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Institutions bring value to industry not only through shared coursework or customized training programs, but also through leveraging the intellectual property of institutional personnel for corporate problem solving.
Pharma sales success relies heavily on a seemingly endless amount of knowledge—of the product, the targeted disease state and related physiology, industry regulations, policies and procedures, and of the rapidly evolving healthcare market. Similarly, reps' and managers' effectiveness relies on skills—compelling sales strategies, interpersonal communication and time management skills, among others. Providing those vital employees with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel is an ongoing challenge, exacerbated by the fact that much of what they need is constantly changing. That's why a steadily increasing number of pharma companies are discovering the unique benefits of partnering with institutions of higher learning for the professional development of their employees. The following article describes some of the activities of corporation-education partnerships and recommends strategies for helping pharma companies achieve the best possible outcomes in collaborating with educational partners.
Corporations commonly turn to institutional partners for the development of training programs that incorporate relevant coursework into comprehensive and cost-effective learning solutions, often for college or university credit. Programs are collaboratively designed to focus specifically on industry needs, providing a truly customized learning experience. A corporation's training organization can avoid reinventing the wheel by outsourcing portions of training programs to educational partners, often drawing from faculty partner expertise in medical and business curricula for courses that fit instructional needs.
Sales reps and managers benefit from engagement in a specialized curriculum, created to address their specific, job-related needs. Flexibility built into training programs allow employees to concentrate on the aspects most relevant to what they want to learn. Sales management gains from such programmatic designs because they address a wide range of learning needs, from the development of new skills and knowledge to remediation for pharma reps who may lack competencies in specific areas. College or university partners gain from such activities as well, getting a closer look into industry trends and issues that assist in their preparation of future professionals.
Educational institutions bring value to industry not only through shared coursework or customized training programs, but also through leveraging the intellectual property of institutional personnel for corporate problem solving. Institutional training professionals, whether faculty or instructional support personnel, can provide services such as needs assessment, performance gap analysis, instructional design, and evaluation of training programs.
Virginia Tech's Center for Instructional Technology Solutions in Industry and Education (CITSIE) works in this way. Instructional technology faculty—including co-author Barbara Lockee—and advanced graduate students work collaboratively with businesses to determine training needs and create effective solutions for them. Center personnel have developed corporate e-learning programs in conjunction with subject matter experts within the partner company. Members of the CITSIE faculty often serve as external program evaluators, lending a third-party perspective that often illuminates performance issues that training organizations might not otherwise recognize. And to round out the exchange, educational think tanks provide insights into a variety of industry needs while also keeping institutional partners at the forefront of current issues in practice.
The Right Fit
At the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia (USP), assistance goes beyond on-site, for-credit courses, internship programs, and continuing education for various members of the pharma industry. Consultative relationships provide valuable support. In fact, large pharma companies frequently ask the university to consult on a wide variety of issues, including identifying physician prescribing practices, clinical trial efficiency, or sales force habits and efficiencies. USP or individual faculty members are often approached with unique questions that afford them the opportunity to develop answers and solutions.
Conversely, faculty members at USP approach pharma companies with the opportunity to participate in large-scale studies, such as one currently underway with 10 large pharma companies that explores the cost and time involved with bringing a new drug to market. In exchange for their participation, companies will share in the data, efficiency discoveries, and recommendations of the research. The university generates publishable material, research data, and a valuable relationship with industry leaders. In these types of relationships, Harold Glass, director of USP's Executive MBA Program, emphasizes that all parties should be in agreement about the central focus of the study as well as the structure and presentation of the resulting analysis. "The most important aspect of a successful relationship is not complicated," he says, "but simple doesn't mean easy. Each side has to understand what is expected, when it is expected, and who is to do what."
Another type of valuable partnership can be found in affiliating with the existing programs of a chosen educational institution. For example, St. Catherine's Center for Sales Innovation partners with companies to improve sales management by enhancing efficiency in recruitment, selection, acquisition, training, leadership development, and retention of performance-ready, effective and ethical business leaders. Partner companies have the opportunity to participate in industry consortia through which they connect with students, faculty, and alumnae. This is facilitated through multiple channels, including industry executive and operational boards, sales forums, classroom activities, mentoring programs, internships, career fairs, and alumnae groups. St. Catherine's Leadership Women in Sales program is one of the college's continuing education offerings, which supports the advancement of women and aims to develop and refine students' leadership skills.
These connections provide multiple opportunities for partner companies to gain valuable information and increase the effectiveness of their employees, while providing St. Catherine's with important information necessary to sharpen its sales curriculum to continue to deliver content that meets the business needs of the industry. "Factors for successful partnerships include shared values, a strong commitment to leadership development, and connections at the operational level and throughout various levels of both organizations," says Deborah Stewart, medical sales program manager for the Center for Sales Innovation.
In their efforts to prepare students to be effective Information Age employees, colleges and universities often investigate the cutting edge technological innovations. This benefits the companies working with them to train their employees. Whether it's new systems for business process management or the most recent advances in online learning environments, universities can serve as the proving ground before industry adopts technological innovations. Companies' virtual exploration of emerging technological systems helps them make informed investment decisions based on extensive research—and without significant cost.
Corporation-education partnerships offer a unique benefit when employee participants earn college credit for corporate training programs. Employees who complete training in these types of programs gain credibility among peers and clients alike. Often, reviewed courses may be applied toward advanced degrees, such as a master's, which can help with career advancement down the line.
Several organizations help companies gain credit for their corporate educational programs. One such example is the American Council on Education (ACE), the major coordinating body for all the nation's higher education institutions. Groups or organizations that offer training programs seek the expertise of the ACE's College Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT) to add the value of college credit recommendations as an incentive for their students. Organizations must complete a Quality Assurance Questionnaire that describes the systems being used to develop and administer the courses. Specific information about the types of courses to be reviewed must also be provided, including the course objectives, learning outcomes, methods of instruction, and any prerequisite courses. ACE CREDIT then selects a team—college faculty who teach courses in the areas covered by the corporate educational program—to review the course content. If it is equivalent to that of similar courses offered by higher education institutions, college credit recommendations are made. These credit recommendations are then available via ACE transcripts to colleges and universities that frequently accept them as transfer credit toward a student's degree program. When a company is looking to choose an academic partner, Jo Ann Robinson of the ACE recommends, "Once the need is identified, corporations should find an educational partner that will be appropriate to meet the needs and goals of the program."
Co-author Michelle Reece is involved in such a partnership as part of the staff of the Certified Medical Representatives (CMR) Institute, a not-for-profit educational institution dedicated to advancing the healthcare industry through education. CMR Institute provides certification programs for reps, managers, or management candidates.
CMR Institute offers 22 courses that carry graduate level credit recommendations from ACE; all 42 courses carry upper division baccalaureate credit recommendations. Participants gain valuable knowledge, while physicians actively seek out reps with CMR certification. Often, such certification offers an important incentive for employees seeking advancement, and can provide effective motivation to receive further training within their field.
CMR Institute also maintains an educational alliance with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) that allows CMR Institute graduates to apply credits earned from the certification programs towards a master's degree in Health Sciences or Health Systems. CMR Institute also recently developed alliances with USP and NOVA Southeastern University to offer students significant credit toward an MBA degree.
Partnerships such as these can translate into applicable graduate degrees that are beneficial to all parties—and extremely cost-effective for the participating corporation.
Bringing differing cultures together can sometimes prove challenging. One challenge of corporation-education partnerships is that each organization has its own mission. Academia is focused on the broad development of the learner, while industry focuses more on meeting specific training needs that help to increase the potential of employees and return on investment for the company.
Operational differences also pose potential challenges for the two groups. This may include timeline issues—time to production—emphasis on training versus education, how money is managed, and others. Recommended strategies address issues including project scope and timelines, contract management, and specific deliverables that are ideally identified in a project management plan developed in collaboration with representatives from all participating organizations. Additionally, the program curriculum should be developed collaboratively between the corporation and the educational partner.
How does a corporation go about finding the right educational partner? (See "The Right Fit,".)
Many colleges, universities, and other adult learning institutions are actively seeking out corporation partners and partnerships. For executives seeking out these alliances, it is helpful to begin with professional associations—such as the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers (SPBT), the HMC Council, the Pharmaceutical Management Science Association (PMSA), or the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA)—who have helpful member lists. Choose the one that best matches your goals, and contact their development office with your needs, requesting a proposed solution.
Consider approaching potential partners with a proposal that clearly outlines the perceived benefits to both parties. Be certain to ask for examples of completed projects and talk to their references. During your research, you should also ascertain if their personnel have adequate experience to provide and support the solution you seek.
When it comes to corporation-education partnerships, the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. Because of the wealth of benefits to be gained, it's easy to see why organizations that form symbiotic partnerships enjoy advantages in today's competitive marketplace, and why they're often uniquely positioned to handle tomorrow's challenges.
Barbara B. Lockee is an associate professor of instructional technology at Virginia Tech and Michelle A. Reece is vice president, learning and curriculum development, CMR Institute. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.