Companies Take Initiative by Offering College Credit


In recent years, there has been high demand for middle-skill workers — those with more than a high school diploma, but who do not have a four-year degree. Community colleges have long fit in that role, but are they earning a failing grade teaching the technical skills necessary to meet the demands of a growing workforce? While there has been much focus recently on job creation and economic recovery, some employers are concerned that colleges aren’t producing enough skilled graduates who are prepared to enter the workforce.

Spurred by the shortage of skilled workers, several employers have decided to take the reins. Rather than waiting on skilled workers to finish college, employers are offering specialized training for which employees can earn college credit.

But do employees really benefit? For Anthony Gordon, a graduate of the three-day advanced management training course for Jiffy Lube University, the answer is yes.

“It was definitely helpful and I got a lot of good information that I know I can put to use,” he said. “The way the information was delivered was very effective. The instructor wasn’t just up there preaching, he’s telling us what we can do to make things better. When you’re done with the courses, you can actually put the things you learned into practice.”

Gordon, who is a manager-in-training for a Jiffy Lube store in New Mexico, said he has about 15 more courses to take through JLU. Though he hasn’t considered turning his certifications into college credit, he said it could be a possibility one day.

Businesses Taking the Initiative

Fortune 500 companies like Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Jiffy Lube have been offering their employees in-house training courses in specific areas for which they need their workers knowledgeable. Students can also turn this training into college credit.

Starbucks employees in Seattle can earn credits from City University of Seattle for several lower-level and upper-level classes, such as Barista Basics, Barista Trainer, and Leadership in Action.

More than 5,000 students attend McDonald’s Hamburger University (HU) each year. The school has graduated more than 80,000 restaurant managers, mid-managers, and owner/operators since it was founded in 1961.

Participants are exposed to a curriculum delivered by a mixture of methods: classroom instruction, hands-on lab activities, goal-based scenarios, and e-learning. Graduates of the program may apply their McDonald’s training to help them earn a college degree. The American Council on Education (ACE) has determined some HU courses have a recommended equivalent value in college credits.

Jiffy Lube service center technicians are required to complete an extensive training program called Jiffy Lube University (JLU).

JLU, which started in 2004, provides technical, customer service and management training through 160 hours of e-learning, on-the-job training, and 50 hours of instructor-led classes. Graduates have the opportunity to turn the 10 JLU certifications into college credits.

All three of these training programs are recognized as being worthy of college credit by the ACE.

Jiffy Lube International has also partnered with The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) so that employees can apply their ACE credits toward a degree at UMUC and also benefit from a discounted rate of tuition.

James Kelly, a Jiffy Lube area manager in Portland, is a participant in the seven-month pilot program in advance leadership. The three JLU classes offered through the program are:

Kelly said through the program employees can earn a total of 16 credits (seven for JLU training and nine for UMUC training) that can be transferred toward an undergraduate degree.

“This program is great for employees, especially students coming straight out of high school, who are looking to earn an undergraduate degree,” he said. “We are looking for that motivated employee who wants to go higher.”

Kelly said he once was the very type of employee companies like Jiffy Lube looked to recruit.

“I had a high school diploma but no degree,” he said. “But I had a management mindset I was bringing to the table. I had integrity, great work ethic, and a desire to excel.”

Kelly began taking courses through JLU and was promoted several times in just over a year.

“I find that a lot of students get higher degrees that don’t necessarily transcend to the jobs they get. Offering these types of programs keeps our employees engaged and lets them know they don’t have to stop their education with high school,” Kelly said. “Businesses will see a greater growth in their industry by providing educational opportunities. It will be better long term than shuffling through employee after employee. The employees can really find a niche in their business.”

Lorrie Laughlin shares the same sentiment that career and job-specific training benefits employers as well as employees.

Laughlin is a regional communications manager for McDonald’s who has been to Hamburger University a handful of times during her year with the company.

“My experience was great. It was much more than restaurant-only training, HU offers college credit courses,” she said. “I received three college credits for a week-long course.”

Laughlin said the training helps employees learn the company culture as well as meet people throughout the system and globally — connections that employees will likely keep throughout their career.

Evaluating the Return on Investment

As a company, Jiffy Lube reimburses up to $1,500 a year on tuition. Through the UMUC partnership, employees benefit from a discounted rate on tuition which is also eligible for family members. Aside from the cost benefit to employees, Jiffy Lube stands to benefit from employees who will offer a better customer experience, leading to improved business performance.

Companies that are constantly recognized for excellence in their training will be appealing for job applicants who may want the dual benefit of corporate training and help toward a degree.

“Given the cost of higher education these days, it’s a great opportunity,” Kelly said.

Graduates with technical skills are needed in today’s workforce, especially with many employers complaining that high schools aren’t graduating people qualified enough to work in certain jobs such as manufacturing.

“Even in today’s uncertain economy and the fiscal need for companies to tighten budgets, we still find that many employers opt to assist employees in paying for college courses, and in some cases, entire programs,” said Dr. Lee Smith, Dean of the School of Business and Technology Management at Northcentral University. “There are numerous reasons why doing so is truly a win/win proposition for both employee and employer. Supporting professional development initiatives during tough economic times makes more sense for most companies than not doing so.”

Smith added that companies are faced with global competitive forces and technology that is constantly changing the landscape of the company/consumer relationship. If companies have one misstep, they could literally be out of business.

“To stay ahead of the game, it is incumbent on these organizations to ensure that their key employees are trained in areas that will advance company performance,” Smith said. “Business schools and technical colleges constantly interact with and study the market as a way of ensuring academic programs meets employer needs. As such, companies find it economically feasible to reduce the knowledge gap within their structure by augmenting internal training with external learning at quality institutions.”

Smith said during economic downturns, it’s customary for companies to rely on job applicants who possess the technical skills needed to perform immediately, rather than generalists that will require extensive training. If companies lack technical skills from within, supporting professional development efforts will help companies acquire those skill sets while maintaining a vital relationship between employer and employee.

“Employees are more willing to be loyal to companies who invest in them,” Smith said. “If companies are viewed as work places that take a key interest in employee development, not only will this improve retention of key performers, it will increase the opportunity to recruit top talent. In today’s market, both are essential for organizational success.”

By offering an opportunity to gain job-specific knowledge and work toward a college degree, companies such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Jiffy Lube are being proactive in acquiring a skilled and educated workforce.

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