benefit because they are paid to learn. In addition, employers benefit from hosting OJT programs because they have the full-time services of motivated individuals who are training to fulfill specific company needs. Participants also include long-time employees who need to adapt to new technologies and procedures to maintain their job security.
Traditional Classroom Instruction
Traditional classroom instruction is similar to most postsecondary learning environments in which an instructor or trainer presents material
by lecturing, demonstrating a skill, or leading a discussion. In-class activities may encourage collaborative learning, but for the most part, traditional classroom instruction is often a passive learning experience.
Corporations with frequent employee turnover, such as the hotel and resort industry, find traditional classroom education to be inefficient and expensive. This type of industry must train its staff to properly and uniformly satisfy customer service requirements; employees, however, may be seasonal workers, making repeat training a continuous necessity. Training days require employees to miss work, which creates additional problems for hotel managers and guests. Additionally, tight budgets limit the number of corporate trainers available. Lack of proper training prevents workers from excelling at their jobs, which negatively impacts the business.
For these reasons, organizations are shifting from traditional classroom instruction to Web-based interactive training that actively involves students in the learning process. These programs are always accessible from designated locations and are easily modified to reflect cultural and language differences.
A growing trend is the corporate for-profit university offering degree programs entirely in an online setting. These educational entities allow working individuals to pursue bachelor's and master's degrees and certificate programs with less disruption in their work schedules or home life. Examples of these types of organizations include Walden University, the University of Phoenix, and Laureate Education.
Unconventional Training Programs
Unconventional methods may be used if the purpose of a training program is to modify employee attitudes or work ethics. This is done to transform the internal corporate culture into one that is compatible with the corporation's external image and direction. Among the programs that may be appropriate for this type of application are leadership development, team building, and conflict resolution.
Corporate outdoor training is less conventional than the traditional classroom approach, but it is gaining in popularity with many international businesses as an informal method of conveying corporate values across a diverse range of cultures. Moving the training experience from the classroom to the outdoors provides a unique learning environment where individual challenges encourage positive team behaviors. Outdoor activities such as outwardbound trips, ropes courses, white-water rafting, and rock climbing require individual initiative and team problemsolving skills. Communication, trust, teamwork, and camaraderie are stressed during these courses.
Another unconventional corporate education program emphasizes the usefulness of humor in the workplace. This program encourages employees from all levels of the organization including upper management to laugh and have fun, making work more enjoyable for everyone. The motivation behind this type of training is to create an atmosphere in which employees want to work as a team, are proud of their contributions, and enjoy the company of their managers and coworkers. Participating organizations benefit from a reduction in stress-related absenteeism and an increase in workforce creativity and innovation. Many corporations have become successful because they realized in the early stages of their development that a happy team is a winning team.
ONGOING VALUE OF EDUCATING WORKERS
Corporations cannot afford to become complacent. The perception that they have an abundance of educated employees who are motivated, content, and comfortable with existing technologies is seldom correct. As demonstrated throughout the twentieth century, technological developments have altered the fortunes of once-thriving companies by outdating products and business practices that were once considered state of the art. Ongoing employee education is a critical component in determining an industry's ability to survive and prosper. Evolving information systems and peripheral equipment will improve business communications and transactions, allowing instant access to many types of data from a variety of locations. Speed and proficiency in the use of these systems, which are attained mainly through continuous workforce education, will help to determine an organization's status within the business community.
It is unlikely that this trend will reverse. Clients are accustomed to information on demand and, in the long run, technology is cost-efficient. A primary goal of most corporations is to increase profits. Without an ongoing commitment to workforce education, businesses cannot meet their full potential.
see also Professional Education; Training and Development
Diane M. Clevesy
Mark J. Snyder
Lisa E. Gueldenzoph