Learning technologies

first_img Comments are closed. Learning technologiesOn 29 Jan 2002 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article ITworkers play a crucial role in today’s organisations but HR faces a challengein keeping them up to date with technological innovations, and persuadingtechnical staff to coach colleagues. Nic Paton reportsNext time you pull in beside someone at a motorway service station, watchthem closely. Are they munching on a sandwich and listening to Jimmy Young? Orare they studying on their laptop before heading off to their next clientmeeting – as an increasing number of organisations are encouraging their staffto do? According to specialist IT research organisation IDC, the number of mobileworkers in the UK will rise from about 2.3 million this year to 4.8 million by2005. A significant proportion of these are likely to be IT workers, either onthe road selling software solutions to organisations or working onsite withclients, often on time- critical projects. For these workers, keeping up to speed with the latest technologicaladvances in such a fast-moving industry is a key issue, as is ensuring they aremaintaining their core skills and competencies. Iain Smith, founder and director of IT consultancy Diaz Research, says oneof the main problems faced by IT professionals is the difficulty in gettingreleased to train. This can be a particular problem among sales staff, whereany time off from selling means the company is failing to make money. “There are a surprising number of people in IT who have had very littletraining. They tend to speak to colleagues or find out things forthemselves,” he says. This attitude can be compounded by the failure of line managers – oftenformer IT professionals themselves – to recognise the importance of ongoingtraining. “One of the characteristics of IT workers is they are often notinterested in, or capable of, communicating and coaching colleagues. They arehired on the basis of their technical ability, not their coaching orsupervisory skills. “For senior technical people it is much easier to tell someone how tofix a problem, or give them the answer, than sitting down with the individualto explain exactly why and expose the whole process,” he explains. This problem can be exacerbated when managers are dealing with a mobile orremote workforce. For such a workforce, offering learning in bite-sized chunks,rather than sticking people in a classroom for the whole day is the key, arguesFenella Galpin, a consultant at e-learning specialiste-learningsolutions.co.uk. “It’s learning they can do in half-an-hour satin a lay-by,” she says. Online learning need not mean being stuck in front of a computer inisolation. The vast majority of packages offer collaborative or interactiveadd-ons such as chat and discussion rooms, mentoring, expert advice andperformance appraisal, she adds. The sort of investment a company makes in this type of training can varywidely. At its most basic, buying a single course can cost £500 to £1,000 peremployee, with a small organisation probably buying three or four courses forbetween five and 10 staff, for example. For larger companies, the cost ofbespoke packages for a far-flung workforce can easily run into hundreds ofthousands, even millions, of pounds. This, though, has to be set against the saving to the business of not havingto pull valuable staff offsite or off the road for training and not havingemployees who are losing competency simply because they are not being trained.For the majority of companies, the competitive benefits of having a highlytrained IT workforce in place – and one being constantly developed andchallenged – outweighs the cost of putting an online training infrastructure inplace. Cisco Systems, for example, has ploughed millions of dollars into developingwhat is thought to be one of the most sophisticated e-learning systems in theworld, which launched in November last year. A central element to this has beenthe development of a global e-learning ‘community’, offering 12,000 courses to38,000 staff worldwide. Cisco offers innovations including “personalised learningroadmaps” – online career plans that identify what skills or experiencesemployees need to progress. There are ‘virtual classrooms’ where students indifferent locations can join online lectures, possibly led by an expertinstructor in another location. Experts are available 24 hours a day to discussproblems. ‘Video-on-demand’, TV-quality video images can also be used to deliverhigh-impact messages. Cisco says these are particularly useful for explainingcomplex material and for staff briefings. In the process, the US technology specialist has switched its field salestraining from being 90 per cent classroom-based to 90 per cent online, as wellas reducing its annual training costs by 40 to 60 per cent. In total, about 60 per cent of its training is now online and the companyplans to increase this to 70 per cent, estimates Mike Maunder, vice-presidentof marketing and alliances at e-learning firm Saba Software, a key player inthe switchover. A big factor in the success of the scheme was that Cisco’s CEO John Chamberswas behind it from the start. “He was absolutely committed to thestrategy, so it was a top-down approach. That makes it much easier tohappen,” says Maunder. “Cisco wanted to look at not just how people were learning, but the wayit was communicating with its workforce. In the past, companies foundcommunicating with and educating their staff was a real problem. Just gettingthem together in one place was very expensive. “I can remember years ago going to global sales meetings with 3,000people in one room. How the hell can you communicate with 3,000 people? Theirattention span is not that good. This is about having the ability to trainpeople as and when they need and want it. Putting people in a classroom is outof the question,” he explains. Another company that has tackled this problem head on, albeit on a smallerscale, is IT recruitment consultancy Elan. For the past year, the company, theIT arm of Manpower, has offered more than 1,500 online training courses to its2,500 contractors around Europe, through specialist provider SmartForce UK. IT certification courses on offer – the benchmark to which IT professionalstrain – include Microsoft, Oracle, Novell and Cisco, as well as developingweb-based skills such as Java. There is an assessment tool to allow contractors to assess their core skillsand competencies before embarking on a course. The online service also includesvideo conferences, libraries and, like Cisco, expert advisers available 24hours a day and discussion and chat rooms. Sadie King, market development manager, says while contractors are workingonsite maybe for three to six months at a time, it is vital organisations havea training structure that addresses mobile working. Elan’s service wasinitially launched in the UK and Ireland, but has since been expanded to staffacross Europe. “In a fast-moving industry like this, skill sets are shifting all thetime. It is very important in this particular industry for staff to keep theirskills up-to-date,” she says. As is standard with most systems, Elan contractors register for the serviceand are given a log in so they can access the training site. Those who will nothave access to the Internet – perhaps because they are travelling or in aparticularly remote location – can use a CD-Rom version. Each course tends to be in three to four-hour chunks and employees cansimply work their way through them. The website also offers links to WhitePapers, news articles and other related topics. Laura Overton, global programmes manager at SmartForce, believes that, as IThas become a more central, integrated part of the modern business, so has theneed for good IT training – particularly now. “In tougher economicclimates, people are reducing their reliance on IT contractors, so theirpermanent staff are under more pressure to have the skills. The market forskills is still as important as it has ever been,” she says. And she disputes there is a need for a cultural change towards training.”In my experience, IT professionals, are very keen to relearn, they arenot set in their ways. They will look for organisations willing to show anongoing investment in their skills. They generally suck up information,”she argues. SmartForce has worked with a raft of blue-chip names, such as Unisys andSiemens, as well as smaller companies such as technology firm LionbridgeTechnologies. Its multi-million pound collaboration with Unisys, for example,led to the creation of an ‘online university’ for the software firm’s 33,000staff worldwide. As a result of that collaboration, Unisys saw its training costs come downand first-time pass rates rise from 75 per cent to 95 per cent. Another firm taking the plunge has been the business consulting practice ofAndersen – formerly Arthur Andersen. Since last April, the company has offeredits 600 UK staff, of which about 550 are mobile workers, an online learningnetwork called MindSpace. Similar networks have been established in Andersenoperations in other countries. MindSpace offers chat rooms, 24-hour mentoring and innovations such as‘smart seminars’ – live interactive webcasts that are then archived for futureuse. Courses can be accessed online, down the phone or downloaded on to alaptop where an employee does not have access to a phone line. It could also bebuilt into an employees’ personal learning plan and included as part of theirreview objectives for the coming year. “The key challenge for us has been getting the usage to the level wewanted,” says Robin Blass, head of management development and learning atthe company. “But users have been very positive.” While its usage statistics are currently unaudited, initial indications arethat the most frequent users have been technical specialists tapping intocourses on subjects such as Oracle, Cisco and Windows. Usage in this group overthe past three months has been running at between 10 per cent and 30 per cent,says UK e-learning project manager Antony Reid. Since start-up, the average user has used the network for approximately for5.4 days, a pretty satisfactory level of take-up, argues Blass. To get themessage across, the company launched a marketing campaign including voicemails,e-mails and group presentations. But the challenge remains to get people to useit more than once, he adds. “In a culture where people are getting 100 e-mails a day and people areout with clients, just getting them to spend a few minutes understanding it hasbeen the key. Once you have done that, there is a domino effect,” heexplains. Initial set-up costs for the MindSpace platform came in at £72,800, with thecontent – the courses – being essentially free, because they had been madeavailable to Andersen through global licenses. The maintenance cost of theportal has yet to be finalised, but will be in the region of £9,000. Looking forward, the company plans to migrate the different MindSpacenetworks in its various countries into a single global e-learning solution, aswell as bring in more competency measuring and assessment technology. It appears more and more IT companies are realising that for their mobilesales staff and contractors, simply sending them out on the road and leavingthem to it is no longer an option. As Cisco discovered, a successful e-learning initiative needs commitment andbacking to come from the very top. It is in changing cultural perceptions – andsecuring buy-in to the idea of constant training and development, for even themost remote workforce – that HR professionals have a key role to play, arguesDiaz’s Smith. “The best answer is focusing on communicating to senior technicalpeople and team leaders that part of the job, part of what they do, isimparting knowledge and supporting colleagues to learn,” he says. “Why, for example, shouldn’t part of their yearly bonus be dependent onwhat junior colleagues say about their willingness to actually communicateknowledge?” he suggests. If organisations want to maintain a competitive edge, mobile training has tobe a central part of that day-to-day working experience. The job of the HRprofessional working in such organisations is to instil awareness, from the topdown, that this sort of step-change needs to be made. Should your IT staff be certified?Nearly half (48 per cent) of IT professionalssaid assessing skills and knowledge levels was the most important reason forseeking certification. A total of 39 per cent cited increasing credibility and38 per cent increased productivitySixty-six per cent of ITprofessionals said their salaries increased after becoming certified Sixty-four per cent of managers saida higher level of service was a key benefit of having certified staff, with 59per cent citing competitive advantage and 57 per cent increased productivity Half of IT professionals saidincreasing overall productivity was their main reason for certification,followed by increasing credibility (47 per cent) and preparing forcertification (45 per cent) More than 42 per cent of managerssaid certified staff leaving their organisation was a major drawback tocertifying employees. Yet only 29 per cent of certified professionals actuallychanged employers after receiving certification Approximately half of all classroomtraining took place in a formal, third-party training facility, with 23 percent on a company’s premises. A total of 30 per cent took place at bothlocations Forty-seven per cent of ITprofessionals’ most useful methods to prepare for certification wereinstructor-led classroom training (24 per cent) followed by printed materialsfor self-study (23 per cent) A higher proportion (51 per cent) whoused both self-study and self-assessment tests in preparation for certificationexams passed their courses, compared with candidates who used all othermethodologies Thirty-seven per cent of ITprofessionals underwent IT training because their employer recommended it Only 10 per cent of certifiedprofessionals sought training to find another job, while 22 per cent soughttraining for job securitylast_img read more

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