As workforces and operations grow, learning and development functions also must develop apace. This has led many enterprises to adopt technical modalities to deliver much, if not most, of their employee education over long distances. This strategy offers workers quicker, easier and more frequent access and consumption of learning — and also can save the company a bundle on expenses associated with travel and lost productivity.
For health sciences company PerkinElmer, which creates instrumentation and software for customers in the pharmaceutical, chemical and genetic screening fields, these were key drivers in the decision to develop e-learning for its global population of more than 1,100 service engineers. “From a service perspective, the importance of training is pretty straightforward,” said Gary Grecsek, the director of technical support and training for PerkinElmer. “The better trained the engineers, the more effective they’re going to be in front of our customers. The priority is to maximize efficiency: The key thing we look at is productivity, and the ability to balance effective time in front of the customer and training is where we’re trying to get to.”
Up until a few years ago, PerkinElmer relied mainly on established means of educational delivery such as classroom-based training and a few scattershot e-learning programs, Grecsek said. “Historically, the majority of our training was traditional and classroom-based, which is effective, but it’s not necessarily the most efficient method when you’ve got 1,100 engineers scattered across the world. We did have some e-learning training materials available for our service team. It was developed sporadically and stored in a number of different places. It was not available to our global service team.”
To consolidate and expand its e-learning offerings, PerkinElmer invested in a learning management system, Grecsek explained. “We put that in place and now our field service engineers have one location where they can schedule classroom-based training as well as initiate a number of our e-learning courses. The LMS is really one of our key enablers that allow PerkinElmer to move to a more blended approach toward training. Because we’re in the service business, metrics are something we look at on a regular basis. Productivity is obviously key. One of the things we measure is e-learning course completion, or total engineers taking training. E-learning is now 50 percent of our total service training. With that, we haven’t decreased our total classroom training — we’ve actually increased it. It’s a very strong tool that our field is taking advantage of.”
One of the key benefits of e-learning so far is that it has sped up the on-boarding process at PerkinElmer. New hires used to wait weeks or even months to get the most basic-level training when they joined the company. Now that same learning is usually accomplished in a matter of hours. “Traditionally what we’ve done is pulled those engineers out of their territory to a centralized location and trained them for a week on our systems, processes and other basic nuts and bolts to do the job,” Grecsek said. “We wouldn’t run that class until we had about five or six engineers available. If we hire one in January, we might not have that many until, say, December, so that engineer in January had to wait a long time to get that new-hire orientation. What we’ve done is Web-enabled all those courses through the LMS, so now all the engineers are able to take that curriculum in a matter of hours instead of leaving the field for a week. The response time to train is obviously much shorter when you have e-learning.”
Another advantage of the LMS-enabled Web-based learning is that the company can now reach out to learning populations regularly that only a few years ago it could seldom deliver learning to. As a result, some of the organizational leaders of overseas operations think it’s almost too good to be true. Grecsek related an anecdote about a phone conversation he recently had with a senior staff member in Europe who thought he would have to pay for the courses. “I got a call about three months ago from our European territory leader, and he was asking me how much he was paying each time an engineer went to the LMS and watched one of these courses. I got a big smile on my face. The fact that he was concerned that there would be a cost there because so many of his engineers were telling him they were using it was great to me. That was validation of the value that the team was seeing.”
–Brian Summerfield, firstname.lastname@example.org