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Blog: The Evolution of Vault U

The Evolution of Vault U

At Vault, part of our commitment to client partners is ensuring that we can deliver outstanding work and value throughout our engagement, no matter who is contributing to a project team. Every Vaulter is prepared with technical and soft skills to deliver exceptional work, in no small part due to our internal culture of learning and personal growth that benefits every team member. We believe that every Vaulter has room to learn and grow and that one of the most valuable ways we can learn is from each other. To facilitate and formalize this learning culture, we created Vault U: an internal system of professional development courses that every Vaulter participates in, helping them develop in their current role and prepare for their professional future. Vault U is our approach to ensuring that every team member has access to the technical knowledge they need, the mentorship and guidance of more experienced team members, and a clear understanding of how they can continue developing professionally and personally. 

Vault U was developed initially by a taskforce of Vaulters from each area of the firm and led by COO Amy Horner. Representatives from many different functional roles shared about the kinds of knowledge that client projects require and what it takes to serve the client’s interests from day one. Based on those skillsets, the taskforce designed Vault U’s curriculum to ensure that every Vaulter has the opportunity to develop in these primary areas related to their job and to cultivate additional interpersonal communication skills that help them engage with clients and colleagues more effectively. 

When the program was in the early stages of development, Vaulters were excited about the prospect of having curated learning opportunities available to them. A growth mindset is one of the most important qualities that a Vaulter must possess, and Vault U helps translate their interest in learning into the best possible work for client partners, along with continued personal and professional growth.

“Vault employees have a desire to learn and improve. We look for that when we hire, but we gave them a more structured way to pursue that,” says Rachel Dobis, a Senior Director for Vault’s Research Unit. Vault U systematizes how team members can pursue their individual learning goals while keeping track of the goals Vault has for them as well. Depending on a Vaulter’s level of experience, role within the firm, and areas of expertise, the courses each person takes vary. Managers and mentors advise on the specific courses each Vaulter should pursue. This learning journey is ongoing throughout one’s tenure with Vault, beginning when a new hire starts the onboarding process.

Vault U provides a solid foundation that every team member experiences as they onboard and become acquainted with the team. The onboarding program covers basic expectations for employees, ranging from workplace harassment prevention to sharing feedback and an introduction to client relations. For example, the two-minute speech class is a memorable tradition and rite of passage for all Vaulters. Though it may seem daunting to speak publicly before the entire firm, this course helps people work through their nervousness, gain valuable experience, and get to know others. 

Christine Rowe, Vault’s Director of Human Resources, explains that Vault U is one way that the firm provides balanced opportunities for every employee and guidance for how they can grow toward the next step in their career. While Vault U coursework is not the only way Vaulters demonstrate they are ready for advancement, it is a critical component made available to everyone and structured to fit each person’s unique needs. 

“You want to move up, but you need a path—a more structured way to get all the same experiences and training as everyone else,” says Rowe. Vault U coursework affords every team member the same opportunities to learn and reassures them that they will not be left behind if they are not assigned to a particular client project.

To complement practical work experience that helps prepare Vaulters for advancement within the firm, Vault U has three separate curriculum tracks related to different qualities that a Vaulter should demonstrate. The first track is technical skills, which apply directly to project work and are unique to their particular business units—Research and Outsourced Accounting Services. The second track covers communication skills, such as presenting, leading, and managing. The third track is devoted to corporate processes that help Vaulters understand and contribute to internal operations, such as business development, finance, and marketing.

In most cases, Vault U courses have been developed and taught by internal leaders. When Vaulters advance into leadership roles and develop expertise in certain areas, they may become instructors for Vault U. Typically, this happens at the Senior Manager Level, or sometimes the Manager level. Regardless of the level or career stage a Vaulter is in, learning is part of the job. 

While Vaulters bring plenty of relevant expertise to the Vault U curriculum that can be shared across the firm, knowing the limits of our expertise is equally important. For example, with topics such as emotional intelligence, “it’s best to look for an outside resource to share that information,” says Rowe. “It’s not something you can develop in an hour of training. When it’s outside our expertise, we can appreciate that and acknowledge someone else would be best.” 

External expertise, inspiration, and information also help the entire program grow to meet evolving client needs. While Vaulters bring tremendous experience and unique areas of expertise to the firm that can be shared with others, there is always more to learn to expand the team’s skills and cultivate new perspectives.  

“We didn’t want to limit Vault U based on what our level of expertise was,” says Dobis. “We want it to grow with new ideas coming in.” While the majority of Vault U courses have been developed and led internally, Rowe anticipates that as the program continues to evolve, more outside experts will teach classes on special topics. The variety of expert instructors and new formats for course offerings keep Vault U fresh with new opportunities, even for more experienced team members. In-person courses, virtual learning, presentations, role-playing, group exercises, and self-guided coursework are common. When outside resources can more efficiently deliver curriculum, platforms like LinkedIn Learning, for example, are often recommended as part of a Vaulter’s development.

These different formats help Vaulters find what suits them and balance their coursework with other responsibilities at Vault. Team members devote time to their personal and professional development while managing their client-facing and internal duties as needed. They are all crucial parts of being a successful Vaulter.

“Vault tries to provide a holistic approach to expectations for an employee—including client work, time for training and development, paid time off, business development, and marketing,” says Rowe. 

To complement the learning, challenging work, and high expectations that are part of daily life at Vault, Vault U also makes time to infuse celebration as a team into our culture. Building on the theme of a university and community of learning, Vault U even has a homecoming celebration. The highly anticipated annual event involves every Vaulter participating in a course valuable across the firm, followed by games, food, and a happy hour celebration. 

Vault U thrives on the team’s energy and passion for learning, and the team has taken ownership of Vault U. To brand the program, Vaulters submitted logo and slogan ideas. In addition to the image of a pole vaulter taking flight that was selected, the slogan that came to embody Vault U’s purpose is fitting: “Learn. Teach. Grow.”