How universities and businesses can build a smarter workforce

The days of earning your college degree and finding a job requiring no further education are long gone. Members of today’s workforce understand that with few exceptions, they will need additional training throughout their career to continue working in their chosen field.

Companies that can provide this continuing education to employees at their place of business will have a significant edge over the competition when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent.

“The majority of companies out there still don’t know that a university can work with them to develop topics that will make their business more competitive,” says Dr. Ahmed Hambaba, associate dean of engagement and extended and graduate studies for Davidson College of Engineering at San José State University.

“The success of the company is tied to the success of the employee,” Hambaba says. “If the company is going to be competitive, the employees have to be competitive. To make that happen, you really have to have people with the knowledge of these skills and technologies.”

Smart Business spoke with Hambaba about the benefits of working with a university to keep employees on top of their game.

How do you build relationships with the business community?

I meet with a lot of executives and CEOs at trade shows, workshops and conferences throughout the Bay Area. I also invite industry reps to meet with the advisory boards of the college’s various departments — from mechanical engineering and aerospace to computer science.

There is also our Silicon Valley Leaders Symposium where I invite a speaker every semester. They come here and speak to our students or faculty and then we have lunch and that’s how we make connections. Once we do that, they’ll invite me to their corporate office and we can talk about how we can support them and develop a partnership together. Usually they have some kind of skill or knowledge gap and our goal is to fill that gap.

How do you identify areas where you can help these businesses?

The majority of companies that come to us still don’t know that a university can come along with them to develop topics that will enable their company to be more competitive.

We look at what elements are missing that would allow the company to be stronger in what they do. We meet and brainstorm ideas, define topics that are missing and talk about what a course might look like. Is this a course we already offer? Is there a course we can tweak or add more topics to? Should we develop a new course?

A steering committee is formed and we meet to talk about the elements of the program and what the learning outcome should be.

Who teaches courses offered in a corporate training program?

The goal is to find people who have expertise in a particular area. Sometimes corporate subject matter experts participate in teaching and developing courses with our faculty. Our professors will go to a corporate location and teach the program with subject matter experts. We work as a team.

It’s not only us delivering a program. They are working with us to develop a program that helps the company be more successful. If the company allows us, we can sometimes bring them back to campus and teach it to a wider audience. A lot of good elements can come out of this partnership.

How are the courses taught?

The focus is on cohort style learning where peers enroll in a degree program at the same time, take all of their classes in sequence and graduate together after finishing all of their coursework. Students taught in this manner learn from both professors and their peers.

Traditional classes are held at the student’s workplace, but there are also equivalent online options. Without ever having to set foot on campus, students also have access to an academic program coordinator for all coursework related needs, as well as a program specialist for all admission, application, graduation and other general advising needs.

Dr. Ahmed Hambaba is Associate Dean, Engagement, Extended and Graduate Studies, in the Davidson College of Engineering at San José State University. Reach him at (408) 924-3800 or [email protected].

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