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Employee retention through TLC (sidebar)

On the trail of a Ph.D.

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Many companies have long recognized that training pays a dual dividend. It results in more effective on-the-job performance, and it also sends a message that management cares enough to invest in its workers for the long term. Palo Alto, CA-based Hewlett-Packard not only reimburses employees for business-related education and training, but also allows a select number of its engineers, including those who work in packaging, to take up to 18 months off work to pursue advanced degrees. One HP packaging engineer who's taking advantage of this program is Matt Daum, who is finishing up work on a Ph.D. in packaging from Michigan State University in East Lansing. He will be one of the first such Ph.D.s to graduate from MSU's packaging program. Under HP's fellowship program, says Daum, "all the tuition, books and lab fees are paid for. You get a partial salary and you don't have any day-to-day job responsibilities. You're allowed to go to school instead." Daum normally works out of HP's Boise, ID, facility doing product and packaging R&D for the company's LaserJet line of printers. Daum says the advanced degree "will allow me to do some research in some areas that I think might be strategic for us down the line related to product damage and how things fail. I'll be trying to develop software tools that will give some better information upfront before we design packages, and to understand what are some of the issues we might have in the field later on with damaged products. From a strategic point of view, I hope to be branching out into product design, not just packaging." The advanced degree, he adds, will help him move down these paths. In terms of being a tool of retention, Daum says that the degree will definitely influence how long he sticks around at HP. "I'm a big fan of higher education, and [HP's willingness to invest in education] was one of the drawing points for me. They'll even work with you if you need to take classes during the workday at a local university. I did that for two to three years before I even came here, and they were fully supportive."

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