General Electric Embraces Alternative Credentials: Global Learning Leader Paul Fama Shares How GE Is Adapting Its Recruiting and Training Practices for the 21st Century
No matter what country you live in or what year you were born, General Electric is likely a name you recognize. Incorporated in 1892, GE is one of the few brands today that has seen three separate centuries, and has a presence in over 170 countries worldwide. Best known for energy-related products and services, the company has ventured into a number of other industries, including aviation, healthcare, and transportation.
Education might not be the first industry that comes to mind when you think of GE. Yet taking into consideration the 300,000+ GE employees worldwide, the company has tallied up its share of corporate training hours.
That’s why they have their own learning center, affectionally dubbed “Crotonville,” after the Ossining, New York neighborhood in which it is located. Established in 1956 to train GE managers, the training campus boasts a history as one of the first corporate learning centers in America.
Pay a visit to Crotonville, and you’ll find Paul Fama, Global Learning Leader for GE. Paul’s responsible for the “learning supply chain” at GE, and manages campus learning leaders and operations, aligning the company’s learning strategy with “global talent pipeline needs.” In a time where each industry GE touches is constantly changing, those needs are constantly changing.
“This is a time where even 125-year-old companies can’t stand on their past and their history,” says Paul. “The transformation that GE has going on now is profound, in just about every way, shape, and form.”
Throw in the fact that workforce needs have changed significantly over the last 125 — even the last 15 — years, and it’s clear that this multinational organization would be a good candidate for scaleable, sustainable professional training models.
“The area we’re talking about in terms of learning and talent development is not only not the exception, but should be probably the place we should lead in that area.”
That’s why the company has not only honed their own learning programs around the needs of today’s workforce, but also opened up their hiring pool to those pursuing less traditional educational pathways. In our recent interview with Paul, we spoke about one partnership in particular that could pave the way for “alternative” credentials to become more mainstream.
Listen in to the podcast above, or watch the video below to learn more about about how the company is adapting its recruiting and training practices for the 21st century.
Hannah Nyren: Welcome to the EdTech Times podcast.
Hannah Nyren: Hi. This is Hannah Nyren with EdTech Times, and today I’m speaking with Paul Fama from GE. Hi Paul, how’s it going.
Paul Fama: Good Hannah, how are you today?
Hannah Nyren: Good. So in a couple of sentences, can you explain to us what your role is at GE?
Paul Fama: So, currently I’m the Global Learning Leader at GE, which makes me responsible for the learning supply chain globally.
Hannah Nyren: It’s nice to have a company I don’t really need to explain to people. General Electric, we’ve all heard of it. But can you tell me a little bit about the history of the company and of the Corporate Learning Center at the company?
Paul Fama: We’re 125 years young and in massive transformation right now. Our learning center’s been in Westchester County in New York since 1955. In fact, one of the first business learning centers that were developed was in our place called Crotonville.
Hannah Nyren: That’s fantastic. So, we’re here today at the LearnLaunch 2018 Conference. And you’re speaking on a panel. Can you tell me about that panel, and what you are going to talk about? Since you don’t know what everyone else is going to talk about yet.
Paul Fama: So the panel’s on credentialing, which is a huge topic now with all the various options that people have for learning — it’s not just in the classroom anymore. So how does someone recognize whether what they’re learning is valuable to them, from not just a learning standpoint, but how a company like ours is going to evaluate, how people other than our company are going to value it going forward. So one of the things I’m going to talk about is a special partnership we went in with EdX and the state of Massachusetts to take a look at their MicroMasters programs. And if people complete a MicroMasters program in four different areas in 2018, we have agreed to interview them for a job.
Hannah Nyren: Wow. So how many people, unlimited amounts of people?
Paul Fama: As many people as complete the degrees, we’ll interview.
Hannah Nyren: You’d better block out your schedule for a while then.
Paul Fama: Well we will. And it’s a rigorous program — just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s easy — and it is a course that people have to take as seriously as they do any others. Which in fact, I think that’s the big difference with today’s education options is that what used to be considered a second- or third-tier option for education now has become first tier. One, because the quality of the curriculum has gotten better. But also the delivery mechanisms make the ease of use one of the preferred ways that people choose to learn.
Hannah Nyren: I think there’s more accountability. And the credentialing does really support that, because it proves that not only did you take this course, play the video, fill out the questionnaires that you’re supposed to fill out, do the things that, you know, previously might not have indicated understanding as comprehensively. It really demonstrates that you have the knowledge and skills in that area.
Paul Fama: Now you’re exactly right, because it’s not a matter of compliance — I checked the box — but what skills am I really building? And are those skills that I’m building connected to what companies and places where I want to work would appreciate.
Hannah Nyren: Great. So what industries do you think are looking for these credentials? What industries have kind of paved the way in accepting credentials like the micromasters?
Paul Fama: Digital, obviously, is the biggest one because it’s the newest. We didn’t have competency models of what truly digital look like. So I think the competencies and the skill building, you know, came from those industries that value that, because they didn’t care whether you had a four-year degree or a PhD. If you could code, or if you could do analytics, that’s the skill that they were — or we are — looking for. So, we’re able to accept a broader range of quote “credentials” in those areas than we would when we knew what an MBA was or an engineering degree, compared to what some of these newer skill sets are becoming.
Hannah Nyren: I think software engineering is a very common example because, you know, a lot of times it’s not whether or not you have a degree, it’s “Do you know this language, how well do you know this language? Can you code?” And it’s very easy to see whether or not they can.
Paul Fama: But the skills around analytics, analytics is permeating every profession in the world. So if you’re going to be up on your profession now, you have to understand it, in at least a basic way. and eventually everyone’s going to have to know it in an expert way.
Hannah Nyren: Right. Yeah, I think that, you know, being data-driven is important for every company nowadays, as you know, you can’t just coast without producing results.
Paul Fama: And these MicroMasters degrees and other new forms of learning are allowing people to stay on the job while they get those skills that they’re going to need — not just now, but in the future.
Hannah Nyren: How do you think this will continue to grow in the future?
Paul Fama: First, I think the number of options are going to grow. So now they start in that digital world. But I think just about every subject matter will be a blended solution along those lines. I think more universities are going to follow the MIT example of making their courseware online and open. So I think that’ll be important. But the part that I’m interested to see how the future shapes up around is who decides what good is, and who decides what’s relevant to a company. Where I not only want to hire you, but I want to promote you. And I want to give you, you know, the raises and the benefits that come with a great performance. So I think that’s the part that goes beyond just automation and that judgment around how we develop talent.
Hannah Nyren: What I think is really interesting about the whole GE program, is the credibility that it bestows upon these credentials. What was the thought process and the discussion behind accepting them? What proved to the organization that having a MicroMasters was just as good as having a Master’s for their employees.
Paul Fama: I think it’s a matter of speed. We can’t wait for some third party credentialing agency who hasn’t been named yet to say, “This is good enough.” We have to decide as a company, is the skill important? If it is let’s — let’s mainline it into our processes. And this process happens to be recruiting. So, you know, this is a time where even 125-year-old companies can’t stand on their past and their history. The transformation that GE is going on now is profound, in just about every way shape and form. And the area we’re talking about in terms of learning and talent development is not only not the exception, but should be probably the place we should lead in that area.
Hannah Nyren: So I’m a little curious, and this is jumping around a bit, but I don’t know what you do at your job every day. So what does your job look like? I feel like it could be so different than what I imagined. What do you do in your role?
Paul Fama: So what we do is we try to match, discover what the needs are of our learners, from them, from the businesses, from the organization as a whole and then we have to determine what curriculum we’re going to teach every year. Not only is that enough of a challenge, but today, how many different options you have to create learning opportunities. Because we like to think that, you know, learning is not just in the classroom, but it can happen a variety of ways. We talk about atomizing learning, which is breaking it down to its smallest bits. Making it more available to people. And hopefully when they have a minute or five minutes or ten minutes to learn something, we could put those most relevant things in front of them — how they need it, where they need it.
Paul Fama: The other part of that is the whole personalization of learning — how to use the data that comes off of everything that we do every day, so we can understand the learner even better. And then customize that learning and have that ready for them, when he or she is ready to learn that. That’s really, I like to think of it as our as our moon-shot in learning, is how fast can we get to personalization in a way — as one of the speakers said today — that doesn’t make learning more exclusive, but makes learning more available to more people.
Hannah Nyren: I think that’s been a common focus of a lot of conversations around edtech the past few years. Personalization is really where everything is going. And it’s not just for the sake of helping different learners of different learning styles, but also to make sure that the skills they’re lacking are filled and the skills they are strong in are highlighted in, you know, a useful way.
Paul Fama: Well, and we’re starting to learn more about how people learn. One of my favorite questions to ask when I go around and talk to leaders is “How do leaders learn?” “How do you learn, you know, every day?” And it’s amazing. People usually learn through other people. You know, so that’s one of the places they’ll go to. But then those people also have to lead them to the right places to, which is hopefully what our learning team knows how to do is to take those needs and funnel them to areas that are easiest for people to learn from.
Hannah Nyren: I definitely learned a lot from you today.
Paul Fama: I really enjoyed the conversation.
Hannah Nyren: Well, thanks for speaking with me.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.