Monday Jan 22, 2024

Inside Insights: Overview of SAP University Alliances with Meagan Knoll and Tom McGinnis

In this next series of episodes, Megan Knoll and Tom McGinnis, long-time collaborators and educators join me to talk about how companies can leverage the SAP University Alliances to build their talent pipeline. In this first episode, we'll start with an overview of how the program is helping shape a skilled workforce and benefiting students, educational institutions, industry partners, and SAP. 

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. 

Connect with Us:

Meagan Knoll

Mustansir Saifuddin

Innovative Solution Partners 

X: @Mmsaifuddin



or learn more about our sponsor Innovative Solution Partners to schedule a free consultation. 

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00.000] - Mustansir Saifuddin



[00:00:03.310] - Mustansir Saifuddin

To Tech-Driven Business brought to you by Innovative Solution Partners. Megan Knoll and Tom McGinnis, long-time collaborators and educators, joined me to share how the University Alliance Program is helping shape our skilled workforce and benefiting students, educational institutions, industry partners, and SAP. It's all about building a valuable talent pipeline.


[00:00:28.810] - Mustansir Saifuddin

So how are you guys?


[00:00:38.400] - Meagan Knoll



[00:00:39.200] - Tom McGinnis

Thank you. Very well, thanks.


[00:00:41.830] - Mustansir Saifuddin

So I know the topic from today's session is building your talent pipeline. And I know it's a wild subject, but I try to keep it to a few points that make sense in terms of how our listeners interact with our podcast. So if you guys are ready, we can get into our questions.


[00:01:05.990] - Meagan Knoll

Sounds great.


[00:01:06.500] - Tom McGinnis

Let's get started. Let's go.


[00:01:08.420] - Mustansir Saifuddin

All right. So I know talent pipeline, big word, a lot of different things that goes along with it, but let's focus on a couple of things. Can you describe the University Alliance as it applies to SAP and the SAP customers and partners ecosystem? Absolutely.


[00:01:31.680] - Meagan Knoll

The University Alliance is a program that was initiated by SAP, and the whole idea was to foster collaboration between educational institutions like the universities and trade schools, SAP itself, and then SAP customers and partners. What we like to think of for the University of Alliances is that it is a conduit for knowledge transfer that will help prepare students to become skilled professionals in the SAP area. It's a global initiative that has over 3,500 educational institutions, and that spans over 113 countries.


[00:02:18.810] - Tom McGinnis

From a customer perspective, it gives an avenue. It allows companies to work with their local schools, because often times universities are struggling with what content to provide that's meaningful to the local community when it comes to job skills and with systems work. Companies can help identify what those requirements are and the skills that they value and help set those realistic goals for the graduates. And from a school's perspective, it's the target market that they're working with. So the whole idea of having this conduit back and forth allows both sides to get what they need out of the relationship. Collaterally then, everyone gets other benefits outside of the University Alliance, a variety of different ways that we'll probably end up talking about in a few minutes.


[00:03:12.440] - Meagan Knoll

One of the other points when it comes to the SAP University Alliances is that there's a lot of collaboration and making sure that students and partners can both participate in things like conferences, meetings, workshops, boot camps, certifications. It really helps to make sure that our students are skilled to the point they need to be to jump right into that talent pipeline.


[00:03:40.340] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Now that's a great explanation about the University Alliance. Thank you. Let me ask you this, how long has been this University Alliance around in terms of your interaction, both of your experiences, goals?


[00:03:57.820] - Meagan Knoll

I have been interacting with the University Alliance for about 17 years now.


[00:04:03.680] - Tom McGinnis

And for me, close to 15 years.


[00:04:07.050] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Wow, it's quite a long time. Okay. So that leads me into my next question. Especially, we're talking about talent. University Alliances, coming from a customer's perspective, what can SAP customers and partners expect from this program? Can you elaborate on that?


[00:04:25.830] - Tom McGinnis

Yeah, everyone gets a little bit different benefits out of it. The major stakeholders, as you said, the business community, the academic community, and most importantly, from our perspective, the students. From a business perspective, their impact on the school, I don't think organizations appreciate how much impact they can have on their local schools because they're looking for guidance, they're looking for help when it comes to what to offer students. The partnerships that are forged with companies and the local universities provide a variety of benefits out of that. Companies also, from an internal standpoint, get visibility at school so that their own organizations can see opportunities for upskilling employees, working with researchers at universities, and that partnership really builds. From the school's perspective, it's almost like self-marketing. They're working with these organizations, and it's a front-facing thing, where now these companies have a face on campus, and that means a face in recruiting. That's a face for research, a face for value generation that helps the university move along. And of course, with students, it's the networking. Students struggle. They struggle hard with meeting companies and getting their foot in the door with these social networks, professional social networks.


[00:06:00.830] - Tom McGinnis

The UA program is a shot in the arm for them for that. It helps them meet people that they want to interact with and start slowly gaining that understanding of what an organization does. Again, it leads to other peripheral things. There's a lot of internships that come out of the UA, and that allows companies to test drive students in a manner of speaking, but also the students get to test drive a company and see what organization they'd like to work with. Ua schools are a great place for organizations to get interns because they're ready to hit the ground running when they're done with their coursework. So there's a great variety of things that benefit all three parts of that group.


[00:06:49.850] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Yeah. It's going to be very interesting term you mentioned that it seems like a mutually beneficial for all parties involved in terms of... Especially, I think one thing that I really liked about your observation is everybody gets a test drive, right? You get to know the employer versus the employers get to know the students and the university being in the middle trying to engage these different parties into a common platform, right? So, Meagan, from your perspective, how have you seen this work? What's your perspective on this?


[00:07:28.900] - Meagan Knoll

From an education standpoint, I have seen the great collaboration that has come between industry partners, SAP Proper, and then also the universities in the University Alliances. There is a wealth of information that's provided by these companies when it comes to adapting new technologies, giving students hands-on opportunities to work with these new technologies, and it also helps to encourage and support faculty-led research. Not only are we looking for benefits to the students, but also benefits in making the research aspect of working and having that environment where we have that pipeline of students versus our students going to our employers, it all comes together as a nice symbiosis.


[00:08:26.720] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Makes sense. No, definitely. Let's talk about from a different angle. Lessons learned when you're working with employers, how can they be successful?


[00:08:38.590] - Tom McGinnis

Well, that's a good one.


[00:08:40.300] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Yeah, for sure.


[00:08:42.340] - Tom McGinnis

Well, it comes back a little bit to what we were saying just a bit ago about that front-facing aspect. One of the things that we've seen with our students, and part of it is the demographics of the student today, but if they don't know an organization, they tend not to go out of their way to recruit at that organization. They like whatever they know and they stick with it. Well, for companies that don't have an end consumer product, they're at a disadvantage. Those people who make intermediates, they make the product that goes into other products, our students don't know them, and the company is not on the radar during recruiting. With a program like UA, they're seeing how everything is made behind the scenes. A lot of UA schools also—and I do plant tours and things like that as part of the curriculum to get folks onto the shop floor, let's say, and see how SAP is really used there. Breaking down that barrier, if you will, or informing the students of who's out there, that's a big change in the opportunities for a company to recruit. And that's probably one of the biggest things I've seen come out of UA programs is the visibility of the company in front of the students has greatly increased compared to traditional courses.


[00:10:05.800] - Mustansir Saifuddin

I think I really love that aspect of it. It seems like there is a conduit into how a student is starting from an education point of view, but then getting to real life earlier than they expect to. I mean, this engagement through the UA program allows them to experience way upfront, which makes it easier when they actually get into the real work-life, right? So it seems like a very powerful tool that allows them to be ahead of the competition. I mean, there's always companies looking for talent, but talent that comes with education upfront about themselves, about the organization where they're maybe potentially working in the future.


[00:10:58.270] - Meagan Knoll

Absolutely. We have noticed that there not only is that reduced onboarding time because they have those skills and they're ready to hit the ground running, but there's also the opportunity to develop the talent. It's not uncommon for students who are part of the university alliances to intern at a company, then possibly work part-time at a company, and then become full-time hire as soon as they graduate. You can start to develop that talent in a specific way that meets your needs of your organization.


[00:11:33.790] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Yeah, for sure. And that is the key point, right? How do we get that engagement going early on? So now taking a little deviation from our UA part of it, but on a personal level, you both have been an educator for quite some time. Taking it back to the University Alliance, what is the aha moment that you would experience over the past few years? And you can go, Tom, you can start and then Meagan, you can follow up with what are your experience is. I'd love to share that with our listeners.


[00:12:15.910] - Tom McGinnis

Well, it's funny the way you said that, because for me right now, it's going through the list of aha, moments. There's not just one. There are a couple of them. There was one moment for a Midwest company. This is a company that was in Minneapolis. They had to change the way that they hired new hires and students because they brought on a student who was doing SAP work, coursework, as an intern his sophomore year in school. They liked him so much, they brought him in for another internship the following summer. When he graduated, of course, he applied for a position there and they gave him a position, but he had worked there so long already they couldn't hire him as a new hire. He was actually in a different salary bracket. When you have a student that's that valuable before they've even finished their coursework, that's a big aha moment on what a UA program does for the student's skills. The other big aha moment is when I take a look at the students in my classroom, and I'm MIS faculty, Management Information Systems, you would think the course I teach predominantly has MIS students in it.


[00:13:35.970] - Tom McGinnis

But my biggest SAP classes, my MIS students are in the minority in the class. It's usually other disciplines, supply chain management, marketing, accounting. It shows, I think, the value that other disciplines place on SAP skills and what those organizations are then doing to the recruiting at our college. Yeah, there's a lot of aha, moments.


[00:14:01.580] - Meagan Knoll

I think the biggest aha moment for me was a very rewarding experience. A couple of years ago at Sapphire, I was able to sit in on a session in which one of our former students was presenting as the subject matter expert. That was only three years after she had graduated from our program. Knowing that the roles were reversed and I was able to learn from her, just like she had learned from me in the classroom five years earlier, was a great aha moment and a great feeling that our program does make a difference and that we could really bolster up that talent pipeline and really have students who are ready to hit the ground running to make valuable impacts for any organization that they're hired at.


[00:14:49.470] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Great example. Thank you for sharing that. I think one thing I would like to add to this is being an SAP professional for over 20 years and working with different industries and different customers, one thing is very clear to me, and that is the talent that comes out of the UA program. I mean, the example that you used, Meagan, about someone this early in the career getting on a stage, something like a Sapphire conference, a huge opportunity and a huge gathering of customers and partners and folks who are learning more about SAP. And this is a moment for a student that just came out of this program and getting into the workforce, be able to share what they've learned on this stage. I think that is great. And especially, Tom, your examples speaks for itself, right? I mean, you're looking at as an organization, customers looking for talent. But when the talent is that well developed early on and they are able to get into the organization, start running from the get go. I mean, that's what a lot of these companies are looking for. They want to have employees who are ready, who understand the culture, who can adapt to the applications, to the technologies that they're using.


[00:16:22.160] - Mustansir Saifuddin

So it's a happy ending from both angles, right? So great examples. Thank you. Well, I know we talked about a bunch of things in our session, so that takes me to my last question. And this is one takeaway that I always like our listeners to have with them after every session. Based on all that we have covered so far, what is the one key takeaway that you would want our listeners to leave with?


[00:16:56.560] - Meagan Knoll

I would say that the one key takeaway that I want listeners to leave with is an expanded knowledge that this program does exist. It may not be at your fingertips at this time, but just the knowledge of knowing that the University of Alliance is out there and is promoting and producing this talent, is something to maybe tuck into your back pocket and revisit at another time and really reach out to a UA school in your area.


[00:17:26.980] - Tom McGinnis

To echo that, I think it's about engagement. A company needs to reach out in this day and age to find the resources it needs. The UA is a great place to reach out to, but you also want to reach out to your local schools. Even if they're not in the UA program yet, your interest in UA coursework may push them in that direction. And it's that interaction that I really want to see organizations do, is get out there with their local schools and start that conversation. The worst thing that could happen is that you don't find the resources that you want. The best thing that can happen is you find these diamonds in the rough that you can then use and use them to recruit even more diamonds in the rough. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.


[00:18:21.530] - Mustansir Saifuddin

No, great examples, and I think that's the key, right? I mean, you have the opportunity and you have the means to get to this great program that has been around. And how do we get the word out? So folks who are looking, folks who may be looking in the future, folks who never even heard about it, this is an opportunity for them to avail this, at least explore the options and see what is out there in terms of what UA can do for them. And we'll look forward to having you both on our next session, where we'll dig more into the details of the University ofAlliance program. So thank you.


[00:19:02.180] - Tom McGinnis

Thank you. Thanks for having us.


[00:19:09.410] - Mustansir Saifuddin

Thanks for listening to Tech-driven Business brought to you by Innovative Solution Partners. Meagan and Tom shared valuable insights on how partners can come together in building a talent pipeline. Their main takeaway? Know that the University Alliance is out there and reach out to your UA school in your area. It's all about engagement and finding these diamonds in the rough that can help build a talent pipeline. 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 isolutionpartners.Com. Never miss our podcast by subscribing to our YouTube channel. Information is in the show notes.

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