Continuing Education, Lifelong Learning at Borg-Warner

Article excerpt

Continuing Education, Lifelong Learning at Borg-Warner

Obsolescence--it's the most important word for the 1980s. But change occurs so rapidly in today's environment that what is now will not be in the future; in terms of business in the next decade, obsolescence should be an obsolete word.

Powerful desktop computers have replaced yesterday's mainframes. Electric motors can now run on their own self-generated electricity, and worldwide communications can now use the ionosphere as an antenna for transmitting messages, even to submerged submarines. That is not futuristic Flash Gordon technology, nor is it some madcap prediction. It is the present. But are people today ready to accept, understand, and use such monumental changes?

One company, Borg-Warner Automotive in Muncie, Indiana, believed the answer was no, at least for its employees. It recognized that the existing in-house training and development programs, both managerial and technical, were not sufficient to educate the workforce adequately and to prepare it for the demands of a global competitive market. To meet both the current and future human-resource-development needs for its 2,700-person transmission-manufacturing plant, it initiated a continuing-education, lifelong-learning center, using the resources of local universities.

Laying the groundwork

In his speech at ASTD's 1988 National Conference, Ford Motor Company Chairman Donald E. Petersen echoed the reasoning behind Borg-Warner's program: "Learning must be an ongoing process, whether it takes place in a little red schoolhouse or a plant cafeteria. We cannot compete as a nation if we have intellectually undernourished children.... We must teach them the most crucial of skills for a democratic society--the ability to think, to weigh opposing viewpoints, and to make sound, well-reasoned decisions."

Borg-Warner recognized that such thinking applied to its personnel. In June 1988, it formed an advisory committee made up of Ball State University's dean of continuing education and a professor from the Lifelong Learning Center, the Borg-Warner vice-presidents of manufacturing and engineering, the salaried-employee administrator, and the manager of communications and employee development. The group's initial task was to define an overall mission statement and determine the boundaries for a continuing-education, lifelong-learning program. The mission:

* to provide and encourage a vigorous, cost-effective, and comprehensive process for lifelong learning and self-improvement, whereby people have a convenient opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills and to continue their education for a better quality of life;

* to provide critical and meaningful skill-building programs relevant to the changing technology of the future.

The program specified that at first only the 525 salaried employees would be eligible for the programs--salaried employees were eligible for Borg-Warner's tuition-refund benefit, whereas union members were not. Courses and seminar offerings would be on employees' own time, except in special instances in which the company asked people to attend specific job-related courses or seminars. Later, once the program became self-sustaining, the company would decide whether to include hourly employees.

The advisory committee contacted other corporations that had implemented similar programs; its members spoke to representatives from Purdue University, Anderson University, Earlham College, and Marion College as well. From that input, the committee decided to do an in-depth needs assessment to gauge the level of employee interest in pursuing education and technical or managerial development. In coordination with the committee, two doctoral students from Ball State developed, administered, and scored the needs assessment. Two hundred sixty-nine (56.2 percent) of the salaried employees responded to mailed surveys; the summarized results are found in the figure. …