Learning via the Web helps retain staff

Electronic learning or e-learning — educating employees using Web-enabled materials over the Internet — is taking off as the training method of choice here in Canada. Last year, Canadian organizations spent $290 million in IT content education and training, reports Julie Kaufman, research manager of skills research with IDC Canada in Toronto.

Kaufman estimates that the Canadian outsourcing of e-learning is on par with the United States, growing at 12 or 13 per cent in total, while instructor-based training is growing at three per cent. She suggests companies are interested in e-learning because it is more cost effective and reaches a higher number of people than more traditional methods. Companies no longer have to fly people in, pay for hotels and suffer from productivity loss, she says. It also allows organizations to customize their training to a particular solution. Further, it offers interactivity between instructor and trainees and the ability to update content on-line quickly and consistently as compared to compact discs or video which remain stagnant once recorded.

“It allows you to go at your own pace,” Kaufman adds. She points out that content on the Internet or an intranet often becomes a reference tool that the trainee can refer to quickly. She notes that e-learning has greater flexibility in that courses can be developed more rapidly.

Stephen Liptrap, vice president of human resources for NCR Canada, Caribbean and Latin America, knows all these advantages first hand. He reports that the vast majority of their staff training is now taking place through the Web.

“A couple of years ago, we knew that our workforce was moving a lot more high-tech and we knew that we were needing to be delivering training differently than we ever had before,” he recalls. “We couldn’t just keep doing it in the classroom and flying everyone wherever it might be. We put a real move on creating NCR University (NCRU) which is a total on-line university.”

NCRU has on-line courses as well as links to nearly any resource employees might need: to Barnes & Noble for books, to CD-ROMS, to interactive web courses. There is also an on-line catalogue that includes “classroom courses because we know we’ll always need some,” he says. NCRU includes a curriculum mapping component for every employee.

“We knew we needed to spend a lot more time working with employees in terms of helping them on the career development front,” Liptrap explains. “We developed an assessment tool. For each job, dimensions and behaviour that make someone successful are built into the system.”

Employees are encouraged, not forced, to create their curriculum map by first evaluating their performance and their training needs to enhance their abilities. That self-evaluation is blended with their manager’s evaluation and the needs identified. “Let’s say we both agree I’m a level three in negotiating and I need to be a level four, then it automatically links into NCRU and creates a curriculum map,” Liptrap illustrates. “For each individual it creates a whole developmental plan.”

An employee logging on to NCRU sees the upcoming courses applying to their role. They can then apply for courses online.

Liptrap has a development plan laid out for all associates in Canada for this year. “That plan could be CD-ROM courses, in-person courses, books they need to read and seminars to attend,” he says. “We link it directly into their performance appraisal document which is a new process that we just rolled out this year and that is all tied into the university.”

He sees the e-learning component as a money saver beyond just cutting down travel costs and instructors’ time and fees. “For some people, a classroom slows them down or, the flip side is that the classroom is too quick, people don’t get it and therefore have wasted their time.”

Unlike an increasing number of companies that outsource their e-learning capabilities, NCR Corporation’s internal Global Learning Group out of the Dayton, Ohio, head office developed NCRU themselves on a global basis. Courses vary between internally written and purchased from external sources. “We may buy a CD-ROM on coaching from a company that does a really good coaching course.” However, Liptrap suggests high-tech companies can look within for developing e-learning capabilities.

“We have so many great professional services and IT people within our company anyhow, that they are very excited to move from an IT role into an HR/IT role where they are developing something leading edge,” says Liptrap. “I always find with IT people that if you can give them something that is leading edge and they can be creative, then they just want to go and do that and it is easy to find the people.

“You really do need to focus on giving people challenging things to do, opportunities to work on global assignments and interesting developmental opportunities,” he stresses. The strategy seems to work. “By focusing on those areas, our turnover last year was 4.9 per cent and I think the industry average in Canada was over 20 per cent.”

Keeping the churn rate low saves the considerable expense of recruiting people, bringing them on board and dealing with inevitable recruiting mistakes, he adds.