The Community College Contract Training Function: Building the Necessary Infrastructure for Success
March 2013, Volume 26, Number 3
By Denise Reading, Gerardo E. de los Santos, and Andrew L. Meyer
Community colleges have a long tradition of providing programs and services for what are commonly known as the four segments of the workforce: emerging workers, transitional (dislocated) workers, entrepreneurial workers, and incumbent (current) workers. The emerging workforce comprises individuals who are typically 22 years of age or younger who are preparing to enter full-time employment for the first time. The transitional workforce comprises individuals who are changing from one career to another for reasons including being laid off from previous employment and reentering the labor market as adults. The entrepreneurial workforce comprises individuals who operate, and may own, businesses. And, the incumbent workforce consists of individuals who may need additional training for their current jobs and individuals who are pursuing additional training and skills enhancement for promotional reasons (Warford, n.d.).
Many community colleges have served the needs of business and industry and, thus, the incumbent workforce through contract training functions. Organizationally, the function has resided within the continuing education and workforce development unit of the college or has been connected to the college foundation's revenue-generating efforts. Over the years, colleges have had varying degrees of success with their contract training units. Some colleges have maintained robust profit centers; others have retreated from their commitment to contract training.
Recent trends in decreasing local and state funding have created a renewed interest in developing a more robust contract training operation that can contribute to the declining traditional funding sources. In order for the contract training unit to become a viable alternative revenue source, colleges must support and commit to an organization that can be more proactive and operate in more business-like manner. By placing a priority on the incumbent worker through a newly cast infrastructure, the successful contract training unit can be self-sustaining and can contribute to the overall financial health of the college.
Building Contract Training Capacity
The capacity of community colleges to meet the unique and complex workforce solution needs of businesses is not consistent. There are varying strategies employed and varying levels of strategy implementation among community colleges.
The majority of contract training units at community colleges render themselves as order takers when the businesses complete their own analysis, diagnosis, and solutions processes and the colleges offer an off-the-shelf training intervention. Or, in some cases the contract training manager has been transferred from an academic unit within the college and the lack of profit center and marketing experience results in more focus on academic offerings than customized contract training offerings. In other cases, the college’s sales-staff efforts are recognized as more of a strategy of selling product than of selling solutions.
Despite these typical characteristics, many colleges have the core requirements to compete in the more desirable market position. In order to sustain a more competitive position, the contract training unit must have a solution-development competency, a team approach to solutions implementation, and a service orientation that assists with the management of the business relationship and business quality assurance. The college needs to have the optimum organization in place. The well-organized contract training unit will yield greater capacity and more return for the contract training unit, as well as for the college in general.
The optimum contract training unit is marked by the ability to solve problems. The organization must have the core competencies to assess requirements and develop and deploy customized solutions. This approach minimizes the likelihood of college staff remaining order takers with rote customization of off-the-shelf material. Higher level competencies enable the analysis of a business’s problems and the development of customized, integrated solutions.
To function successfully, the contract training unit must have the capability to develop trusted relationships with businesses in both the sales and client service roles. In addition to the account development activities of the sales staff, it is critical that the solutions development and client service representatives also play an active role in identifying and diagnosing opportunity, monitoring quality, and providing expertise to mid- to large-size organizations. To fully leverage the organization and fully develop and retain large account opportunities, the contract training unit must place greater accountability on the client service organization for client management and development.
The contract training unit must create an organization that advances three core competencies: (1) the ability of the sales organization to identify opportunity and credibly represent the college as a solutions provider; (2) the ability of the solutions development staff to assess, design, and implement integrated solutions that are semi-customized to meet the needs of the business; and, (3) the ability of the client services organization to actively engage in customer development and retention activities (Reading, 2009).
Components of the Optimal Contract Training Unit
Business Development. Staff assigned to the business development function must focus on qualifying prospect companies and engaging in consultative selling. The staff helps to identify the problem(s) to be solved and engages with their colleagues in the solutions development function (see below) to develop the training solution. The business development staff prepares the proposal, negotiates and executes training contracts, and conducts ongoing account development. The staff also participates in client service reviews.
The primary focus of the business development function is consultative selling. To achieve the desired growth, sales staff must be allowed to devote the time required to identify new opportunities and close business deals. It is important that the sales team is free to drive more new business opportunities. This can be accomplished only when the sales team is taken out of day-to-day solutions development and client services. While the sales team owns the client relationship and has ultimate responsibility for growth in the account, the staff should be supported by, and work in collaboration with, the solutions development and client services staff.
The contract training unit will benefit from having a strong sales management function that directs, monitors, coaches, and develops sales staff. Without active, consistent sales management, individual behavior drives outcomes, and success will be a result of happenstance rather than design.
Solutions Development. The solutions development staff has a primary focus of assessing the client’s needs and developing the solutions that address those needs. The staff supports the proposal development process and creates the implementation plan. The solutions development staff also selects the trainers.
This function of the contract training unit must develop a robust solutions development capability. The goal should be to resource a solutions development capability that frees the sales staff from this responsibility and allows the organization to develop core competencies in both consultative sales and solutions development. The solutions development resource should be an individual who is dedicated to the function and who is available to the sales team as one of its members. The solutions development staff will visit client prospects with the sales team and bring together resources to create the solution.
Client Services. The client services staff functions primarily in an administrative and logistics support capacity and with almost no proactive, front-end client engagement. The client services staff may support the proposal development process and may create the actual contract that will be executed.
The client services function takes on responsibility for providing ongoing client services activities once the relationship with the organization has been established. Follow-up services related to quality, overall service satisfaction, or upcoming requirements are part of client services.
Client services should have account service plans and growth goals, and conduct service reviews with all top clients to ensure high levels of client satisfaction.
Recommended Contract Training Organizational Structure
Embracing the importance of these three functional areas leads to an organizational structure for a college’s contract training unit. The clear delineation of responsibilities between the sales, solutions development, and client service roles will remove the ambiguity within the contract training organization. The leader of the organization should demonstrate skills in areas such as entrepreneurial leadership, fiscal management, strategic planning, and market identification. In the majority of the colleges with successful contract training operations, the unit reports to a senior executive position at the institution.
Recommended Contract Training Organizational Structure
(reporting to senior administrator)
|Business Development||Solutions Development||Client Services|
By implementing the recommended organizational structure for the contract training function, colleges will build their capacity in the contract training function. The well-organized unit, with the expertise of the staff matching the required skills in each functional area, will lead to greater efficiency and will assist the unit to achieve its business, marketing, and revenue goals.
Reading, T. (2009, February). Consulting report to Anne Arundel Community College Center for Workforce Solutions, Unpublished document.
Warford, L. J. (n.d.). Comprehensive Workforce Training Programs and Services at the Community College. Unpublished document.
Denise Reading is president of Global Corporate College; Gerardo E. de los Santos is president and CEO of the League for Innovation in the Community College; Andrew L. Meyer is Vice President, Workforce Development, League for Innovation in the Community College, and Executive Director, Global Corporate College.
Opinions expressed in Leadership Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.