According to Graham Higgins, manager of the Learning & Development Group at Cathay Pacific, the training function at the company is made up of eight physical training centers, which are fairly autonomous. Each training center is based on a different department, said Higgins.
The focus of the Learning & Development Group is to ensure that employees reach high levels of professional performance as well as to build a culture of innovation and collaboration. “The goals then are very much geared to front-line business requirements,” explained Higgins.
Higgins added that despite the fact that all of the operational training is divided according to functional department, e-learning is an integrating factor. “Apart from the common resources in the Training & Development Centre, the only other integrating process is e-learning,” said Higgins. “This then has a deliberate ‘mission’ to leverage a company-wide aligned culture.”
When Cathay Pacific started focusing on its e-business strategy, it also began implementing its e-learning strategy within the company, working with NetDimensions and its Enterprise Knowledge Platform (EKP) to build the airline’s learning management system, which is the foundation for Learner’s World. EKP manages the learning process, from enrolling learners and tracking their progress through delivering tests and reporting costs. Through Learner’s World, Cathay Pacific employees have open access to a wide range of learning options, from online tutors and virtual classrooms to in-class training.
“The only stuff not in EKP is some of the specialist flight courseware,” explained Higgins, “not because EKP can’t handle it, but because we can’t distribute rich media through our network. The platform can handle all the learner, administrator, manager functionality that we need, along with all the languages that we could ask for.”
Higgins said that the main challenge in implementing the new e-learning strategy came from the need for the training functions to reengineer their roles.
“Airlines are successful when at their core they are risk averse,” said Higgins. “This gives sound procedures and a culture of quality. The success of procedural training can also produce an ‘if it’s not broken don’t fix it’ culture that inhibits innovative approaches like e-learning. The biggest challenge is getting those people in training functions to stop automating their current processes, but reengineer them for online self-help. This is no less a challenge in the business of learning as the challenge that e-commerce gives for other businesses.”
Higgins said there are two ways to describe Cathay Pacific’s direction for e-learning. “We design learning experiences for employees that are consistent with our service experiences for customers—choice, control, customization, community. This direction has reengineered every aspect of employee experience we can leverage: benefits, performance management, career development, learning, etc.” Second, Higgins explained that Cathay encourages “a culture of self-responsibility to get ‘courage to innovate’ and ‘openness to collaborate,’” phrases that he said are used to communicate in the training realm, but not with the business units of Cathay Pacific. “With the business units, we use their language—dollars, time, quality,” said Higgins.
Since converting to the e-learning strategy, Cathay Pacific has significantly cut the time required for certain training courses. For example, a full week was saved from its cabin crew orientation program, and it was able to demonstrate a new reclining seat to its technicians—located at 49 different flight destinations—through an online self-teaching module, saving travel costs.
But there are other benefits as well, according to Higgins, who touted the fact that the system is very learner-centric. “Apart from delivering all the functionality that we need, it is clearly designed from a learner’s perspective,” he said. “When your direction as a service company is to put the customer in the driving seat, it doesn’t make sense to then use a learning system that gives no control, choice or customization options for employees,” he said.
Moving forward, Higgins said that Cathay Pacific will sort out the best aspects of Learner’s World and determine what its future focus should be. “We have learned a lot in the use of technology in training,” he said. “The next phase of development will mean taking a hard look at the legacy that has given us and gaining agreement to what to keep going forward and what to let go of.”