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by Cathy Vandewater | August 15, 2012


You've seen it in the headlines: companies are hiring, but not you. They need highly skilled engineers and technicians, not law students, consultants, or liberal arts majors.

If you think this is frustrating for you, take solace in the fact that it's equally exasperating for the companies. Some can only afford to offer prospective (skilled) workers "lower pay than what they made 15 years ago," according the president of a manufacturing company. He was quoted in the Washington Post along with anxious employers in software, healthcare, and the auto industry.

But some companies, including IBM, GE, and most recently, SAP have taken matters into their own hands with training programs of their own. Much like an MBA program, the "schools" feature formal classroom education, and follow similar curriculum, like studying business models. The difference is that the "teachers" are future coworkers, mentors are future bosses, and, if all goes well, students are future employees.

We spoke with Rebecca Sherrill, vice president of SAP North America Value University, to get the scoop on SAP's program, and why a similar education might be just the jumpstart your career could use:

1. You're an "investment"

Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door at a company, but (especially when they're unpaid,) the company doesn't really have much incentive to train you. You're just as valuable when you fetch coffee as when you perform a slightly higher level task, especially while you're working for free.

Corporate "graduate academies," however, hand pick students based on talent and fit, and guarantee them a position at the company post-graduation. Translation: the depth of your success, experience, and training are a return on the company's investment. Thus, as Sherill puts it, "A primary goal of the Graduate Academy is to develop a well-rounded professional."

So what does that mean, exactly?

Well, aside from the actual nuts and bolts of job training, it means there's also guidance on "executive presence, presentation skills, selling skills, research & analysis, financial acumen, business etiquette," and notes on company culture. If only you could get that kind of cheat sheet for your other interviews!

2. The experience is real

Wish you could test drive a job before accepting it? Corporate training might be for you—especially on a "rotational model."

"A distinct advantage" of her program, says Sherrill, "is the opportunity to learn the business of SAP and go beyond business school theory to actual immersion in key business areas," which means getting to sample several sides of the business, from the inside out.

Work assignments are "significantly more complex and strategic than typical internships" and working on them often involves cooperating with actual executive leadership—your future bosses and coworkers--not just classmates, as in an MBA program.

And forget the hypothetical business models and situations: class exercises will most likely involve "exposure to high level business initiatives" says Sherrill.

Thus, 10 months of training is comparable to your first 10 months on the job: you'll get a feel for culture, a taste of the daily grind, and full immersion in way the company does business. Score.

3. …and so are the relationships

It can be hard to learn from coworkers on the job, since they're often your competition—or they're just too busy to coach you if they wanted to.

A major plus to built-in corporate training program is that it often tasks employees with nurturing new prospects as part of their job. At SAP, for example, "leaders" are responsible for different "immersion" units (sections in which students learn one particular side of business), and are "accountable for the success of the graduates who rotate through his/her organization," says Sherrill.

Part of that leader's job is also to assign mentors, and it's those mentors who personally give students assignments. They also "monitor their work, and assess their performance," according to Sherrill, for a supported but also fully accountable experience.

The help doesn't stop when you finish the program, either. According to Sherrill, "each graduate will have an assigned mentor (a tenured SAP employee) and a buddy (a peer for addressing day-to-day questions)" to ease the transition into the workplace and provide "ongoing support, encouragement, career advice, and problem resolution."

That can really take the trauma out of your first week, from the bull pen to the cafeteria.

4. You can see if a career is for you—first hand

Beginning with the rigorous application process, many corporate programs, SAP included, seek to inform would-be students as much as possible about the program and company--and weed out those it's not right for.

Sherrill notes that SAP takes care to inform prospects, hosting informational webinars for interested applicants, then having them "screened by SAP recruiters and ultimately interviewed by 3-4 tenured SAP employees from the various lines of business." Whew.

If you make it into the 10-month program, you'll then "rotate" through different lines of business within the company, test driving different fields, teams, and positions. The immersion experience (separated into four 10-week sessions) allows students to perform many functions of the day-to-day job, through shadowing employees.

Experiences can include, according to Sherrill, the opportunity to "interact with customers, attend internal strategy meetings, and sometimes spend time with North America executive leadership."

In other words, you'll get the most realistic simulations possible as you try your hand at many fields--all without committing to any one.

And if the company's not for you at all? You don't need to stay just because you completed the program—you can walk at any time.

Would you ever try a corporate training program like SAP's? Have you? If so, what did you think of the experience? Tell us in the comments!

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
Executives cite uncertain US economic outlook, skills gap as barriers to hiring (The Washington Post)
Find Their Pain! How to "Neuromarket" for a Job
Attracting Recruiters: Lessons from Sun Tzu