United Technologies Corp. (UTC) has a history of forging innovations in highly technical fields. The company is a leader in the air conditioning and heating, security and fire protection, elevator and escalator, aircraft engine, helicopter and energy industries. With a workforce of 205,700 people, UTC reported $31 billion in revenues last year. Because of its decidedly varied and specialized assortment of businesses, you would think employee education would be a big deal at UTC, but you’d be wrong—it’s more than a big deal.
“We continue to spend about $2.5 billion [annually] on research and development, which is about 8 percent of revenue,” said Jack Leary, UTC’s chief learning officer and vice president of employee relations. “We are in the business of developing high-technology products. We simply have to make these investments in people to protect the investment in research and development. It just goes hand-in-glove.”
To that end, UTC permits–indeed, encourages–its workers to seek degrees at all levels in studies ranging from engineering and physics to music and theology. The organization, which has partnered with more than 900 colleges and universities, pays all of the tuition expenses and gives employees $10,000 following their commencement. Leary and Steve Bieglecki, UTC’s director of technical education, said the main method used to measure the success of the program was simply increases in revenue, and added that UTC posted significant gains every business quarter.
Many UTC employees, who frequently have to work their studies into very busy schedules, use mobile technologies to provide one-click access to the courses, no matter where they are. “Educational technology has allowed UTC to bring high-quality education to its employees worldwide,” Bieglecki said. “The prevalent use of laptops by UTC employees allows them to bring that education with them wherever they go. Whether traveling or putting the kids to bed, their classroom is only a Web connection away.”
“One of the things we like about industry students is that by entering a classroom electronically, they bring a real-life perspective,” said Andy DiPaolo, executive director of the Stanford Center of Professional Development. “That real-life perspective is of great value to students who are in the program on campus who may not have the same kind of work experience. There may be a faculty member who is talking about composites in the development of aircraft engines. When he provides the information, someone from [UTC subsidiaries] Sikorsky [Helicopters] or Pratt & Whitney [aircraft engines and space propulsion systems] could comment back on what that company is actually engaged in today. So it brings a sense of practice to the theory of what goes on in the classroom.”
Bieglecki and Leary cited UTC’s partnership with Stanford University as a prime example of how the company’s relationships with institutions of higher learning meet business objectives. “These are just wonderful people,” Bieglecki said. “We are honored to have Stanford as a partner.” The admiration is mutual, DiPaolo said. “They [UTC] have a really thorough take on corporate education, and they believe education is a way to help set that company’s future. I’ve been very impressed with the approach they take, where education is at the core of what they do.”
Some of the brightest and most capable students at Stanford come from UTC, DiPaolo said. “[From] companies like UTC–and particularly UTC–we draw the very best. That’s one of the things we like about being associated with UTC. They have a very good program there, where they can identify their high-potential employees and direct them our way.”
Some 200 UTC employees have studied electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering and other subjects without ever setting foot in a classroom, relying instead on electronic distance learning. Still, that doesn’t prevent them from understanding or even contributing to the content of the course. “In the area of distance learning, there have been lots of naysayers,” Bieglecki said. “We have instances where [UTC] distance-learning students have been named outstanding academic achievement award-winners at top-tier universities. It sort of helped solidify the power of technology as a delivery instrument for education. Not only are they good students in the class, but their experiences with the high technology at United Technologies has actually contributed to the curriculum and the richness of the programs. That’s something I’m very proud of.”
The unique distance-learning venture between UTC and Stanford is a sign of things to come in professional education, DiPaolo said. “In the Industrial Age, we went to school—in the Communication Age, the school comes to us. From a company’s perspective, they can’t send employees out to universities any longer. The university must come to them. I think the universities of the future that will be the most help to a company will be those that can extend themselves and use educational technology to do that.”
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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