Thursday Feb 22, 2024

Inside Insights: How Employers Succeed with SAP University Alliances with Meagan Knoll and Tom McGinnis

Meagan Knoll and Tom McGinnis, long-time collaborators and educators rejoin me to dive into what it takes for employers and universities to succeed with the SAP University Alliances program. Although employers may find it daunting, Meagan and Tom share valuable tips on how employers can engage with universities and students alike to develop a qualified talent pipeline.

Meagan Knoll has been a member of Grand Valley State University Faculty for the past 16 years. In addition to her longstanding dedication to academia, Meagan has achieved a new milestone as the Vice Chair of the SAP North America Academic Community Board and as the Co-Chair of the Partnership Committee. Meagan's commitment to student success extends beyond the classroom. She takes great pride in her extracurricular role as the advisor of the university's SAP student group, a community that serves as a crucial bridge connecting students to professionals within the SAP ecosystem. Outside of GVSU, Meagan remains deeply involved with the ASUG Michigan Chapter, where she currently holds a position on the Senior Leadership Team (SLT).  

Thomas McGinnis has industry experience as a Software Developer, Business Analyst, System Administrator ERP Consultant and Project Manager. Tom also has 20 years of experience in academia.  He has a Master of Science and a Ph.D. in the field of Business Information Systems; he is an SAP-certified Associate Consultant and TERP10 academy instructor.  Tom has developed and taught courses in Enterprise Resource Planning (using SAP), Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing.  He is active in his local ASUG Chapter; frequently presenting new and developing aspects of Business Intelligence at chapter meetings.   Tom’s research work has appeared in peer reviewed journals, in book chapters and numerous conference proceedings. 

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Meagan Knoll

Mustansir Saifuddin

Innovative Solution Partners 



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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00.890] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Welcome to TechDriven business brought to you by Innovative Solution Partners. Meagan Knoll and Tom McGinnis, long-time collaborators and educators, rejoin me to share how SAP University Alliances is impacting the IT industry talent pipeline. Listen in as we uncover the value of UA programs, how employers leaders can connect with universities and the key takeaways for fostering successful partnerships in the ever-evolving tech landscape. All right, So let's start with the very basics.


[00:00:46.430] - Mustansir Saifuddin

When we talk about University Alliance, what is the real value of the UA program in building a talent pipeline overall from an IT industry perspective?


[00:01:00.900] - Meagan Knoll

Well, let me get started with telling you some of the unique opportunities that the University Alliances offers, and I think that will really segue into some of the value that comes from it. So the University Alliances has a lot of different initiatives behind the scenes. They offer training and workshops to faculty so that we're always on the cusp of new technology and emerging technology. They allow us to have hands-on access to SAP systems so that our students can explore and learn really the basics and the extended knowledge of being within the SAP system. They offer a lot of curriculum resources. How can we impart this knowledge onto the students in a very hands-on way? And a curriculum that is pretty standardized across the University alliances, so we can pool our talents to troubleshoot and provide these really in-depth curriculum opportunities. Then one of the best, I think, when it comes to connecting SAP employees or SAP users, is it helps faculty and students collaborate with those experts. For new emerging technologies or maybe a specific line of business, they really help make that connection so that we're talking to the right people and having the students learn the right content.


[00:02:29.740] - Meagan Knoll

Then they offer certifications and badges, which is really great for the students to not only leave with a degree from a university, but with a SAP certification There's many different ones that can be taken, but a value at the student level is that that certification has tangible learning objectives that they can take from their degree at the university and then apply them to those certificates and badges.


[00:03:07.990] - Mustansir Saifuddin

That sounds incredibly awesome. I hear a few things when you talk about this at length. One is that not only the students are getting benefit, but even the teaching staff has got that breadth of knowledge by going through this program.


[00:03:28.760] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Tom, from where you said, what do you see the value?


[00:03:32.500] - Mustansir Saifuddin

What is that comes to you when you talk about UA program?


[00:03:36.870] - Tom McGinnis

It's the continuation of exactly that. With the students and the faculty getting together, it provides a great deal of value for the employer that's going to be hiring those students. You have students who are arriving on site on day one that have a process understanding. They understand, if you will, the of SAP. They know what master data is. They know what the org structure of the organization could be. They understand the transactions. That fundamental knowledge of all those pieces really adds a great deal of value. Usually In the UA, a majority of the schools are worried about the make-buy-sell process. The value is not that the new hire has the company's specific business processes in mind, but But they know how to translate what they got out of the UA program into the organization and translate that into reporting, data sourcing, data-driven decisions. It really lets them hit the ground running, and the businesses can get a great deal out of that. At the same time, the students get a great deal out of that as well because they understand the value of what this means to business. Normally, speak to students about what's important, and they accept that.


[00:05:04.310] - Tom McGinnis

When they see the University Alliance and how it partners with business, they now get a real value for that, and they're no longer passive in their education. We see students really jumping on board and augmenting skills more and more. So it improves both the business side as well as the student side. It's really fun to watch.


[00:05:25.790] - Mustansir Saifuddin

For sure. I think I can totally relate to it. I mean, you would Your choice of words, especially when you talk about translating, translation, it is so much important. When you talk about a business, there are certain parameters they run and they use certain terminologies, technologies, and then everything is coming together to make up a business environment. And a student who is exposed to it very early on, they now are able to simulate in the new system because it's just natural to them now. That takes me to my next question, which is, look from an employer's perspective. Where can employers find a university they can connect with who has got the UA program?


[00:06:15.890] - Meagan Knoll

The University Alliances, of the schools that participate in the program who offer some SAP courses, they always have one point person that's called the Faculty Coordinator. This point person is a great go-to as a person to learn about what offerings they have, if they have any student groups, if they have any needs or things that they want to connect over. There's also some great advisory board opportunities. A lot of local universities who offer the SAP program have advisory boards where different companies can sit on those advisory boards and help direct the curriculum choices. There's a really good touch point, which is Career Services. Contacting a local university's Career Services to see if they have an SAP program, if they have a University Alliances program, and getting your foot in the door with Career Services can then open not only the doors to the courses that were offered and the student body that makes up those courses, but also ways to really get engaged when it comes to maybe taking the students on for internships or taking the students on for an entry-level career.


[00:07:42.330] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Wow. There are so many different aspects and avenues for employers to interact with a university that has got the program going, right? Now, looking from a different angle, what do you expect from prospective employers? What is that you guys want or the students are looking for?


[00:08:05.550] - Tom McGinnis

There's a couple of things. Part of it is being active or participating with the faculty and the students. It also brings together the folks to talk about what the requirements are and expectations. I know Megan and I have worked with a lot of students in bringing companies into the student group to just talk hiring practices, talk about what's the average day in the office. That opens up their eyes. It also gets the employers in to help assess the program, if you will, because Not all programs are made equal. Some schools will have larger programs than others. Sometimes a school will have dedicated SAP coursework, meaning a full 15-week course dealing with business processes. Activities, dealing with configuration, dealing with warehouse management or building a data warehouse. And along with that, there might be snippets in other courses. So the accounting course may have a two-week discussion around SAP and what accounting looks like. A supply chain course might touch upon procurement just for a few weeks in the semester. There are different ways of teaching the classes, and employers can come in and take a look at that and see what they're looking for. Students see the employers coming in and get an understanding of what the employers are looking for, and everyone starts to dial in on what they like.


[00:09:43.650] - Tom McGinnis

In some of the programs I've taught in, a majority of the students taking the courses, SAP courses, are not MIS students. They're not technology people. They're business process people because they see that the employers value that business process understanding. It's really fun to watch that eke out. Then faculty, of course, get involved because they want their courses to be relevant to employers. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy where everyone's feeding off each other's energy to ramp up the programs. It's really exciting to see that happen.


[00:10:23.260] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Now, that's interesting. I think one point that I really got out of this is as an employer ourselves, at Innovative Solution Partners, basically what I'm hearing is you want us to be there, interact with the program and students, and get to know what is being taught. And this is one way of Getting the value out of the program because each program has got its own merit in terms of what has been taught in the program. And each school has a different curriculum. So this way an employer has an opportunity to get to know what they will be dealing with or what they will be getting in terms of the talent that they're looking for.


[00:11:09.540] - Meagan Knoll

To speak to that point, let me give you some examples of some opportunities that have taken place at a lot of University Alliances schools. There's something called the NextGen Labs. Nextgen Labs are a space within the university where they can do hands-on projects for or a community partner. If your business has a small project that maybe you don't have the bandwidth to take on and it involves SAP in some way, you could turn it over to a course at a university, and the students could work on solving that problem for you or making that report that you need. That's one great way to preview the talent because those students that are on that next-gen project who are going to be meeting with you and talking about it and presenting it gives you a great insight into what type of employee those students might become. Another one that is pretty popular is code jams. A great way to connect with the students and see the students in action would be to participate in a code jam. A lot of SAP organizations or user groups groups, they have code jams put on by SAP. Students can attend those as much as the employees at the different businesses can attend.


[00:12:39.710] - Meagan Knoll

And having that mix between students and professionals is a great way to see that blossoming talent and really connect with them before you hire them on.


[00:12:53.380] - Mustansir Saifuddin

That's very interesting. So I know I'm familiar with code jam for sure. This next Gen program that you mentioned, it seems very interesting also. It seems like there are multiple ways a prospective employer can connect and interact and get a first-hand look at the talent that they're dealing with or they will we're going to be approaching in the future. So this is really good news.


[00:13:18.880] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Now, let's take a different approach.


[00:13:24.130] - Mustansir Saifuddin

I know you are being an educator, you're dealing with students day in, day out. How How are you preparing these young people to be productive from the get-go?


[00:13:35.620] - Meagan Knoll

I think it takes more than just an individual faculty member. It's really, most of these SAP University Alliances programs are housed in a larger college, like the College of Business. It takes that whole roundabout knowledge of the tactical things, the systems thinking, the hands-on, education, all the different insights that come from career services and come from extracurriculars, even leadership type roles that students might have on campus. It really takes a large ecosphere at the university level to really prepare the students to go forth. And the UA gives a really great mix that universities can already add on to their great programs, but it just gives that little bit of extra edge.


[00:14:29.920] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Yeah, that makes sense, because especially when you think about these programs, I know it feels like sometimes when you think about these programs, you are looking at one part of it, but it's an overall scheme of things It makes sense to have it as the way it's set up, like you mentioned.


[00:14:49.740] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Tom, you have any other points that you want to share about this, especially when you're preparing young folks?


[00:14:57.940] - Tom McGinnis

Part of it is there's There's a couple of aspects to it. It's more from the employer side of things is when you're looking at programs, as I said before, they're not all the same. Oftentimes, I see companies struggle with how to participate, how to put their foot in in those cases. Megan has mentioned career services and all those opportunities, but part of it is assessing the schools that you partner with. Most organizations already have a set list of schools that they recruit from. It could be just as simple as going out and looking to see if one of their current schools is on that list. Sap, www. Sap. Com, they have a list of UA schools. If you have a list of 10, 15 local schools that you recruit from, it's worth checking to see whether those schools are there on that list. Then you just take a look at their program. How many students do they have? What's the mix of majors? How involved are the faculty? What courses are involved in that? Lastly, as Megan said, the certifications. You're looking at that holistically and bringing that all together, and that's where you get some of those unique views.


[00:16:19.160] - Tom McGinnis

The faculty oftentimes go along for the ride because they see the interest in those programs. It's a great way of getting that synergy involved. I think that's the thing I want to stress. It's the combination of faculty organizations and the students. That's what really brings this home as a value prop for everyone involved.


[00:16:44.870] - Mustansir Saifuddin

For sure. I think this subject is such a vast subject, and we can keep on going, but we do have a time limitation. I'll try to wrap this up. Just looking at all the discussions we had so far and what we covered, what is the one key takeaway that you want our listeners to go with?


[00:17:10.720] - Meagan Knoll

In preparing and talking and getting this topic on the top of our minds, the one takeaway that really stood out to us is that old adage of, You reap what you sow. So the more involved that you are in that synergy of students and faculty and organizations the more that your connection and your internship possibilities, your young career possibilities will flourish.


[00:17:39.870] - Tom McGinnis

There's opportunities out there for companies to harvest these diamonds in the rough, we call it. Fantastic performers that are sitting there in school not quite knowing what they want to do yet, who are going to really flourish in the right environment. It's just getting those folks together and seeing the value on on all their sides. And oftentimes, I see organizations not taking advantage of this because they have some self-imposed barrier to entry in this recruiting scheme. And there's nothing there. It's a simple call to Career Services to find out who on campus could I talk to and going from there. Or it's leveraging your current grads and whatever alumni associations you have in your company, using them to go out and recruit on campus. So there's a lot of low-hanging fruit that's there for people to take advantage of.

Yeah, and I think I would like to sum it up with this is almost like a matchmaking


[00:18:45.870] - Mustansir Saifuddin

You have the right set of talent on both sides, right?


[00:18:51.530] - Mustansir Saifuddin

In our business, looking for individuals or teams that they want to bring into their fold. And the university is looking at placing these young individuals into a system where they can flourish and they can get a sense of what they are getting into. And it seems like the UA program allows them to do both of it in a way that interaction starts so much earlier than any other program where you are doing the book study versus not having that real-life exposure. I really appreciate you guys coming together and sharing your thoughts on this.


[00:19:38.430] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Thanks for listening to Tech Driven Business brought to you by Innovative Solution Partners. Meagan and Tom shared valuable insights on how IT firms can leverage the University Alliance program. Their main takeaway, the more involved that you are in that synergy of students, faculty, and organizations, the more impact the program will have. There is a lot of low hanging fruit that's there for people to take advantage of. We would love to hear from you. Continue the conversation by connecting with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. Learn more about Innovative Solution Partners and schedule a free consultation by visiting Never miss our podcast by subscribing to our YouTube channel. Information is in the show notes.

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