The first was General Electric, which opened the John Werch Leadership Development Center in 1956. Then came Walt Disney and Motorola: in 1981, the first actual corporate universities in history opened. Since then, the number of in-company campuses has grown to the point that in the United States in 2015, there were more than 4,000. In Europe, there are 218, including the historic McDonald's Hamburger University, founded in 1961. And in Italy? Corporate academies were introduced here also, but they have changed over the years. Now, their aim today is not to teach young people or newly hired employees how to do their jobs. Their purpose is to create the conditions for the company’s knowledge to be spread and to meet the daily challenge of innovation.
Petroleum and Mending
The report on the Corporate University market in Italy, written in 2015 by Assoknowledge and La Sapienza University, counted 40 Corporate Universities in Italy, from A for Angelini to V for Vodafone, with a predominance in the insurance and banking sectors: 67% were founded after 2005, during the crisis, as if to say that tailored training was the answer to new market demands.
The best known of the Italian Corporate University is the Eni Corporate University (ECU), founded in October 2001 by integrating the various business structures dedicated to training. They teach subjects ranging from perforation to international negotiation, renewable energy sources and leadership. Its embryo was the historic Scuola Enrico Mattei, which opened in 1957 as a School of Higher Studies on hydrocarbons, a business school that was absolutely original at that time. Over the years, it has become a degree program for a Masters in Management and Economics of Energy and the Environment: in 60 years, about 2900 students from 110 countries and all five continents have received training. In recent years, in consideration of the fact that the company has employees worldwide, it has become very focused on distance learning, so much so that in 2016 the MIP – the business school of the Milan Polytechnic University – assigned the HR Innovation Award in the training area to ECU. In addition, there is a Corporate Coaching Academy that delivers up to a hundred interventions of coaching per year.
We also have the Illy’s University of Coffee, founded in 1999, the Wellness Institute of Technogym, the Mediolanum Corporate University, the Ferrero Learning Lab, the Barilla Laboratory for Knowledge & Innovation, the HerAcademy of the Hera Group, as well as the charming School of Crafts of Solomeo designed by Brunello Cucinelli: in this small village of 500 inhabitants in the province of Perugia, young people learn the art of tailoring, stitch linking and mending from the artisan masters. The last one founded was that of Poste Italiane, in 2014.
Corporate Universities provide an average of 160 hours of higher education per capita, with a budget that in 43% of cases is between 1 and 5 million Euro. All this information shows that Italian companies are willing to invest in training as a strategic choice, and to organise in such a way as to ensure a lasting solution.
Enrico Cerni is the Head of Faculty and Mandatory Training at Generali Italia, and in 2015 he edited the volume "Business Academies" (Le Academy Aziendali, Franco Angeli), a journey through in-company training organisations that tells of experiences that began "as a sort of first aid strategy aimed at bridging the knowledge gap, but in which training was not regarded as a strategic element" and then become "an opportunity for comparison and growth, according to a shared logic". In short, today's in-company campuses no longer serve the purpose of solving our well-known problems of mismatching. They are designed to innovate and strengthen the company’s knowledge assets.”
The function of Business Academies? To ensure innovation and the preservation of the heritage of knowledge.
The definition of "academy" is broader than that of "university", but perhaps best suited to our network of SMEs: "A Corporate University is linked to a large company. An Academy is also accessible to medium-sized enterprises. The issue is to identify who can take charge of the dissemination of knowledge. If they have the model, the investment is minimal," says Cerni, citing the best practices of Schüco, Fisher and Baxi, three companies in the Veneto region. He believes that the function of a Business Academy today is to "ensure innovation constantly, position itself on the more advanced edges of what innovation is, and ensure the preservation of the heritage of knowledge. Corporate academies provide two elements: on one side the sharing, spreading and roots of expertise that is already present in the company; and on the other, being open to the larger market of knowledge, being innovative. All this is done by making the most of the internal skills of employees, and improving the external contributions arising from relations with research institutes and universities."
Cerni said that in Italy, he has not seen substantial improvements in numbers over these last two years, but rather a consolidation of already identified trends: "Training is increasingly blending, that is, multi-formed, able to be engaging and crossing the cognitive domains from different points of view: online, classroom, mentoring, tutoring, distance learning, webinars. All these methods are centred on the person, the subject who learns. The teacher is only a facilitator, because today the possession of knowledge is distributed among many subjects. Training is a continuous crossing and recrossing. Training courses are a thing of the past; today, training paths are made up of different stages: from the classroom to peer comparison, from mentoring to Mooc platforms. People need to go back over the same issues from different points of view. This is how we learn. Another very strong trend is the use of internal skills, to ensure knowledge sharing.”
Motor Valley in Emilia Romagna
In 2016, the Nomisma Institute, on commission from Region of Emilia Romagna, studied the largest 120 companies in Emilia-Romagna in terms of turnover and identified 29 Corporate Academies, including Amadori, Carpigiani, Tetrapak, Cremonini, Coop and Toyota. According to the curators more than half of Italy's Corporate Academies are right here in Emilia Romagna. A very innovative and recent model, precisely in this region, is MUNER-Motorvehicle University of Emilia-Romagna, which in 2018 will launch two degree courses masterful linked to motors (Advanced Automotive Engineering and Advanced Automotive Electronic Engineering), international and rigorously in English, for 150 students per year and six specializations (admission requests can be sent until 22 December 2017). Nine prestigious Motor Valley companies (Automobili Lamborghini, Dallara, Ducati, Ferrari, Haas F1 Team, HPE Coxa, Magneti Marelli, Maserati and Toro Rosso) have joined with four universities (University of Bologna, Ferrara University, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, University of Parma) to conceive a training path of excellence that is unique in the world: the professors are from the four universities and the companies, with laboratories and instrumentation of the latest generation, the same as the partner companies, including a wind tunnel.
Andrea Pontremoli, CEO and General Manager of Dallara Automobili, as well as president of Muner, explains that "we wanted to create a chain of education and a strongly integrated system that saw the universities as a point of encounter and convergence of experiences both in the company and within the scientific laboratories. The classes are divided into four semesters, during which students will attend at least two universities with the possibility of using the best skills linked to the territory, and the professors, laboratories and visiting professors will converge on the inside of the various universities. Overcoming the traditional model of Corporate Academy, each university provides its expertise and their best teachers to build of degree courses of excellence, working together in the name of research, innovation and technological development. In a global world like ours, competition is no longer between individual firms but between territorial systems and Muner presents itself as a territorial system, comprising both the companies and the educational system. The final objective is to facilitate growth and increase employment."
Overcoming the traditional model of Corporate Academy, each university offers its best teachers, working together in the name of research, innovation and technological development.
The educational offer defined in close collaboration with companies aims to train professional profiles that will be indispensable for the development of technologies in the automotive sector by attracting the best students in the world to the area, because some products can only be made in a given territory. "The Emilia-Romagna Region, for its history and tradition, is considered the ‘Land of Engines’ and possesses an extraordinary vocation that combines industrial design, the perfection of handcrafted products and the frontier of technological innovation. Working together is the response to the complexity of globalisation and the challenges that it poses," said Pontremoli. "The territories may play a role in the new arrangement if they know how to become a hub of those innovations, also in the formation of human capital, which feed the integration of economies. We have decided to form a network in the region – with the Employment Pact signed by companies, trade unions, universities, and associations with the primary objective of promoting development and creating employment – and it is proving to be successful. Muner is an important project for the region but also for the whole of country, which must be able to appreciate its assets and put them into the network to repairing fractures and start growing and competing again."
Companies open doors to schools
Another company that is investing a lot in training is Loccioni, an average company located in Marche. They have educational programs for all ages: a Bluezone for bringing students into the business world, a Redzone for the "during" phase, with 65% of employees in training, and a Silverzone comprising researchers, consultants, teachers and managers of major industrial companies that support the Group’s educational initiatives. Loccioni is one of 16 samples chosen by MIUR as models of a quality program combining school and work, the only medium-sized company in the group. "We opened the doors for students to build together with them what we will be in the next fifty years. There is much work to do and we want do it with the young people of the territory who want to build a future and be ahead of the game.”
Francesco De Stefano, who leads the group's educational department Progetti Scuola Università, explained that the choice to invest systematically in training derives from being “people centred”: at Loccioni, knowledge learned at school and university is transformed and applied to projects that are always different and that constitute a real challenge. For this reason, the training process is crucial for each collaborator. They have access to on-the-job training and managerial and administration training at dedicated times. It is fundamental to train students while they go to school or university to prepare them in advance to their future. A greater involvement of businesses and, in general, of the world of work, in the training of young people is certainly essential to integrate and implement the approaches of schools and universities, which too often remains purely theoretical. The correct balance should be a goal, and the right road to achieve that is a joint project designed by leading labour exponents and education insiders.”
The Loccioni approach is totally ad hoc. Everything starts from the desire to open their doors to schools and universities, and we want to become school of continuous training in our own right.
With respect to Corporate Academies, "the Loccioni approach is totally ad hoc," continued De Stefano. It does not refer to preconceived models because its development is closely linked to the company’s history, values and culture. There is not an actual reference model. It all started with the company’s desire to open its doors to schools and universities and become a "school" of continuous training.”
Those 800 firms within schools
However, Corporate Academies are not the only way in which businesses are rediscovering their role in the training of youth and in structuring a transition between school and work so that new recruits are ready to go and companies do not need to invest months, if not years, in their initial training. "Corporate Universities are a strategy to aid the transition between school and work, but they are expensive. Therefore, in the panorama of Italian small and medium-sized enterprises, they tend to be uncommon," said Alessandro Mele, coordinator of the ITS steering committee. Technical Colleges are relatively new in our panorama: founded in 2011, they represent the tertiary professionalising training that was missing in Italy. There have about 9000 students and constitute the first training model of success in Italy strongly integrated with businesses.
Corporate University for SMEs are expensive: why not focus on ITS schools? Eight hundred companies are already involved.
In fact, ITS schools have participatory governance, with almost 800 companies involved in 93 existing ITS (source: Indire); 65% of teachers come from the world of work; training paths are embedded, designed and co-designed together with companies; and 81.1% of graduates find work within twelve months of getting their diplomas. For Mele, this proposal is "complementary to that of the Corporate Academies, today our numbers are small but this is potentially a tailor-made response for Italian SMEs. We recently hosted Denise Amyot, President of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan): in Canada, with half of the Italian population, one million students are in this type of training path, a number that says a lot about our possibilities of development."