"In a fast-growing company, you need to carve out a specific amount of time to grow yourself professionally," says Tyler Phillips, founder of The Partnership Group (TPG), in Lansdale, Pa. To make sure employees find time, in 1991 TPG founded its own "university": TPGU.

The $8-million child- and elder-care-referral service publishes an 18-page quarterly course catalog that lists seminars presented by universities, associations, and seminar companies, as well as by TPG employees. Subjects, all work related, range from preschool curricula to time management. Employees also receive credit for work with mentors, for leading seminars, and for independent study.

Employees and their supervisors plan courses of study. TPGU is organized into seven schools: child care and elder care, consulting skills, marketing and sales, client management, general management, total service quality, and TPG operations. All of the company's 90 employees must spend at least 5% of their time in TPGU training. They can call up their transcripts on computers to see how many credits they've earned. "TPGU in essence is a computerized transcript system to track the employees' progress," Phillips says. That progress counts for 30% of their evaluations.

TPG pays for preapproved outside training. Overall, the company dedicates 5% of its human-resources budget, about $125,000, to TPGU. The payoff comes with employees such as Wanda Ritter, a special-projects manager, who now leads a management seminar and has developed a program on complaint resolution. "It's a rare opportunity," she says, "to be supported in continuing education." -- Michael P. Cronin