Effort teams HCC, firms

Community college offers consulting services for area corporations

Benefits `beyond training'

Program could give boost to continuing education division

July 29, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Howard Community College is finding ways to spread its educational programs nationwide and offer more to the companies that use it for training.

The Strategic Learning Partnership at the school targets the area's larger corporations, and offers them more than courses. It has potential to transform the college into a consultant, an extra arm of the human resources department, a local meeting place and a nationwide network of information and education.

"It's the next level beyond the instructional function," said Patricia M. Keeton, executive director of work force development at the Charles Ecker Business Training Center.

As part of the program, which is directed at county businesses with more than 100 employees, the college helps hold conferences, define and create educational curricula for corporate employees, track employees' educational progress and direct corporate work force training at distant locations. Consultations with clients are free, in an effort to encourage the companies to enroll in the college's training programs.

The college has worked with one company as a partner, and is expected to begin programs for a second within a month.

"We are growing ourselves more into the consultant, not only understanding the training need but where it fits in the business process," Keeton said. "What Howard Community College is trying to do is take a leadership role in showing the businesses in our county that there are many benefits we can provide beyond training in their local classroom environment. Those solutions extend to helping figure out how to retain employees, how to increase their own competitiveness, identifying funding sources that can offset costs, and enhancing their own facilities."

The college could be offering its services at the right time.

According to the American Society for Training & Development, despite the recession, companies are spending more on corporate training. Estimates show a 10 percent jump in training expenditures between 2000 and last year, its report said, and most companies expect growth to continue this year.

That would be a boost to the college's continuing education division, which generates about $4.5 million annually. Keeton estimated that the Strategic Learning Partnership generated about $25,000 last fiscal year, and she projects that sum will double this year as efforts to expand the program continue. She said the college would like to add three to five new partners a year. Consulting services are free to encourage employers to enroll their workers in college classes.

Part of the program's purpose is to broaden the understanding of what the college can do. Keeton said companies used the college for basic training, but not if they wanted to train in offices across the country. Companies knew they could expect the college to customize a class for their employees, but not help them play host to a conference.

"It's so amazing to me no matter how many times I go out, when a company says, `Oh, I didn't know you did that,'" Keeton said. "It's our job to help them understand that."

Last year, the continuing education division developed a list of the largest companies in the county - businesses with 100 employees or more - gathered information about them and targeted their business needs. As the college seeks partners, officials there network with the company's chief executive officers, take their executive staff to luncheons, and introduce them to the college president, in an effort to learn about their business and what the college can do for them.

Although about 25 percent of the businesses had contracted with the college for services in the past two years, most often it was for a single course or consultation.

Honeywell signs on

Honeywell Technology Solutions Inc. was the first to join the program. The company began its partnership with a customized course for managers designed to help them systematize their contract process. But the partnership has grown into an online training program for hundreds of Honeywell employees nationwide.

The program has been well-received. Online education services skyrocket from 25 users a month to 250 users, and the courses have struck a chord with Honeywell employees, said Kathryn Althage, manager of employee communications.

"People are saying one reason they like HTSI is because of the learning," she said. "It used to be management or benefits. We've never seen education as the reason why they like HTSI."

The company has used college facilities for an annual awards ceremony, and plans to continue the partnership by starting more courses to local employees in the fall.

`Total learning solution'

"They have committed to us. If you have a learning need, come to us first and we'll explore what we can do for you," said Rose Boehm, acting director of human resources. "Their attitude is they want to be our total learning solution provider."

That is what the college wants to see.

"These are our largest employers. We want to be able to work with them because they have the most needs, the most employees, and the most diverse issues," Keeton said. "Our bottom line is to provide the best work-force solutions so our local, regional and national economy is good for the larger world. We've got a broader touch."

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