The Better Concept
Through the Better Concept, three universities in West Sweden together developed demand driven courses for SME employees which were delivered using distance learning. Five 15 week courses were developed and carried out 8 times during the project in 3 university colleges and 14 learning centres with 200 participants. The region continues to fund the concept which has been developed and expanded.
The objective of the project was to promote further training of SME employees and to build confidence between universities and SMEs in the region. The following courses were developed by teams from the university colleges, based on needs analyses with local companies: Better Automation, Better Economics, Better Logistics, Better Product Devlopment and Better Total Production Management. The courses were accredited through the normal university system and the points earned would count towards a degree. Participants met once a week in a local learning centre and had to submit project work related to real issues arising in their companies.
A major part of the project was the needs analysis and marketing of the courses to SMEs – to convince them of the benefits they would experience from their employees participating. Most course participants were in their 40s and did not have university level education. Therefore, the project had to support students not used to study.
The innovation of this project was the focus on SME needs in the courses developed by the universities and the combination of needs analysis, flexibility, examination through project work and weekly gathering in learning centres, combined with the distance learning.
The project was led by one of the 3 participating universities. The partnership involved the 3 universities, the network of learning centres in the region, the region itself and a company which had participated in a pre-pilot course.
With 200 participants from 100 companies attending the 5 courses in 14 learning centres, the main objectives of the project were achieved. Through these courses, the universities developed closer cooperation with SMEs and potential for future common work has been identified. The training led to real measurable improvements in the SMEs. Another 190 employees joined the new courses in 2005/2006. The region is continuing with the project and new variations are being developed by the universities while marketing of the courses using the network of regional innovation agents developed under another Innovative Project in the region is also being explored.
Critical success factors for this project were the commitment of the project leader, the needs analysis with the SMEs, the flexibility of the course delivery and the role of local learning centres as broker between the universities and the SMEs.