Building your work force

Continuing education programs are
important providers of the training
workers need, and businesses that offer continuing education to their employees find
the return on their investment is high.

“Learning never stops,” says Dr. Patricia A.
Book, vice president for regional development at Kent State University. “It is lifelong,
and it has benefits that go beyond increased
employee retention and productivity.”

Smart Business spoke to Book about the
benefits of continuing education and the programs available from area schools.

Who benefits from continuing education?

Nontraditional students were the exception, but now they’re the norm in American
higher education. Continuing education has
generally been thought of as serving nontraditional students, or adult learners, many of
whom are already in the workplace. In some
cases, these students already have a degree
and are looking to stay current with continuing professional education in fields such as
nursing, accounting and law. In many cases,
it’s because there’s been a change in policy or
requirements in their fields. Another candidate would be an adult who has some college
courses, but he or she didn’t have a chance to
finish because of work, military or family
requirements. These students seek additional coursework so they can attain an associate
or bachelor’s degree. Adults age 24 and older
now represent 43 percent of all undergraduates. Also, today, a majority of the graduate
and first-professional students are enrolled at
the master’s level and attending part time.

What are the benefits?

There’s long been a correlation between
improved job performance, increased earnings and increased educational levels. Higher
employee retention is also a byproduct of
continuing education. When employers can
provide career development, employees feel
more loyal, leading to higher retention rates.
But, beyond the corporate and personal benefits, continuing education has societal benefits. We see that students are more engaged
with their communities in a variety of ways,
such as higher voting levels and greater participation in volunteer activities.

What programs are available?

There are many different types of continuing education. First, there are programs for
professionals in fields with continuing education requirements, like attorneys, social
workers and teachers. Another popular
option is executives pursuing executive master’s of business administration degrees.
Another option is customized programming.
Colleges and universities work with employers to identify their work force needs within
the company. Programs are then customized
to meet the company’s needs and are incorporated into the work cycle. This could focus
on senior-level management, supervisors or
line workers. Because many adult learners
have full-time jobs, classes can be scheduled
for evenings and weekends to make them
more accessible. These classes are often
designed to help workers position themselves for advancement within their organizations. Finally, companies can help continuing education providers design courses that
are pertinent to their employees’ interests.

What are stumbling blocks to engaging a corporation in educating its employees?

Competitive pressures here are so great
that companies don’t feel they have the
immediate financial wherewithal or time to
devote to employee training. They’re in survival mode, just trying to keep their costs
down — and training and educational dollars
seem to be easy to cut. In Ohio, the state created the Enterprise Ohio Network to supply
targeted industry training dollars that education providers can use to support training.
Not a lot of money is available, but it opens
the door for companies that want to participate in continuing education.

What learning options are available beyond
standard in-class sessions?

Continuing education is much more accessible in a variety of formats than it ever was,
which is wonderful because the demand is
incredible. We just began a new venture
called Kent State On Demand, in partnership
with Time Warner Cable. It offers continuing
education credits for attorneys, social workers and counselors via cable television, from
the comfort of their homes, whenever it’s
convenient. Because massive amounts of
data can be stored in computers, it is sometimes difficult to turn all that data into information that management can use for decision-making. As a result, businesses are now
in the market for knowledge managers and
business intelligence experts, so online
degrees are becoming more common in this
specialty area. Finally, companies can seek
open-enrollment programs where they can
send managers to a series of classes on a particular topic of interest, like Lean Six Sigma.

What about educating minority businesses?

One of the issues that’s important to
Northeast Ohio is that our minority community is lagging behind in educational opportunities. Engaging these groups in higher education has become a high priority. For example, we’re interested in working with smaller
African-American- or Hispanic-owned companies to help them accelerate their growth.
Institutions of higher learning are making a
special effort to advance economic inclusion
in Northeast Ohio because we can’t leave
that segment of the population behind and
progress as a region.

DR. PATRICIA A. BOOK is vice president for regional development at Kent State University. Reach her at (330) 672-8540 or
[email protected].