Facilitating a Strategic Career Learning Community through a Corporate University at a Water Company

by Diane D. Rentfrow

 "To promote learning within any organization, and to enhance productivity, we need to create a work environment where employees can have the opportunity to unleash their talents, to think creatively, and to set goals that are consistent with both personal and company needs." Diane Rentfrow

American States Water Company is a holding company that, through its subsidiaries, provides water service to 1 out of 30 Californians located within 75 communities throughout 10 counties in Northern, Coastal and Southern California and to approximately 11,500 customers in the city of Fountain Hills, Arizona and portions of Scottsdale, Arizona. The Company distributes electricity to approximately 22,000 customers in the Big Bear recreational area of California and contracts with various municipalities in both California and Arizona to provide services to an additional 90,000 customers.

Southern California Water Company (SCWC), a subsidiary of American States Water has as a goal to maintain an employee development system necessary to sustain a skill-based workforce. The Employee Development University resides under SCWC's Customer and Operations Support. The Corporate Dean has an objective to maintain a career system in order to sustain a skill-based workforce that is adaptable to change.

In November 1992, (SCWC) facilitated the paradigm shift toward a learning organization by introducing a new department - Employee Development and bringing on board, a counselor-educator and career development practitioner to manage the educational efforts. Although employee development was not a new concept at SCWC, the senior management team felt at that time that an enhanced program would ensure that the workplace is able to operate at the highest level of efficiency and effectiveness through proper education. After conducting a company-wide assessment, the results showed the need to create a learning organization where training is not devoted to solving problems, but rather to prepare employees to anticipate and prevent problems.

"A learning organization is one that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future." Peter M. Senge

Services to Meet Employee Development Needs through the Corporate University
During the first year, the Employee Development Manager drew upon the traditional training practices to make this learning organization concept a reality for the Company by coordinating and conducting employee development activities to support and accelerate learning for all employees. However, the learning organization concept suggested a new paradigm for the employee development field - to look toward the future to help employees to excel, learn and to stay employable. To do this, the major thrust was to shift the thinking from the traditional training practices to more of a holistic learning model. The need existed to do the following:

       -Stop defining what the company does and start defining competencies


       -Encourage employees to focus on the acquisition of knowledge


       -Provide opportunities for career pathing


       -Focus on performance improvement


       -Educate and prepare employees to stay employable

Anticipating that the rapidly changing water utility environment would demand maximum utilization of the company's number one resource - its people, the Employee Development Manager facilitated yet another paradigm shift in May 1993 by introducing the Southern California Water Company University, now known today as the Employee Development University. She believed that the corporate university was the ideal way to launch learning throughout the organization and could serve as a strategic umbrella, by linking employee learning to business goals.

Strategies for Success

       -Work smart


       -Promote team work


       -Recognize people who help each other


       -Encourage employees to teach and learn from each other


       -Foster open lines of communication


     -Recognize that quality and productivity are linked to job satisfaction

Today, the corporate university as a concept of a learning organization is currently the force to drive a variety of employee development needs. The Employee Development University team encourages employees to strive continuously to learn new skills and emphasizes life-long learning. Evolving beyond the training functions, the University's vision is to encourage employees to learn how to utilize education as a catalyst for change - to empower people to Learn, Change and Grow!

Diane D. Rentfrow, National Certified Counselor (NCC), Certified Trainer (CT), and a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT), holds a Master of Arts degree in Counseling, Guidance and Personnel Services and numerous certificates in strategic management, leadership and supervision, organizational communications and organizational career development. She currently works as the Corporate Dean of the Employee Development University at Southern California Water Company.

Email: ddrentfrow@scwater.com
Web Site: www.eduniv.com
Phone: 909-394-3600, Ext. 777

At the "Careers Across the Lifespan" conference in Denver, CO, Diane will discuss some of these points on Friday, June 27 @ 10:45 a.m. #303

How can Career Counselors Rethink Their Roles in the Changing World of Work?

       -Take responsibility for being innovators


       -Pay attention to what's going on in the world; see the big picture


       -Invent "next generation" upgrades to give the profession the edge


       -Embrace creativity


       -Build personal knowledge base


       -Become a lifelong learner

Challenges & Opportunities for Career Counseling Practitioners
We must become perpetual students and be able to:

      -Quickly assimilate and integrate large volumes of information


       -Create and facilitate learning communities


       -Help employees or clients migrate to new directions


       -Define competencies for the new world of work

"Human skills are subject to obsolescence at a rate perhaps unprecedented in history."
Remarks by Chairman Alan Greenspan
The Evolving Demand for Skills
At the U.S. Department of Labor National Skills Summit
Washington, D.C.
April 11, 2000

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