Corporate Universities are not training Centres

Abstract of the book of Annick Renaud-Coulon
Corporate Universities: a lever of Corporate Responsibility, GlobalCCU Publisher - 2008

We must remove the ambiguity. Corporate universities are not training centres. The fact that corporate universities coexist with training centres in companies proves this point. And there are large groups that are organised in this way, because they have understood the difference between the two bodies. This distinction becomes evident when one examines the characteristics of a training centre.

The organisational affiliation of a training centre has no major political and strategic dimension

Dependent on the HR department, a training centre is never a place of power, nor one of opposition. There are no major risks for the company because, at best, one works on case studies, but never on the real challenges facing the company, choosing instead to focus on routine issues. The objectives remain focused on the students and not on their professional situations, something that the parties involved have no chance of changing, except through advancing little by little. The ‘trainees’ or ‘students’ are responsible for putting this teaching into practice, appropriating the laws from the exercises and usually without help, with the exception of coaching, which has—and not without reason—witnessed enormous growth.

Being familiar with the world of training for many years, I know how many unhappy training managers roll their boulder like Sisyphus, with consistency, dedication, and the hope that top management will finally listen to them. But they suffer from a lack of consistency between rhetoric and practice. This is a professional vocation with multiple learning areas, but it is also has a social aspect. Everyone knows that time spent in training is useful to institutions who want to keep their staff busy during slow production phases or a career crunch. In short, even if it does no apparent good, it certainly can't do any harm!

Its functional role distances it from operational realities

Training departments are organised like an organ pipe in the vertical tube of the HR department. They have a separate function from other departments, with their own funding, procedures, purchasing practices, operations and so on. The product offering, whether available by printed catalogue or computer, consists of seminars, cycles, conferences for future years, and better management by hiring trainers and other subcontractors, keeping attendance records, filling out evaluation questionnaires, and giving orders for payment. It's a small, ordinary bureaucracy, paced in annual cycles which are out of sync with the company's unpredictable and constantly changing economic, technological, and human environments. It is clear that training centres and even their finest leaders are obliged to act in a way that is removed from operational realities, even when they manage to identify actors' needs; which certainly isn't the case everywhere. Their position in the organisation gives them little room to manoeuvre and confines them to a supporting role. While this has its advantages, it certainly does not give education the strategic importance it deserves. That is particularly problematic when we think of the amount of money swallowed up by this function.

Its approach focuses on individuals rather than teams

This is a logical consequence of training centres’ lack of power. Their target is people, which is commendable though apart from relying on charismatic training directors, they have little opportunity to act collectively on genuinely transformational projects. It is not that they are incapable; rather their operating leverage does not contain the necessary elements, such as the production process, management tools, or customer–supplier relationships, and consequently lacks the legitimacy to act. At best, training centres can help people advance on their own paths, provide the means to learn new skills and maintain their employability. So they do have their uses.

Globalization as an exception

Training centres are connected to an otherwise closed world—the corporate one—and rare are those proposing activities outside their own walls, such as bringing in speakers from other countries and studying foreign cases. This feature is entirely consistent with the nature of training services, focusing as they do on the individual and not on teams. They offer seminars with ready-to-use themes in management, leadership, computer skills, office administration, management control, multiculturalism and so on. And if they study the characteristics and impacts of globalisation it is in theory, not in practice. On occasion they offer international MBAs to a few select directors, yet the costs are so high that the number of such students is low.

These words are by no means a plea for the closure of company training centres; on the contrary. It is important that they continue developing to perfect individual learning, to prepare for changes of management by providing the knowledge, competencies and know-how necessary for career management, and that they exercise this responsibility with care. But a corporate university possesses other features that give it a much wider potential. It is a space for applied education and applied strategies, where priority is given to teams so that they can understand their company's dimensions—whether current or future, near or far, familiar or unfamiliar—and take new paths that depart from the beaten track and become true political instruments.

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  • 10 August 2018
    E-learn.magazine (USA) published an in depth interview with Annick Renaud-Coulon. She shares her views on how Corporate Universities can successfully fulfill their role in the digital age. There’s a huge future ahead for corporate education.   More >

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