It’s been about 60 years since the first Corporate University was opened by General Electric in 1956 in the United States. Since then it is estimated that the number has burgeoned to 4000 worldwide. 4000 institutes solely catering to the needs of about 4000 corporates that fund it.
So, what drives a company to set up a university?
While the term being thrown around is Corporate University, the corporates themselves shy away from it. Some prefer to call it a learning center or some, learning academy.
Infosys was one of the first to start, way back in 2002 with its Global Education Centre (GEC) in Mysore. It started with 50 trainees, one trainer and one classroom. Today it bears the mantle of being the world’s largest corporate learning centre.
The GEC may have started as the vision of its leaders, but it has been nurtured by almost everyone in the organization. Says Richard Lobo, SVP and Head-HR, Infosys, “At Infosys, we have laid great emphasis on continuous learning for the development of individuals and the company as a whole. As part of our endeavor to build and nurture intellectual capital for the future, we have focused and invested resources to develop our workforce through corporate training initiatives facilitated at the corporate learning center.”
The GEC caters to the learning needs of new (fresh graduates) and existing employees. “Employees across the globe go through technology, functional, behavioral, sales and leadership trainings across offices through classroom sessions and online platforms,” explains Richard.
One of the newer entrants to this “University” group is the Mindtree global learning center called the Mindtree Kalinga at Bhubaneshwar. The first batch at Mindtree Kalinga began in 2015 and since then 1000 graduates have gone through their 90-day learning program.
Says Parthasarthy NS, President, COO, Mindtree, “Graduates fresh out of college come and spend 90 days at Kalinga, the centre is also used for lateral training for (existing) people who require re-skilling but the primary focus is actually campus training.”
Some set up actual physical entities while some go the digital way. Notwithstanding the challenges of getting the requisite sanctions in case of physical entities, setting up a committed team, investing a substantial amount, corporates seem to be committed to skilling fresh graduates and existing employees.
Through a series of questions, we explore the whys, whats and hows of setting up a Corporate University.
For Mindtree, it was a decision to define a particular culture in the organization. A culture of learning, solutioning and team work.
Parthasarthy says they started the MindTree Kalinga Global Learning Centre with two objectives.
- Objective 1: The gap between what the universities are producing today and what the industry needs, that gap is widening every year, we can blame everybody else but at the end of the day it’s hurting us so that’s part of the reason why we created the campus learning program in our Global Learning Centre.
- Objective 2: We believe the changing dynamics of the industry requires many experienced people to be reskilled in newer areas.
Mindtree strongly believes that learning of the future can’t be achieved through traditional classroom learning. “Especially because people have to do different things together as a group. It is not about individual brilliance, but it’s what we can do together,” Partha adds.
For some, the decision is driven by logistics. Shantanu Bhattacharya, Director at Philips University says, “Because of the sheer geographical spread of the company, learning was very ‘federalist’ and each business group and location was spending money on creation and purchase of learning, leading to replication, inconsistency and inefficiency in standards, cost control and effectiveness.
“It was also very difficult to track how much learning was being developed and, more importantly, being consumed by Philips worldwide because of a plethora of LMSs (Learning Management Systems) being used. The University structure was designed to coalesce all these activities together aligned to common learning philosophy and technical platform.”
Who Should Set Up A University?
Should the decision be driven by the size of the organization or should it be purely a business decision?
Data and observation prove that smaller companies clearly will not have a corporate university. But should that stop them? Partha feels, “The question is how important you believe the learning centre should be… You may not go and set it up in acres of land, it’s not a question of physically creating something. It is a question of whether leadership believes that it is important.”
What Should You Check for When Setting It Up?
Shantanu explains, “Spend a lot of time planning on how the end structure would look like, use consultants if necessary, do not have any preconceived biases on what kind of learning you want to create. A brick and mortar university works for some, while a virtual one works for others, and sometimes it is a blend. Philips has consciously decided to go virtual, and personally I tend to believe that’s the way to go, but whatever works for your industry. Crotonville works great for GE still.”
Richard provides a wholesome list based on Infosys’ tremendous experience in this field.
Here’s the list he shared on what any excellent corporate learning initiative should focus on:
- Objectives cleared laid out by the organization
- Development of business relevant curriculum and course content
- Recruitment of highly competent educators having both academic and industry experience
- Processes to ensure predictability, uniformity and consistency in training and assessment across training batches
- Sustainability of training mechanisms to address scale and quality of training
Excellent physical infrastructure and outstanding technical infrastructure - the physical infrastructure includes world class residential and relaxation facilities. The technical infrastructure includes state-of-the-art classrooms, multi-media facilities, digital library, highly scalable hardware and software infrastructure. Mindtree used the expertise of some of its leaders who are also experts from the knowledge industry. Mindtree Kalinga was based on intensive discussions with Pankaj Chandra, previous director of IIT Bangalore and now on the board of Mindtree, someone from the industry and the directorf XIMB, Bhubaneshwar.
What Comes in Next?
This is where the universities clearly become who they are. The leadership and teams define what and how they want to be.
Mindtree decided their difference would be in the pedagogy. Partha explains, “We use the word learning and not training because there are no classrooms, our learning model is different, it’s a group learning model. The participants are physically located there, but faculty could be anywhere in the world. For example, for training our people on Sales Force, our expert, sitting as part of my team in Minneapolis in the US, will be the faculty.”
Mindtree has broken down the learning modules to a capability. Learners have to demonstrate that capability.
Because of its sheer size, Infosys is all about the infrastructure. The Infosys Global Education Center (GEC) at Mysore has a built-in area of over one million sq. ft. It has a hundred and ten 100-seater online classrooms, eleven 200-seater online classrooms, sixteen 60-seater classrooms, eighteen 40-seater classrooms and thirty eight conference and meeting rooms. The GEC can cater to a peak training need of 13,500 trainees.
What about the Cost and the End Results?
The total investment in the Mysore center is Rs 2,055 crore, of which Rs 350 crore has been invested in the construction of Software Development Blocks and related services, and Rs 1,705 crore has been invested in education and training-related infrastructure.
Mindtree Kalinga was built at a cost of Rs 120 crores. And Partha feels that the cost justifies the end. He explains, “We believe that the biggest challenge that Mindtree will face or that anybody will face is going to be availability of quality talent and since the talent is not being produced by the university, we’ll have to figure out how to produce it ourselves, it’s in our belief that it is going to be a big differentiator for us in the years to come.”
The virtual university at Philips had a “substantial investment”, agrees Shantanu. “(It is) worth, because for a global company like Philips it is imperative that there be central oversight of spends on learning worldwide to prevent wastage and redundancy. In the short couple of years since inception, there has already been a substantial reduction in overall learning costs, with up to 60% savings in learning development costs alone.”
What About 5 Years from Now?
Says someone who’s been in the learning industry for more than 20 years, “If the rate of change in the last 50 years, we’ll witness that in the next 5 years. So, this means organizations and people need to adapt to change that fast too.” The biggest change, he says, is that the responsibility of performance will shift from the organization to the individual and their business leaders. From a learning perspective, he foresees that increasingly curricula will get granular and people will have to skill themselves to ensure that the business results are met.
Modern learners will have to source their knowledge from internal sources or external repositories or sites, with a specific focus on career development.