E-learning helps direct Telus IT careers

Telus Corp. has, since the company’s inception in 2000, fostered a culture of e-learning.

Helping employees grow brings more value to Telus and its “team members” because it enables them to expand their careers and knowledge into areas they might not have previously considered, said Jim Hewitt, director of operations excellence and e-learning for Telus in Burnaby, B.C.

For example, an IT manager would be able to take courses about finances, if approved by the employee’s manager, he said.

Lance Pate, a Burnaby-based technical support manager at Telus, said he has taken online courses mostly around the management side of IT.

With 35 years in the telco industry, Pate said he already “sees the end of the tunnel” and is moving toward retirement — that’s why he is using e-learning to maintain skill sets around certain areas, rather than to plan out a career. “But for others who might have 30 more years in the company, this can help them with their aspirations and where they want to go,” he said.

Some courses, such as an ethics course, are mandatory for all employees, said Hewitt. But specifically for the IT department, there are courses that cover the management of Telus’ trouble reporting system, wireless LAN, WAN and Wi-Fi, Pate said.

IT workers can also take courses toward earning vendor certifications from companies like Cisco Systems Inc., Nortel Networks Ltd. and Avaya Inc. “The employees tend to use this more. They mix that with hands-on classroom type of learning,” he said.

Hewitt said Telus’ strategy is to do as much as possible with e-learning, “but we also understand that e-learning is not the be all and end all. In a lot of cases we take a blended approach: a team member may take an e-learning course and then go to a lab for the hands on aspect.”

He added that IT staffers generally learn through the blended approach rather than simply through e-learning. Other supplements to e-learning include instructor-led courses, reading books or job shadowing, for example. For e-learning, the companies Telus generally uses include Skillsoft Inc., NETg Canada and Global Knowledge Network Inc.

To guide e-learning, Telus team members develop a personalized performance objective (PPO) with their manager. These objectives must support the overall objectives of the business unit and of the entire company, Hewitt said.

After a PPO is created, an employee sits down with his or her manager to develop a customized career development plan (CCDP), which outlines the courses and strategies that employee will use to advance his or her skills.

As employees prepare for their meeting on training requirements, they develop a list of courses they want to take, explained Pate. “I sit down with the individual employee, discuss their career goals, and what products they want to learn about.”

For IT managers, planning out e-learning and other training helps keep track of which employee is learning what, so that too many employees don’t head in the same direction. “We’re not going to train everyone on a Cisco product when we also have HP and Nortel products to support,” he said.

Being able to monitor and record employees’ career paths electronically also helps with the transfer of responsibilities and information to a new manager, Pate said.

“When I retire or leave the company…they can carry [this information] forward for the next manager that is managing the functional workgroup. It helps maintain some consistency in the direction employees are going, as well as track performance and training.”

To keep the CCDP and PPO in check, each employee gets a personal performance review every six months to track their progress, which can affect their compensation.

In the first three quarters of 2004 Telus employees completed 91,531 e-learning courses — about four courses per employee, Hewitt said. Additionally, Hewitt expects 2004’s completions to surpass 2003’s yearly total of 125,000 completions. In 2001 and 2002 combined, Telus employees completed only 66,000 e-learning courses.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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