Award-winning training programs focus on interaction, flexibility, results

3 Canadian employers make Training magazine’s international ranking of top 125
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/26/2012

As a collection agency, Allied International Credit has many employees who probably didn’t grow up wanting to do collections, according to Joel MacCharles, vice-president of social media in Toronto.

For that reason, training is very important to the company to get people up to speed on how to do the job properly, while also satisfying client requirements.

“A lot of people entering our company are not just entering our company for the first time but entering our industry for the first time,” he said.

“In a lot of cases, we have people coming into a whole new brand of work, style of work, and are actually fighting with a lot of stigmas of the industry that can be very difficult to overcome.”

The training starts with knowledge but goes through to key behaviours, from the first day on the job all the way to coaching of the CEO, and much of it is about learning how to communicate, he said.

“In a tough economy, yelling and screaming isn’t going to help people find money if they haven’t had a job, so our focus right from the beginning is on customer service, on negotiation, on tone, on positivity.”

To that end, budgets are a priority at the 800- to 1,000-employee business.

“When you’re pushed for your budget all over the board, not just on training, you have to make sure that your people use the maximum amount of their tools, that they’re hopefully engaged and fulfilled and excited about their opportunities to effect business, effect change,” said MacCharles. “Our company has always believed tough times (are) the time to increase spending on training, not decrease it.”

This past year, training budgets saw somewhat of a rebound and that was evident with the winners of Training magazine’s 2012 Training Top 125, according to Lorri Freifeld, editor-in-chief of the Lakewood Media Group magazine, based in Excelsior, Minn.

“In 2009, 2010, 2011, we were definitely seeing some lower budgets but, on the flip side, these companies that make the list, they do come up with innovative ways to get around those budget cuts, whether it was changing delivery methods or being able to train more people in a more cost-effective way,” she said.

Allied International was one of three Canadian companies — along with Economical Insurance Group and William Osler Health System — that made the list of 125, with global applicants judged on a variety of areas such as how they tied training to corporate strategic goals, what kinds of programs are in place, best practices, levels of participation, training infrastructure, methods and metrics, and employee engagement and turnover.

One program at Allied saw 400 employees in Ontario register with a community college to go through apprenticeship training. The college came on-site and delivered one year’s worth of material while employees completed 4,000 hours of on-the-job experience.

Allied offers blended training with online solutions, but very little of it is lecture-based and most of it is very interactive, said MacCharles.

“The more it looks and feels like a classroom, the less effective our training results tend to be. So we’ve had a real push on getting right to what the core behaviours of the task that we’re trying to train are, trying to simulate those behaviours or create challenges that encourage those behaviours and allow a person to feel for themselves if what they’re doing is working or not.”

Economical Insurance focuses on brokers

Also taking an interactive approach is Economical Insurance based in Waterloo, Ont., with employees able to participate in training virtually.

“It’s a platform that allows us to interact with participants where they can type in questions that they have and we can actually poll the audience, poll the participants on certain questions… so it’s very interactive, it works both ways,” said Dean Bulloch, senior vice-president and CHRO at Economical.

Training is a core value at the 2,500-employee company, he said.

“In our organization, really, learning never stops. With an inspired learning environment, we encourage and support continued growth for all of our people,” he said. “Many companies are shrinking their training budgets and our company continues to invest in our people and the corporate learning function is one of the areas that continued to grow over the last five, six years.”

Economical’s initiatives included a national broker training program that delivered personal and professional training and education on critical needs. It involved a mix of elearning and classroom-type training, covering everything from business processes to customer service and presentation skills. The sessions were about 30 minutes to 60 minutes in length to accommodate the brokers’ schedules and participants could rotate through the sessions.

“We really feel it’s critical, given the impact that those brokers have on our business,” said Bulloch. “It’s all done in-house, that’s something we’re really proud of as far as design and delivery.”

Economical also launched a two-day program to strengthen the overall talent and leadership capacity of its next generation of leaders. About 400 leaders were involved and, before the training began, they were surveyed through a webinar about what leadership skills were critical for their success.

Data from the survey was benchmarked against top leadership companies in North America so Economical could focus on closing skill gaps and embedding leadership development in its business strategy for bottom-line impact, said Bulloch.

And 94 per cent of participants said their ability to manage the performance of direct reports increased as a result of the program.

Economical also has an elearning platform with a selection of more than 250 courses. In 2011, there were 9,792 course completions.

Service excellence in spotlight at William Osler

Also seeing results was William Osler Health System. Looking to reach employees who are often too busy to take the time for training, it runs a week-long “celebration” of development and lifelong learning each year called Spring Awakenings. In 2011, 70 courses were offered on-site over six days and more than 650 people participated.

“That helps us accommodate our staff and deal with the issue of shifts, and reach as many people as possible,” said Loradonna Bopter, director of organizational design.

The community hospital corporation in Ontario, which serves Brampton, Etobicoke and surrounding areas in the Greater Toronto Area, also provides mandatory training developed in-house that focuses on two areas: service excellence and a performance-based culture.

As part of that, William Osler runs a leadership development continuum that involves a bucket of courses for all 4,200 employees, with content varying depending on their position.

“Mapping that all out and linking it to our vision and values, showing it as continuum, made it easy for everybody to see where they fit,” said Lori Diduch, vice-president of HR at William Osler.

Training also focuses on the wellness piece, looking at the three elements of mind, body and spirit. One such program, Compassion Fatigue, is based on new thinking in health care that individuals working in extremely tough situations, such as emergency or critical care, can become almost anesthetized to it and apathetic, she said. The training teaches them to never lose the empathy they had on day one, recognize warning signs, take a break or rotate to different areas if they’ve lost the ability to be empathetic.

Training’s award works well for the corporation, for recruitment and retention, said Diduch.

“It’s a great recruitment tool as competition becomes... tough between hospitals for talent and more and more people are looking toward these kinds of things, so it’s great for us to say we are a top training employer — especially now in times of wage freezes and public sector constraint, employees are looking at, ‘What else is there for me to develop?’”

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