What Is The Ideal Structure for a Contract Education Unit? 

By Jon Wollenhaupt

contract educationMost contract education unit Directors wear many hats including sales, operations management, and program management and development. Directors tasked with the responsibility of managing all these roles face a persistent dilemma: the time they spend operating and managing programs comes at the expense of time devoted to developing new business and closing sales. In most cases, this type of organizational structure perpetuates a “feast and famine” revenue cycle. 

To sustain a successful contract education business unit, there must be an appropriate structure in place that supports the development of new business opportunities, the nurturing of a robust sales pipeline, the management of programs and operations, and the development of new training programs. 

Through years of research and consultation with contract education units nationally, The Learning Resources Network (LERN) has identified an optimal structure for a successful contract education unit within a college. The following is an excerpt from Contract Training Staffing Structure by Greg Marsello, Vice President for Organizational Development and Co-Founder of the Learning Resources Network (LERN). 

The key staff positions of the contract education department are the following: 

contract educationThe Director – Overall accountability for the contract training department. Makes sure annual and quarterly goals are being met and that the contract training department is on track per plan. Responsible for spending up to 50% of his/ her time generating new opportunities. New opportunities could be connecting with potential new clients or recommending new products and services, market segments, and delivery methods, to support contract education sales. 

Salesperson – Responsible for spending 75% or more of his/ her time building relationships and closing sales and 25% or less performing other duties 

Product Development Manager – Overall accountability for product/service scoping with and the delivery of closed contracts. Full responsibilities include researching product/ service trends and managing development where appropriate, seeking and contracting with instructors/consultants, scoping client needs and developing a product/service plan including costs, so sales can use for pricing, managing the delivery of closed contracts in conjunction with operations, coordinating curriculum development required, and evaluating and training instructors/ consultants. 

Operations Coordinator – Duties include proposal and contract processing, contract implementation support such as materials ordering or lining up instructors/ consultants, general office management and support, software management and contract training department reports, coordination of communication from present and potential clients, facilities management, and providing support to other contract training department staff as needed. 

Inside Salesperson Coordinator – Duties include developing and managing lead campaigns, researching and analyzing leads or potential leads to determine best fit and selling strategy, setting up appointments for sales, coordinating inbound and outbound marketing efforts, and supporting sales with standard repeat sales. 

According to documentation by the California Community Colleges, the model most often used by contract education units is the Program Developer Model. That model asserts the following structure: Each person (manager) is responsible for generating business, follow-through with leads, contacts with clients, arranging for or conducting up-front business needs analysis (FEA), identifying business need based on business goals and results of FEA, identifying possible training and/or non-training solutions, bringing in appropriate subject matter expertise, negotiating and developing contracts with client and service providers (instructors, EWD centers, or vendors), scheduling, maintaining contact with client, providing customer service and follow-through, evaluation, and invoicing functions. 

contract educationThe Program Developer Model as described is the embodiment of what is euphemistically called the A-Z Model. Contract education units that follow the A-Z Model report that sales staff end up spending less than 20% of their time selling. According to LERN research, the burden of creating, nurturing and managing lead generation, managing the sales cycle, finding or developing the curriculum, securing the appropriate and most qualified instructor, ordering materials, coordinating logistics, attending the program, and debriefing with the client is inherently inefficient and overtaxing. Furthermore, this approach has been found to produce low staff productivity. Transitioning to a more efficient model requires the dedication of resources that will make contract education units more efficient, productive, and competitive in regional markets. 

Read about the role of contract education and its mission with the California Community College System. 


About the Author
Jon Wollenhaupt is a marketing consultant who writes about topics related to contract education, employee training, and corporate learning for the California Community Colleges. His work is funded by the Technical Assistant Provider (TAP) grant that is hosted at Mt. San Antonio College. He can be reached via email at: [email protected]