Longtime community partnership drives applied educational opportunities

Reilly's fall 2018 IO class that worked with a Volvo project in late 2018.
Reilly's fall 2018 IO class that worked with a Volvo project in late 2018.

For more than 20 years, Volvo Trucks' New River Valley Assembly Plant has been working with Radford University’s Department of Psychology to provide hands-on opportunities for students, while also benefiting the assembly plant’s workforce.

The partnership fulfills one of Radford University’s core values – community – by fostering relationships and a culture of service within and beyond our campus.

The plant, located in Dublin, Virginia, is the largest Volvo Trucks assembly plant in the world and produces all Volvo Trucks that are sold in North America. Having that economic and corporate resource in Radford’s backyard led to the ongoing partnership with the university.

The current year-long project that industrial and organizational (IO) psychology is working on with Volvo Trucks has the graduate students assessing Volvo’s culture of teamwork, along with the readiness for team training, at the plant.

“I want to instill the idea that when we work with organizations - when we work with clients and employees - our mission is to be helpful to the individual employee,” said Nora Reilly, professor of psychology. “The take away value for our program is that we get the opportunity to show our students that it can be really helpful to not just a company and its bottom line, but also to the lives of the people that work there. It’s all about the people you work with. If you can generate an esprit de corps among team members, that’s invaluable to a person at the end of the day.”

Reilly has been assisting Volvo Trucks with various projects since the mid-1990s – and has seen the plant grow and expand. She said that “Volvo gives us the opportunity to...put what we are learning into practice.”

Over the years, IO has worked on a variety of projects with Volvo Trucks, including:

  • Culture audits
  • Focus groups
  • Various training sessions
  • Supervisor guidelines for effective communication, such as how to provide feedback to an employee
  • General satisfaction surveys
  • Employee involvement surveys
  • Development sessions geared toward manager development

Reilly went on to describe the first two of these activities.  A culture audit looks at how the individual employees feel about the values, norms and expectations of an organization compared to what the baseline is for that organization.  The closer an employee’s response is to the typical response, the better the fit. Structured discussions in focus groups then provide an in depth understanding of potential discrepancies that can be addressed via people development initiatives. These projects give students realistic expectations for working with various clients.

“If you put students in a situation where they have to talk with people and use language appropriate to a particular industry,” Reilly said. “It helps them connect with the client. They better appreciate who their audience is. It’s all about developing people at work. That’s the case no matter what.”

This experience also gives students an opportunity to foster a core aspect of being a Highlander: responsiveness. Through working with Volvo, students are witnessing how being adaptable to the needs of an organization is a critical component of success in their field.

“What we just learned from this organization isn’t necessarily going to apply to every organization or any other organization,” Reilly said. “For our current project, there is no equation on how to put together the perfect team. It is unique to the company and the people that are working there.”

Reilly said that success on the IO project will be eventually be measured by whether “employees respect each other and appreciate each other’s work” at the plant.

Feb 11, 2019
Max Esterhuizen