Click. Click. Click. There, with just a few clicks of the mouse someone just purchased an executive training course on the Web. Not a big deal, right? Wrong. Actually, this person took only a few minutes to finish a process that used to take weeks to complete.
The Internet is reshaping the way training is bought and sold. Through online marketplaces, customized corporate intranets and request-for-proposal services, companies are using the Internet to make purchasing training more efficient.
This is important because today’s fast-paced economy, which boasts record-breaking low unemployment figures, is forcing companies to make training a key factor in attracting and retaining valuable knowledge workers.
Today’s service-based economy requires highly knowledgeable employees, who are increasingly hard to find and even harder to keep.
Overcoming the current severe shortages of skilled workers, particularly in the IT field, is a challenge. Even if companies can find good people, they have to make huge investments to keep their employees’ skills base current.
Corporations can solve these problems by giving employees easy access to professional development opportunities. Many employees know that in today’s economy their earning power increases with knowledge. At the same time, training increases employees’ value to their companies.
As a result, companies’ perception of training is changing from a cost centre to a competitive revenue-generating investment.
For example, companies that invest in training can build upon the knowledge of their existing workforce. This means they spend less money on costly advertising and headhunting services to find new knowledge workers.
Simultaneously, value-added training opportunities provide employees with important educational experiences that can increase their earning potential.
Training also opens the door to new career opportunities within the company, enticing employees to stay rather than look for a new job.
To meet these demands, corporations need efficient, one-stop-shopping and delivery for all training products and services. They also want to empower employees to make their own decisions about training, such as selecting courses that will help them improve their computer skills or sales tactics, for example.
However, the traditional training market can’t meet these demands. It is large, fragmented and has inefficient buying and selling processes.
To make the training buying process more efficient, many companies are using the Web to research, analyse and buy training resources.
Companies like TrainingNet, Click2learn and Headlight.com are aggregating training offerings on Web-based marketplaces where corporate buyers can go to access an array of products and services from hundreds of providers.
Some online training marketplaces offer buyers access to a Web-based reverse auction exchange service.
This enables corporate managers to submit requests for proposals (RFPs) and receive responses from hundreds of providers. Web-based RFP services, effectively address the challenge of managing the otherwise inefficient process of procuring customized training.
These services match corporate buyers’ custom training needs, with training providers specializing in all major business topics.
Online exchanges allow managers to submit a RFP, in which the manager details his training needs, deadlines and how many proposals he wants back. Providers are automatically notified of the new request via e-mail.
They can click through to the potential client, and respond directly to the corporate manager with an online proposal. Within 24 to 48 hours, the corporate training manager receives proposals that include details of the providers’ course offering, pricing and qualifying information such as company background, accreditations and customer references.
Once a manager receives multiple training proposals, they can use online tools to determine which meets their specific training needs.
When the manager makes a final decision, the online-training-exchange’s customer service representatives serve as intermediaries for the customer to ask questions, negotiate price or schedule training.
Representatives also work with customers to help them better define their training needs and target providers. Staffers edit specific RFPs that require fine-tuning, and then re-submit them to the RFP exchange service.
Online RFP exchanges also benefit training providers. RFP exchanges offer providers access to hundreds of potential clients.
This helps them reduce their reliance on less-targeted lead generation campaigns, such as direct mail and advertising.
At the same time, providers can use RFP exchanges to extend their geographic reach and market their Web-based courses to Internet-savvy audiences already using the Web as a medium to shop for training.
As variety and selection increase, corporate buyers need a better way to target and identify only the training content that meets corporate learners’ individual needs.
Currently, many organizations capture information about the success of particular courses from previous participants.
This works well for smaller organizations. However, as more and more training opportunities arise, organizations face so many training options they won’t be able to identify and select those best suited to their business training goals and objectives.
Online exchanges help companies narrow training choices and identify the right ones for their business.
After a company has located the right training for its employees, it needs to evaluate the provider, course offerings and previous success rates.
This requires specific tools that allow corporate HR personnel to tap into provider history information, employee performance and indicators that will help them make the right decision for the company and its employees. For example, using an online training exchange, personnel can access hundreds of provider profiles for detailed background information, or request course evaluations to make a determination prior to investing.
The professional training industry needs to do business more efficiently.
Internet and intranet technologies provide the foundation for an e-commerce business-to-business training marketplace that meets increasing economic demand for highly skilled knowledge workers.
Using an online training marketplace, corporations can access the training opportunities they need to attract and retain knowledge workers, which is critical in today’s increasingly tight labour market.
Online access to training also enables employees to sharpen their professional skills to remain competitive, while making buying training more efficient and reshaping the dynamics of the training marketplace.
David Egan is a vice-president with TrainingNet, headquartered in Billerica, Mass., with technical operations in Vancouver. For more information, contact (978) 671-7500 or visit the Web site at www.trainingnet.com.