Training goes high-tech

Employer programs honoured by Society for Training and Development

With tight budgets, limited time and competing priorities, it’s rare to see an organization that makes training and development a central focus these days. 

“Often, training isn’t recognized as a differentiator — it’s usually the first (thing) to be cut,” said Allison Patterson, chair of the board for the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD) in Toronto. 

But training is a differentiator and key driver of success — especially innovative, cutting-edge training that combines leading technology with workplace learning solutions, according to CSTD.

It’s important to recognize organizations that are leaders in training and development, which is why CSTD presents the annual Canadian Awards for Training Excellence (CATE) awards, said Patterson. 

This year, CSTD handed out 11 awards to 15 different organizations, after sorting through a record amount of submissions. 
“There were about 35 submissions and it’s a very, very rigorous process,” she said. “We can’t say enough about the wonderful work (these) organizations are doing.”

Senior executives are increasingly realizing the importance of training to overall organizational strategy, said Patterson. 
“What’s important is that we are being recognized at the C-level table — they’re able to say, ‘You know what, training is making a difference in our ROI.’”

But CSTD encourages employers to rethink T&D programs, and perhaps branch out from traditional “event-based” training programs, moving more towards holistic initiatives and on-the-job, integrated training, said Patterson.  

“(They’re) looking not just at training as a typical ‘event’ but looking at it from a long-term standpoint from employee engagement, satisfaction, retention, et cetera — so they’re not seeing training as an isolated event, but it’s part of the bigger picture in their organization.”

Home Depot’s mobile learning advantage
Home Depot Canada created effective on-the-job, integrated training with its “SMaRT Learning” pilot. One of this year’s CATE award-winners, the retailer created a program that uses mobile technology to improve sales associate learning and, ultimately, customers’ shopping experiences. 

“What we were targeting was giving our associates access to the information they need in order to provide that superior customer service, and make them comfortable that they’ve got the information, but also that our customers can get what they need on the spot,” said Jane Akiki, director of learning at Home Depot Canada in Toronto. 

Associates were provided with pre-provisioned iPad Minis that acted as performance support tools, said Akiki. They received training on how to use the device’s pre-provisioned apps and functionality, and could search and pass on knowledge to customers on the spot, said Akiki.

“Our associates use the iPads to educate their customers on product and project knowledge, to help customers make buying decisions, to demonstrate Home Depot’s value by doing some competitive comparison and engaging in our 10 per cent price-match guarantee, and also to transact online-only purchases for articles that aren’t available in our stores but are available on our website.” 

The retailer rolled out a proof-of-concept to a single store in 2013 and then moved to a 10-store pilot in the first quarter of 2014. The pilot saw overwhelming success, with a return on investment of more than 1500 per cent, based on the investment made and the return based on sales the associates were able to make using the device, said Akiki. 

The pilot results were successful largely because of Home Depot’s strong customer service culture, she said. 

“Having that culture really helped us with this because it is one more enabler for the associate to be able to answer a question they might not otherwise have been able to answer because they didn’t have the knowledge. And here they have a performance support tool that helps them get access to that knowledge.”

The iPad platform was a good choice because it was one many associates were already familiar with, said Akiki. 

“We’re very, very excited to be able to do something like this because it helps us be able to take that one step further from really having prescribed learning for our associates where they have to sit and traditionally do it in front of a computer and try and develop as much knowledge as they could before they get on the sales floor,” she said. 

“This is actually confidence in your apron that ‘If I get a question that I can’t answer, I actually have a performance support tool that will help me.’” 

TVO goes back to school
TVOntario (TVO) was another award winner that put a strong focus on digital innovation. Facing a changing media landscape, it was challenged by how to keep employees’ skills up to date. 

“We really wanted to be able to ensure that our employees were up to speed on these changes and had the best skills to really be nimble and agile on the media landscape,” said Clara Addo-Bekoe, training and organizational development specialist at TVO in Toronto.

“Now, the media landscape is on so many different platforms, we wanted to be able to use what we bring to TV (and) to enable our employees to do it to a greater degree.”

They realized they needed to be very ambitious about how they trained employees, said Addo-Bekoe.

“If we really say (and) mean that they are our most important asset, then we wanted to make sure that we are demonstrating that in a visible way and in a way that makes our strategy come alive.”

So TVO formed a partnership with OCAD University in Toronto to create the Digital Media Training Program, with a goal of training TVO’s content producers around digital media skills. 

“Most organizations will probably take a few employees and train them but we wanted to be able to train cross-divisionally, and we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a few days but it was a long enough program to take into account the full scope of digital media training that we wanted to build,” said Addo-Bekoe.

In phase one, they took 37 TV content producers, assessed their skills and created individual learning plans. 

“It was really tailored not just to their skills but also as a strategy in terms of where we wanted to get to as an organization in the digital landscape,” she said. 

Training took place over a three-month period and employees went off-site to the university to work with professors. Employees then brought that learning back to the job and shared it across the organization. 

“Eighty per cent of our participants really found everything they learnt was very useful,” said Addo-Bekoe. 

“We wanted to give them tools to (succeed) in the digital world, and to add value to the organization. So if you can indicate to employees through such career development and learning that you are really interested in their development, then the engagement level really increases.

“You may not be able to always provide top-rate pay or promotions, but you can find other ways to engage your employees. And one of the ways to do that is when you talk about total rewards, you’re not just talking about the money, you’re also talking about opportunities.”  
2014 CATE award-winners
•Alzheimer Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County/GEVC 
•Global eTraining
•Home Depot
•PepsiCo Canada/The Executive Roundtable
•Service Canada College/Employment and 
Social Development Canada
•TELUS Communications/Global Knowledge Canada
•TD Bank Group
•TVO/OCAD University

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