Corporate university Featured

12:26pm EDT May 26, 2004
PolyOne has made a commitment to its work force to provide the skills it needs to stay competitive. Achieving that goal means providing training from a variety of sources to meet a diverse set of needs.

"We started PolyOne Academy, which is our corporate university, over a year ago to provide skill-based training to employees in key competencies so they can be effective in their jobs," says Jeff Hudson, organizational development program manager for the Avon Lake-based company. "These are things like managing multiple priorities, leadership skills, business writing skills, project management and financial management."

Local resources have been key in helping PolyOne meet its training needs.

"As we were building the academy and looking for ways to offer training opportunities to our employees, one of the partners we chose was Lorain County Community College. They help us provide low-cost, effective training solutions for our people. They bring in courses on topics we are looking to cover."

Hudson says most of the training is done at PolyOne's facility. The course offerings at LCCC cover most of what Hudson is looking for, but he says that a bit of customization helps meet specific needs.

"For example, if we're doing a business writing course, they can make it match what the specific needs of the employees are," says Hudson.

The process of setting up a course for PolyOne is easy.

"It's just a matter of determining what my need is, which programs might best fit that need and then getting a date on the calendar," says Hudson. "I just tell them specifically what I'm looking for, then they go through their catalog of programs and come back with a few options, outlining what they've done in the past and what they could do for us.

"The more challenging part is marketing the programs to people internally."

Hudson says marketing training programs to employees can be difficult, particularly if the commitment to training is new.

"You have to spend a lot of time getting the word out to employees," says Hudson. "In today's economy, where everyone is doing more with less and jobs are so busy, it's not an employee's first thought to take time out and attend a training session. You have to market it and have a clear value proposition of why it's important to take a day or half day to build a skill that will help them be more effective on the job."

All training done by PolyOne is optional for the employees and is on company time, which sometimes requires scheduling extra sessions so, for example, everyone in customer service won't be in a class at the same time.

Hudson has found that mixing training from a general source, such as a community college, with specialized trainers who focus on one specific skill, has provided employees with a great mix of opportunities, but it presents challenges as well.

"The challenge for me is that the specialty training is expensive," says Hudson. "You kind of have to balance the cost of the training with the effectiveness. How important is it that I offer something that is an industry best practice and pay for it, vs. using a community college that does a good job at a little bit of everything and costs a whole lot less? I struggle with that a lot. I'm happy with the community college, and the courses are effective.

"You have to pick the things that are important, where you have to have the best skills and be willing to pay money for it, and balance that against what you can afford but not get the same expertise level." How to reach: PolyOne, (440) 930-1000


Poly's pointers

PolyOne created PolyOne Academy to make sure its employees have opportunities to receive training to make them more effective. Here are some things the company learned along the way.

* Teach the business. One class the company offered that received rave reviews was its Polymers 101 course done by the Akron Polymers Training Center.

"Some of the people we hire don't have a polymers background," says Jeff Hudson, organizational development program manager for the company. "It might be customer service reps who are dealing with customers' issues need background on polymers and how they work. We have some of our top people in the class from every different discipline who have been able to attend and gain some valuable information. It really equips people with the knowledge of the product and how we make it."

* Find the money. One advantage PolyOne found when working with a community college was the knowledge it brought regarding grants to help pay for training.

"They were invaluable in helping me finding grants and funding through the state that has really helped with the cost of training," says Hudson. "It allows me to do more with limited resources. If we didn't have the grants, the volume of the different training courses would be a lot more limited."

* Surf for knowledge. When only one or two people are interested in a specific training area and it wouldn't make sense to create a special class, look to the Internet for help. Hudson uses www.seminarclearinghouse.com to find information about seminars in all of PolyOne's locations. The site helps him match employee needs with local opportunities with minimal effort.

* Buy in bulk. PolyOne works with Case Western Reserve University to buy X number of seats for its corporate development programming. "Case programs are targeted and upper management and they are exceptional," says Hudson. "It is a great opportunity for us to send people there to work with one of the top-rated business programs and the wonderful thing is it is located right here in our backyard."

* Training and education matters. Employees see training programs as proof the company is committed to them. "We get comments like, 'Wow, it's great that PolyOne is investing in its employees, because other companies don't do that,'" says Hudson. "We definitely see a lot of positive feedback."