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NEXT: The New Corporate University

David Staley David Staley NEXT: The New Corporate UniversityPhoto via Flickr.
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The Economist reports that “American companies spent $91 billion on staff training last year, almost a third as much again as they did in 2016…This shift is highly encouraging. In broad terms, provision of on-the-job training has been shrinking.”

Perhaps one reason companies shirk on training is because they expect new hires to arrive with skills and experiences already in place. That puts pressure on colleges and universities to train would-be employees. What that means in practice is that it is college students themselves who are responsible for their own training; in effect, they must foot the bill for the human capital development that will benefit the companies that hire them. For the most part, many companies are content to outsource training to colleges and universities.

There was also a time when companies had robust Research and Development units. For some companies, this R&D was not simply about developing new products; some, like IBM, were engaging in original, pure research, on par with top research universities.

For example, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot developed the principles of fractal geometry while a researcher at IBM. Google has given their employees free time during the work week to work on their own projects, whether or not they produce commercializable products. This style of corporate R&D becomes a source of cutting edge research and new ideas.

Employee training and cutting edge research: these are enterprises that corporations today generally shy away from. In the future, we could see a revival of both training and research within corporations, an enterprise that starts to look like what happens at research universities like Ohio State.

I am envisioning a new corporate university. It will engage in training of its employees, but such training would include skills that we would associate with a college degree, such as communications skills, cross-cultural competency, and critical thinking.

In this scenario, young people start off with a company as apprentices. After a prescribed period, they join as a full-working member of the firm. Training at “Honda University” or “JP Morgan Chase University” is a substitute for going to a traditional college or university.

Further, at the new corporate university, the kinds of research that we associate with research universities is carried out here. Not only are researchers looking to develop new products, they also engage in pure research that seeks to expand knowledge, even if such knowledge is not commercializable.

The new corporate universities seek talent from traditional institutions of higher education, and raid universities for faculty. These faculty come not only from technical fields; the new corporate universities also seek out faculty talent in the arts and humanities and other fields that explore imagination, creativity and innovation. Like traditional universities, the new corporate university is a talent incubator. The vice president for training and research is indistinguishable from the provost at a research university.

There are corporate universities in existence today, of course, which are usually management training initiatives. A famous one is Hamburger U, the management training wing of McDonald’s.

A few years ago, Hamburger U teamed with Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK to offer a degree (the equivalent of an associate’s degree) from Hamburger U. Even if you were not interested in working for the fast food giant, a certification from McDonald’s has the potential to be quite valuable in the marketplace.

Imagine if Hamburger U functioned like an actual university. Training in the new corporate university would not only focus on the technical specifics of the company and the industry, but would expand to include the kinds of courses, skills and knowledge we associate with colleges today.

I am imagining a new unit with a company, its corporate university. It will look much like a research university like Ohio State in that it will engage its employees in continuous learning and at the same time produce cutting edge research, the kind that not only leads to patents but also to peer-reviewed publications. Indeed, the researchers at the new corporate university rival their counterparts at traditional research universities.

David Staley is Director of the Humanities Institute and a professor at The Ohio State University. He is president of Columbus Futurists and host of CreativeMornings Columbus.

The next CreativeMornings Columbus will be Friday, Nov. 16 at 8:30 a.m. at Capital University. Elvis Saldias Villarroel will speak on the theme “Restart.”

The next Columbus Futurists salon will be Thursday, Nov. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Panera Bread community room (875 Bethel Rd.) We will play the scenario-generating game “The Thing from the Future.”

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