Building skills and the bottom line through onsite professional development

July 2011 » Columns » BEYOND WORDS
Gary M. DeJidas, P.E.

In today's competitive economy, technical expertise can only take you so far in your career before you reach a professional plateau. Business, leadership, and management skills have become critical. That's why GAI Consultants has spent the better part of the last decade formalizing its internal Leadership Development Program, GAI University. Launched in 2005, GAI University incorporates training programs for all employees, providing technical, business, leadership, and project management courses. The educational end-cap of the program is an accelerated, fully accredited Master of Business Administration (MBA) program offered through Point Park University in Pittsburgh.

I enrolled in the program in 2009 with 13 of GAI's executives and senior managers, and in May 2011, we received our MBA degrees. Following are some of the many benefits of an onsite program, based on my personal experience developing and participating in the program, and the outcomes I've observed sat our firm.

Convenience – Point Park University designed the onsite curriculum as an alternative to a traditional MBA track. Business school professors come directly to a company's location and utilize the existing in-house technology. Professors teach most of GAI's classes at our largest office in Pittsburgh, and the lectures are broadcast simultaneously via Web conferencing. Employees can join the classes remotely from any location or watch a recording of the class, so business travel rarely interferes with participation.

Manageable time commitment – As a busy executive, I never thought I'd have time to go back to school for my master's. The onsite MBA program is a great option because I earned a degree without impacting my responsibilities at the office. With Point Park's program, classes run for seven weeks at a time, one evening a week, which is more manageable than a conventional two-year program. We hold class from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m., which minimizes impact on daily operations and interference with employees' family and personal lives.

Cost Savings – Unlike a typical MBA, which can cost $18,000 to $80,000, this program is offered at a fraction of the cost. A company can opt to pay a certain percentage of the overall cost, or facilitate employee payments with a payroll deduction plan. GAI pays half of the tuition, bringing the individual contribution well below the average $18,000 minimum. In return, we profit from at least a three-year commitment from participants to stay with GAI after graduation.

Tailored training – Internal and onsite programs let firms get involved in employees' education because you can modify information and training techniques to suit specific business needs, which Point Park University encouraged us to do. As part of one course, for example, we developed strategic marketing plans targeted to the engineering and environmental industry, and we've since used that research in our business planning.

Lasting benefits – Beyond the business applications, an onsite program is a great avenue for building internal relationships. You have the opportunity to pair technical staff with corporate representatives, and top-level executives with group leaders. Forgoing office titles and working as equals in the classroom creates a new dynamic among staff members. I'm pleased to report that the trust and teamwork established during our program have carried over into daily operations, and we expect that will continue as more employees enroll.

The inaugural GAI Consultants class received their MBA degrees in May 2011.

From a management perspective, a commitment to staff development is a sound investment in a company's future. An initiative like the onsite MBA degree and other internal professional training help employees develop business skills, which ultimately makes a company more competitive in the marketplace. I've experienced and can speak to the direct benefits GAI has received from the MBA program, and I see the positive impact it has on our employees, corporate culture, and ultimately, our bottom line.

Gary M. DeJidas, P.E., is president and CEO of GAI Consultants Inc. (www.gaiconsultants.com).


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