Developing human capital ... Featured

11:09am EDT July 31, 2006
Factors such as strong profit margins and steady growth are sure indicators of a thriving business. However, one of the best measures of a company’s long-term potential is how it develops its most important asset — the human capital responsible for the company’s accomplishments.

Increasingly, businesses are relying on education as a tool to improve operations and impact the bottom line, says Elden Monday, state vice president for University of Phoenix’s three local campuses in Pennsylvania.

Smart Business spoke with Monday about how a growing number of companies are developing and encouraging success among employees through carefully planned continuing education programs that stimulate individual and organizational improvements.

What is driving the growing interest in continuing education among employers?
In today’s corporate environment, competition is rampant. Many businesses are taking their first steps to immerse themselves in an evolving global market. Organizations are strategizing to grab — and maintain — a foothold, and employing highly skilled staff is a critical piece of this process.

However, the financial resources necessary to hire workers at this level can be prohibitive. Developing existing capital through formal and informal training programs often can achieve the same results on a very different cost scale.

How does continuing education affect a company’s bottom line?
Building education opportunities for employees into business growth strategies is an investment that will pay off in many ways. At the most basic level, offering learning opportunities results in a more productive work force, and it improves employees’ ability to recognize and overcome challenges. It is no big secret that better educated workers deliver stronger outputs, and that this translates into good news for business.

Furthermore, managers who recognize the value of employee development programs and find a way to engage their work force will reap rewards such as enhanced loyalty and more motivated workers. Developing existing human capital also allows business leaders to cultivate their management teams from within and spend less time training employees.

Should managers consider specific types of educational programs?
While internal training always will be necessary, the merits of external training programs delivered by industry experts cannot be overstated. This is because internal programs tend to focus on company-specific issues and processes, while broader programs can open workers’ minds to explore new concepts and develop well-rounded insight into the business.

In some cases, partnering with a college or university to develop customized training programs relevant to the industry can be an adequate solution. For large companies where a significant number of employees have the same education needs, some learning institutions can make the process even easier by offering classes at company facilities during lunch hours or after work.

Or, for companies where a team of professionals with very specialized skills collaborate to make the business hum, a more individual approach may be necessary. In this instance, businesses can best benefit by aligning their workers with schools that understand the needs of working professionals. This will allow employees to develop desirable skills with minimal impact on productivity during business hours.

How does this growing emphasis on education affect employees?
For working professionals, going back to school for certification or to refresh skills is becoming quite common. The skills and credentials alone that allow workers to enter the corporate world are likely not enough to support significant upward growth. While experience and talent still count, in many industries middle- and upper-management positions are now reserved for professionals with advanced training.

Even for workers who do not aspire to climb the corporate ladder, ongoing education can play a vital role in their success. Not only can they enhance skills, but they also gain access to the latest trends and emerging business strategies their companies may not employ. In addition, the continuing education environment allows like-minded professionals to engage in collaborative peer-to-peer learning.

ELDEN MONDAY is the state vice president for the Pennsylvania campuses of University of Phoenix, a national leader in higher education for working adults, offering both campus-based and online programs. Reach Monday at elden.monday@phoenix.edu or (610) 989-0880, ext. 1131. Additional information also is available at www.phoenix.edu/philadelphia.