Investing in Employee Education Through a Unique Partnership

Retaining great employees is a cornerstone of Merkle RMG’s success. We believe that the key to employee retention is continuously helping them advance their career. As part of that commitment, we’ve entered into a unique partnership with Kaplan University. Through Kaplan, Merkle employees now have access to amazing educational opportunities that will help them grow in their current roles and position themselves for promotion.

The Value of Hiring from Within

At Merkle RMG, our company culture is important to us. A successful hire isn’t just someone who has the skills for the job — it’s also someone who shares our values and truly understands Merkle RMG as a company. And that’s not something you can teach in a classroom.

What you can teach is skills. Many leaders assume that hiring someone from the outside is the best way to acquire new ideas and skillsets. But I’ve learned that when you develop the skills of people who are already part of your culture, they’ll be better equipped than anyone else to create solutions that are uniquely right for your company.

Teaming with Kaplan

I originally connected with Kaplan because I saw the need for tailored training in certain areas of our business. Kaplan offered multiple on-campus and on-site courses that helped our employees build skills in areas like HR management, Microsoft Excel, and training other employees.

It was great to see employees taking what they learned in class and applying it to their jobs the very next day. I was especially impressed when five staff members from different departments returned from the “Train the Trainer” program, and proactively formed a work group to implement better training practices across the company. That really demonstrates how education can empower people to become leaders.

An Exciting Proposition

This spring, I worked with John Brantley, Kaplan’s director of workforce development, to offer an accelerated management training (AMT) program to employees with strong leadership potential.

After we saw the success of that program, John told me about his idea for articulating AMT courses into college credits. He was very enthusiastic about creating a pilot program in which Merkle RMG staff enrolled in the AMT program could eventually earn a bachelor of science in business administration — and do it entirely online.  

Then John gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse: if Merkle RMG increased our tuition reimbursement rate for the pilot group, Kaplan would significantly lower tuition fees — resulting in significant discounts to Merkle RMG staff. To top it off, Kaplan offered an 18 percent reduction in tuition for all Merkle RMG employees and their family members. That showed me that Kaplan was truly invested in our mission to develop our employees, and in forging a lasting alliance with our company.

Merkle RMG President Bill Sayre agreed that this was an incredible proposition. “I am excited about the  partnership we are developing with Kaplan, and I appreciate the valuable opportunity this represents for our employees.”

“What Merkle is doing in regards to their workforce training is really light years ahead of most companies,” John Brantley said. “When we see a management team willing to invest in the lives of employees and the community, we feel an obligation to support them in any way we can.”

The feedback from this initial offer was astounding. Our employees were amazed at how achievable a four-year degree could be. To date, approximately 50 percent of those offered have committed to this program. Enrollment is currently underway and classes are set to start October 18.

An Unprecedented Partnership

Merkle RMG is the first company working with Kaplan to offer employees a path to a business degree. This is also the first time Kaplan is enrolling employees as a group. Their cohort model is designed to create a support network, with all students starting at the same time and going through the entire experience together — the same way a traditional college class would.

But perhaps the biggest differentiator is the white glove treatment Kaplan provides.

Kaplan reps have been regularly visiting our facility to meet with students face to face — helping them enroll, offering them guidance on financial aid, educating them on time commitments, and advising them on what classes to take. They serve as true mentors and a support system from start to finish. 

An added advantage is that students can receive credit for work experience. The average program encompasses three 10-week terms, and covers elements of management, communication, finance, English composition, HR, and other disciplines. But Kaplan helps each student build a personal portfolio of past training and professional experience — and depending on their portfolio, a student can bypass certain classes they already have expertise in. That can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to earn their degree. And for employees who have families, varying work schedules and other commitments, that’s a huge plus.

How It’s Benefitting Us All

Kaplan works closely with us to create tailored course offerings that meet our needs as a company. At the same time, it allows my staff to reach their education goals in a completely online setting. I don’t know how this could be made any easier or affordable for those who have a desire to complete a bachelor of science degree.

We’re already hearing from employees who are grateful to have this opportunity —  for themselves, and also their families. Melissa Carney, exception services administrative assistant, is one example.

Melissa said that when she was first offered the chance to join the program, she was shocked. “My first thought was, ‘You want to help send me to college?’ Those are two words I never thought I’d be using in the same sentence together.”

She added, “All I could do was thank God for this opportunity. It has always been a dream of mine to further my education, but coming from a long line of people that always had to work just to survive, it was a dream that was always out of reach for me.”

The Power of Partnership

It’s very rare to find a close partnership between a corporation and an academic institution. But alliances like these have real potential to empower companies and communities. 

“This is really a case study on how this type of relationship can be successful,” Brantley told me. “I am thrilled to be a part of a very dynamic program that really forces us to think outside of the box in regards to program delivery and workforce solutions. I believe that this truly is the future of education.” 

This is an exciting time for Merkle RMG and Kaplan. In future posts, we’ll highlight some of the individual successes of program participants.

How does your company invest in employee development? Share with us on Twitter @MerkleRMG or Facebook!