Company-Customized Continuing Education
The University of Alabama’s new Bama At Work program tailors teaching to individual company needs. Allstate was one of the first clients, outfitted with leadership training for its Southeastern sales force.
Brenda Truelove (leading class) helps businesses and industries find the right expertise among University of Alabama faculty, to provide customized training.
A well-trained work force is essential in today’s competitive business environment. But it’s always a challenge to find the best training at the right cost and in a convenient location.
That’s where The University of Alabama’s College of Continuing Studies (CCS) steps in to help with Bama At Work. The program designs professional development training programs, customized for individual companies in the private sector.
“A lot of what we’re doing right now is creating academic partnerships with larger companies,” says Bill Elrod, CCS director. “About 30 percent of our overall workforce will be going away in the next four to five years with all of us baby boomers set to retire. Companies have to figure out how to build up that bench strength.”
Many companies, Elrod says, encourage employees to get degrees or certifications that will enhance their knowledge and skills.
“It’s not easy for a person who is working and raising children to go to school at night or even work on a certificate program,” he says. “They can’t quit their job, so pursuing it through an online program is the way to do it.”
The CCS helps individuals and companies improve education and skillset levels. Bama At Work is one of four divisions of the CCS, including:
- Bama by Distance, more than 40 online bachelor and master degree programs
- UA SafeState, an environmental consultation program offering free and low-cost programs to promote environmental compliance and healthy industrial, commercial, residential and school environments
- Bryant Conference Center, which handles company and trade conferences
“Our approach to serving companies begins with an assessment of their requirements by one of our corps of experts,” says Leroy Hurt, associate dean of the CCS in charge of the Professional Development and Conference Services Division.
“For example, we have assessment tools for business continuity and talent development from which we can develop recommendations for solutions specific to the clients.”
“We’re really still in the embryonic stages of the Bama at Work program,” says Brenda Truelove, a program manager. She helps companies by finding the expertise to meet the specific training needs of their workplace from the university’s faculty and subject matter experts.
“And we do the training at the time and location that works best for the company,” she says.
Elrod says a company may come to CCS with a specific need.
“Or they may think they have an issue and want us to evaluate to see what may be the issue if there is one,” Truelove says. “It may be something in which they need strategic planning or they just need some more information on updating or innovation in the workplace. It just depends on the company.”
Among the first contracts the school landed in the private sector was with Allstate Financial Services, Elrod says. “We partnered with Allstate’s Southeast Regional headquarters in Atlanta and we started training their field sales leaders.”
CCS created a multi-phase High Performance Leadership development program to address specific company needs and desires to enhance management skills.
The program, which was administered on site, is based on four essential elements to facilitate better managers: communication, influence, decision-making and accountability.
Elrod says the training helps participants discover their current level of leadership understanding, establish individual leadership goals and develop individual personal plans and actions for achieving those goals.
As the relationship has grown, he says, the CCS team has developed other programs to meet Allstate’s needs, including preparation and coaching sessions for new agent candidates for the insurance licensure exam.
“We now have a dedicated academic counselor for Allstate,” Elrod says. “And we’re a part of their intranet, with a landing page created for UA and Allstate.”
Hurt says Allstate is an example of why it all starts with an assessment of the organization. “As with other organizations, the firm has requirements based on its sector, mission and structure that make an assessment an important part of bringing the university’s resources to bear,” Hurt says.
Truelove says it’s a proven method. “We go in with the attitude that we don’t know what we don’t know until we get there and figure it out. We try to be thoughtful and cerebral in our needs assessment.”
The university is a big place, she says. “Most people have no idea where to start and they just need someone to connect the dots for them and that’s what we do. I’m a connector. I’m an educator and collaborator. I find out what the need or pain is, or really, what keeps them up at night. From there, most just need a starting place as a foundation, a roadmap of what to do first.”
Hurt says the program is always designed to fit the needs of the client. “We sent HR instructors to China to train senior HR managers in multinational companies on becoming business partners within their firms,” he says. “That’s an important kind of relationship HR professionals try to develop within their organizations and helps the HR function focus on the business needs of the different groups within the organization.”
Truelove cites the example of a manufacturer that came to CCS needing updated training in calibration. “They had been trying to find something to meet their needs for training, but finally gave up and came to us,” she says. “It took me probably two months to find the right person. I had to vet them and make sure they had the right credentials.”
In this instance, when she found the right instructor, Truelove asked the client if they had considered partnering with other companies for the training. The company hadn’t considered it but was open to it. Truelove reached out to other manufacturers to reduce the cost. Three participated, and each company had its own objectives for the training.
“They got to share with each other in a collegial way. One got confirmation they were doing the right thing. Another learned what they needed to do to get to the next level. And one determined they needed new equipment,” she says. “They all got what they needed out of it and had some great takeaways.”
Needs assessment, customer training and setting up plans to get companies where they need to go is the overall objective of CCS, Elrod says. “We create webinars, we can do Six Sigma training or help a company get its employees degreed training if that’s what’s needed. We’re just here to help with non-traditional training and studies.”
Hurt says he thinks the program will grow quickly when companies begin to understand how they can benefit from the resources of the university. “We helped the university’s Management Information Systems (MIS) program land a project with a consulting firm that has led to additional projects for the MIS students and faculty,” Hurt says.
The reality is, Truelove says, that getting a job is just the first step in what can be a lifelong learning experience. “Once you get beyond the walls of a diploma and get into a job, people start to realize, ‘Hey, I’ve been out of school a while and I need to get back and update my skills or get a new certification.’ We’re extending ourselves through the Bama at Work program.”
Wendy Reeves and Art Meripol are freelancers for Business Alabama. She is based in Huntsville and he in Birmingham.