By Margery Weinstein
Coming up with the latest and greatest learning curriculum for employees year after year can be overwhelming—especially if you work for a small or mid-size company with minimal resources. Fortunately, there is a burgeoning trend that three-time No. 1 Top 125er PwC is helping to “open” up. In creating PwC Open University, the professional services firm has opened up its vault of training materials, including 150 courses, a growing number of which are CPE accredited.
The courseware includes material on asset management, banking and capital markets, health industries, IFRS, industrial products, retail and consumer, risk and compliance, tax services, and technology. The curriculum is organized by topic and delivered via Webcast, podcast, or e-learning platform. The firm intends to continue building the library of courses available through PwC Open University, which can be accessed at http://www.pwc.com/.
Tom Evans, PwC partner and chief learning officer, gave Trainingan overview of how the firm’s open university works, and why PwC decided to do it. “PwC Open University exemplifies our firm’s commitment to use world-class talent and knowledge to solve today’s complex business issues,” says Evans. “Our goal is to create a learning experience that is unique, powerful, and available to everyone. In today’s knowledge-based economy, education is essential to drive innovation and value creation, and to open the door of opportunity for highly skilled jobs.”
Helping Generation Next
The firm hopes that by opening up its training expertise and resources to the public it can contribute to a heartier future workforce. You might say it’s PwC’s way of helping to professionally bring up the next generation of learners. “By providing valuable knowledge through a freely accessible, online platform, PwC extends educational opportunities to youth, future leaders, and the growing population of quality professionals,” Evans explains. “Armed with this knowledge, these individuals are better suited to improve the business world—an advantage to the organization and business community at large.”
The creation of an open university at this point in time also gives PwC the opportunity to be on the cutting edge in the field of learning and development. “By being one of the first professional services firms to launch an open-access resource, our clients, future employees, alumni, and the business community are able to leverage the intellectual strength of PwC,” says Evans.
Taking the lead on open universities enables the firm to continue to be at the forefront of innovation in business, says PwC U.S. Innovation Leader Mitra Best. “Positioning PwC as a thought leader and an innovator is a tremendous asset to the future strength of the firm,” she points out.
The firm’s creation of an open university also allows it to lend a hand to companies that do not have its resources. “PwC’s substantial investment in our people’s learning and development has yielded a wealth of training programs developed by the firm,” Evans notes. “At the launch of PwC Open University, the firm was ranked No. 1 in the Training Top 125, a title it earned for three consecutive years. Having a corporate culture in which value is placed on knowledge sharing and education is vital to initiatives such as PwC Open University.”
Taking a Cue from Academic Institutions
PwC took inspiration from academic institutions as it created its open university. “We saw the popularity of open source as a highly relevant platform,” says Evans. “We also saw the open education model working at universities, such as MIT and Stanford, and wanted to leverage it for professionals.”
Readying its learning curriculum to be shared with the public gave PwC an internal lesson on amped-up collaboration. “We have learned how to more effectively share knowledge internally. We also have learned that education has to be dynamic and engaging and versatile enough to meet the needs of diverse generations and consumers,” says Evans. “This means content has to be continuously updated, and Webcasts, podcasts, and other easily digested content are valuable teaching methods. Further, producing valuable course material requires a strong knowledge of the intended audience. PwC Open University was developed for professionals and similar individuals around relevant topics and issues. Honing in on this target ensures valuable content.”
If the creation of an open university sounds right up your company’s alley, Evans suggests starting at the top to get it launched. “When leadership demonstrates support by investing monetary resources and time, employees and stakeholders across the company are more likely to participate, and the quality of the content continues to increase. Creatively delivering educational content of high value that is linked to current events, market changes, and other topics that are relevant to the audience improves chances of success.”
PwC’s Top Open U Best Practices
- Support and promote the program internally. The success of the program hinges on demonstrated support by leadership and internal ownership and pride throughout the organization.
- Leverage the knowledge and creativity of your employees by calling for their help in developing lessons and incorporating feedback.
- Use creativity or humor to make the lessons interesting, fun, and a blend of formal and informal.
- Understand how your audience digests information—such as in small chunks and in highly visual formats—and refine content to fit the ideal format.
Lessons Learned from Ritz-Carlton
PwC isn’t the only company to open training content and curriculum to the public. Training Top 125 Hall of Famer Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC has done the same, although it does charge for its courses. Diana Oreck, vice president, Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, explains the concept behind her company’s take on the open university platform.
“Ritz-Carlton opened The Leadership Center in December 1999 as a result of winning the National Malcolm Baldrige Award twice (1992 and 1999). We decided to create The Leadership Center because after winning the Baldrige Award for a second time, we realized there was tremendous demand to benchmark our best practices,” says Oreck. “There are numerous advantages in having The Leadership Center, but the most significant are it provides even more awareness of The Ritz-Carlton brand and it is a viable business.”
Oreck recommends consulting with your company’s legal experts before attempting to launch your own open university. “Protection of intellectual material is key, and there is legal language that must be written into the contracts.” Oreck also advises that your company carefully consider how it prices its coursework. “It is critical that you are priced correctly and that you can clearly articulate how you differentiate yourself from your competitors,” she says. Oreck notes that while she cannot share specific numbers, Ritz-Carlton’s open university is “not only a revenue driver, but a profit center.”
Oreck recommends investing in professional facilitators that are not just academics but former practitioners of the material you are teaching. She also has a word of caution: “Do not share your material with direct competitors. We have the right to decline business from any company we deem as a competitor.”
Ritz-Carlton’s open university gives it a chance to reach out to peers in the business community, a favor that gets returned. “We have the privilege of conducting classes, on-site presentations, and advisory services for fine companies in virtually every industry,” says Oreck. “As much as they are benchmarking us, we benchmark them, and it allows us to stay relevant.”