Like many information systems (IS) departments, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is battling to recruit and retain the best and brightest employees. Located in the bucolic Philadelphia suburbs, Wyeth faces stiff competition from companies such as Vanguard, Comcast, Siemens Medical and GlaxoSmithKline. All of these companies are within a five-mile radius, and are all seeking solid IS professionals. Recruiting these professionals to join your team is one issue—finding ways to make them stay is another.
Wyeth was faced with a complex dilemma: How could the company retain its best project managers and offer targeted training programs (while not pulling employees away from their jobs), and, most importantly, how would Wyeth find the money to pay for it?
Wyeth CIO Bruce Fadam believes in obtaining the best talent available for the job. That belief makes it a priority to further develop this talent. Employees at Wyeth were requesting project management training, especially Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). In order to achieve such certification, an individual requires years of project management experience, 36 hours of classroom training and a passing grade on a rigorous 200-question, four-hour exam. For employees with full-time jobs and family obligations, spare time was not in abundance. A unique solution was needed.
Michele Rudzik, associate head of IS development at Wyeth, spoke to her project management training consultants about this increasing business problem. They needed to find a way to tackle real-life issues of sparse time and budgets, and still develop professional project managers. Several local universities offered 14- to 16-week-long PMP preparation training that started at 7 p.m. The focus was strictly academic, with no guarantees of passing the exam. The university option held merit because payment could be handled through a Wyeth tuition reimbursement program, therefore hitting individual department budgets.
However, the class schedule was simply too late. Most IS employees already report to work between 7 and 7:30 a.m. and stay until 5:30 p.m. or later. Wyeth staff member Margo Joe questioned if the classes could be offered earlier and with no travel time involved. If tuition reimbursement works for colleges, why not for an on-site program that has college affiliation? On-site programs would eliminate the need to have people miss work and spend time commuting. Rudzik developed the idea of offering the programs on-site at Wyeth, and hoped the company would be able to work around their schedule. Finally, it was established that if people arrived at work by 7:30 a.m., it would be possible to offer a two-day-per-week, six-week on-site course on PMP training.
Offering an e-learning course would also cut down on classroom time for the busy IS professional. The vendor developed an eight-hour, four-module e-learning solution that people would take as an introduction to the program. The challenge regarding payment was due to the fact that tuition reimbursement (and the vendor) needed evidence that students had completed the program. Another issue was ensuring that the vendor was affiliated with a major university so that the tuition reimbursement program would be applicable. Because the vendor was an official provider for PMI, this hurdle was overcome, and participants could also receive certification from a major university.
Naturally, the solution was a compromise. Once the students completed the four basic project management Web courses, they would receive a certificate of completion and continue on with the entire preparation program. When through with the prep program, employees would move on to an online practice PMP exam. They would then receive a certificate stating they had completed the necessary course work and could proceed to the final PMP exam. One small problem was that, under company policy, the final PMP exam was not covered by tuition reimbursement. Rudzik suggested to the vendor that the fee be rolled into the course fee, therefore avoiding any financial burden on the employees.
With both certificates in hand, Wyeth employees could present them to HR for tuition reimbursement. The PM vendor would then receive 50 percent of the tuition in the middle of the program and the remaining 50 percent at completion. Because the reimbursement was given to the participant, not the vendor, a contract was created and meant that the employee would provide a credit card number, which would be used to secure any defaulted payment.
To better publicize this unique offering to the entire organization, Rudzik, her staff and the vendor conducted a series of “lunch and learn” sessions for Wyeth IS professionals. The sessions were well-attended, with more than 100 people at the one-hour events. Due to high demand, classes had to be filled via an e-mail lottery system.
At the graduation for the first PMP class, Fadam congratulated the graduates for their hard work. Wyeth did everything possible to offer their employees the most convenient and cost-effective project management training they could, and succeeded. The challenge of keeping the best was accomplished with this unique partnership of Wyeth IS training, tuition reimbursement, the vendor and a little give and take.
Thomas J. Mattus is president and co-founder of Successful Strategies International Inc., a learning, consulting and mentoring organization specializing in project management and leadership development. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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