Celia Brown asked Jenny Dearborn a great question last week: “What role should companies play in higher education?”

/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/edu_360247.jpgThis begs a prelude discussion: “What role(s) do companies currently play in higher education?”

I see two genres of involvement that companies have in higher education: Passive & Strategic.

Passive: If higher education opportunities are built according to industry demands then most companies are continually playing a nondescript passive role in higher education to the extent that they influence an industry.  This is merely scratching the surface of what I’d call a value-adding opportunity.

Strategic: What does a corporate ‘Higher Education Strategy’ look like? Officially, I haven’t seen one. But I have seen a few companies taking what appear to be strategically active roles in the way students experience higher education.

As Jenny Dearborn notably responded to Celia Brown’s question last Friday, “Companies can provide a lot of insights around the skills new hires need before they get to the workplace.”

Incoming graduate skill sets may be good, but why stop at good? I look around and see companies with opportunities to broaden and enhance their hiring pool while bringing new knowledge to existing employees in the process.

Take for instance:

These types of activities focus on closing the interactive gap between students and companies by giving students opportunities to plant and flex their budding minds in industry. Ideally, students and industry should be experiencing such co-educational co-innovating transformation while they still have time to reflect and improve on their learning (before graduation). These activities expand a student’s capacities to envision not just how but where they can apply their skills and learning. Companies should in turn use these opportunities to transform their own capabilities to inspire and attract new talent.

If your company can create this experience then you’ve done something cool and visible for students on the higher education stage. That type of branding may be a powerful investment.

Apart from accelerating co-innovation you’ve also just made it easier to train new employees. But the value-adding comes not just in recruiting new talent. Existing employees benefit from interacting more with students in higher education.

Regarding how a company might stay-up-to-date, Jenny Dearborn suggested something profound “Let youngins teach classes”. That is, let your new talent have space to accelerate your companies’ continuous employee learning.

I would extend this idea further. Let non-employee students have the chance to teach you.

Perhaps your company wants to improve a process of keeping your employees up-to-date. Why not combine a company learning process with a Higher Education collaboration initiative? Or you might try aligning an internal training subject with a similar subject with students in a university. Perhaps you want to develop some E-learning for your in-house training. Why not produce a MOOC using the skills of students?

Whatever your company does chances are you won’t have to look far to find two things:

  1. A relevant higher education discipline that is either directly-related or complementary to your processes.
  2. Eager students

Those students are more than likely to be knocking on either your door or your competitor’s sooner than later. And they’ll be doing it in big numbers. I like how Jenny Dearborn summed it up recently: “Millennials represent the largest generation to date. They will soon define and become the corporate culture due to their dominance in numbers.”

So what is your corporate strategy in the goldmine of higher education? Why not co-shape your corporate culture and those up-and-coming millennials in higher education at the same time.

As a student I have a strategy and I see it reflected in students around me. We want to find ways to see you work, and work with you if possible. If we can see you experts at work, we can contribute better.  Put a space in your project team for students. Put a space in your workplaces where students can be found, and where students can be. Build an interface of any kind with students.

I’m asserting that corporate effort here will make working together more effective and enjoyable for both of us when we are actually co-workers.

Higher education influences your company and your company influences higher education.  How you use higher education to your advantage can affect not only your bottom line, but the quality of your working culture.

Please post a reference or comment if you know of other discussions on corporate higher education strategies.

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