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An option for tight training budgets

October 1, 2010
by Michelle Pitot, LCSW, EDD
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Internally-developed Corporate Universities allow organizations to foster a culture of teaching and learning among staff

The last few years have had a devastating economic impact in many areas, including the field of behavioral healthcare. Today, providers are especially challenged to provide adequate professional development opportunities. Yet, training budgets are often the first to be cut even though they're an essential tool for clinical staff who must maintain licensure, stay up-to-date on best practices, and meet increasing, performance-based contract requirements.

Training problems often start right at the top. A recent article, citing a continuing reduction in the number of non-profits staying in business, raised the question as to whether this could be due to lack of management training. The author pointed out that there is “a pervasive view among leaders of many non-profit behavioral health and social service organizations in the field that management capabilities are not integral to continuing their service mission.”1

Lack of money, time, and perceived need all contribute to insufficient staff training and development. Worse, training professionals inadvertently participate in this failure when they don't integrate training efforts with the agency's broader operations. Their contributions may go unnoticed, leading to a logical conclusion that their role is less important than those of other critical staff.

Training-related concerns are not unique to those in the helping professions. A recent report by Bersin and Associates states that “2009 was another tough year for U.S. training organizations, which cut their learning and development spending by 11 percent on average … a drop of 21 percent in L&D spending since 2007.”2

An internal solution

Since the 1980s some businesses have addressed their training needs by developing a Corporate University, defined as “a strategic tool designed to assist its parent organization in achieving its mission by conducting activities that cultivate individual and organizational learning, knowledge, and wisdom.”3 Corporate Universities expand the scope of training and staff development to include all business units and all levels of leadership. And while the term corporate brings to mind a large, for-profit business, the concept can be implemented in behavioral healthcare agencies of all sizes.

One such example is Providence Service Corporation (PSC) in Tucson, Ariz., which provides human services for youth and adults in 43 states and Canada. With funding from state and local contracts, over 8,000 staff provide services ranging from intensive home-based counseling, case management, and drug courts to workforce development and non-emergency medical transport. PSC's decentralized structure requires just two annual training sessions for all staff, so additional training requirements are driven by the needs of a particular state or contract.

The Corporate University of Providence (CUP) was started in 2005 with a shoestring budget and less than five full-time staff. The first unmet need identified by the university staff was ongoing training of therapists, case managers, and paraprofessionals in the field, where they deliver home- and community-based care to many high-needs populations. Then, following a rigorous application process, CUP was accredited as a provider of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) in 2007, first by the national Association of Social Work Board, then by three other counseling accreditation boards. Since then, CUP has provided over 14,000 CEUs for clinical staff.

Low cost, high tech

CUP provides onsite, on-line, and teleclasses to meet the needs of front-line and leadership staff throughout the areas it serves. To complete a teleclass, clinicians must call in to a conference line for 60-90 minutes once per week. This approach earns them five CEUs in five weeks, and up to 20 for a three-month course-without the costs of travel and missed client appointments. Teleclasses are also taped, giving participants who “miss class” the option to catch up at a later time.

For the past three years, the team has researched the latest applications and technologies to develop its training programs. These programs must not only be effective for learners of varying skills and educational levels, but also different learning styles, technology competencies, and work or leadership training requirements. In addition, the programs must operate consistently in remote or rural areas where access to high-speed Internet is limited.

CUP now uses a virtual classroom similar to Blackboard, which allows participants to post questions, engage in conversations throughout the week about their assignments, share resources, and make connections with each other. The delivery of teleclasses has evolved from using a basic conference call line to now using a technology that allows instructors a host of options such as breaking people out into dyads or work groups during the teleclass, muting background noise, and sharing the controls with co-facilitators. This technology also gives the instructor the ability to see who is on the line without having to take roll and to ensure that all who are present have registered.

CUP's current efforts include building and strengthening the leadership pipeline in the organization. With participation of training, leadership, and direct service staff, the CUP team is developing learning opportunities that include on-line, interactive, and teleclass formats, as well as a Hi-Potential Leadership coaching program led by a nationally certified business coach.