The first campuses were born in the United States and originally dedicated to top-tier managers. However they have now not only become widespread, but also been opened up to employees across the board.
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What is a corporate university?
"A corporate university is an organization within a company that is dedicated to training. It can take on various roles depending on the structure and needs of a group." explains Gaël Fouillard, the Dean of Grenoble Ecole de Management Executive Education.
Employee training - an opportunity to learn new skills
Many corporate universities are focused on developing their employees' skills. "A company defines a reference guide for each skill set and then provides training that is adapted to ensure its employees can develop according to their needs." highlights Gaël Fouillard. In such cases, corporate universities are often linked to human resources.
Developing company strategy through training
Other corporate universities are charged with the mission of reinforcing company culture and identity. This is particularly the case for groups who are organized into many branches. A strategy oriented corporate university helps companies develop a shared culture even when their branches may be scattered around the world. Such corporate universities also find their calling when companies undergo organizational or strategic changes as they offer an excellent means of communicating with employees. Thus these universities can even help speed up changes implemented by a company's leadership.
Expanding to offer company-wide training
The first corporate university was born in the United States in 1919 when General Motors bought a training school for automotive workers. From there, the concept developed and spread throughout the world. "The first inspiration was to follow the traditional university model with real campuses, a team of trainers and sometimes a bit of an elitist streak." adds Gaël Fouillard. Nowadays corporate universities have often replaced company training departments and offer training to employees at all levels.
Moving toward certified training programs
More and more universities are setting up agreements with traditional universities or business schools in order to offer certified programs. The Safran University, for example, was created three years ago in collaboration with Grenoble Ecole de Management. The university offers both an opportunity to share the company's identity beyond each individual branch as well as implementing training programs according to field. "We developed these programs to meet specific needs. The first program is oriented towards purchasing and participants have the option to continue with a professional thesis to obtain an Advanced Masters in Purchasing Management", explains Gaël Fouillard.
Expanding the possibilities of corporate universities
With an estimated 4,000 corporate universities around the world, and 70 in France alone, the possibilities continue to grow. Some companies have chosen to open their university doors to clients and external partners, thus creating an additional source of revenue. Others, such as Veolia, have banked on developing 20 locations for their campuses around the world. In contrast, some have gone in the opposite direction and developed purely digital universities. As the possibilities continue to expand, companies can pick and chose the right solution to meet their needs.