Vol. 17 : No. 1< >
Editorís Note: Successes in training and in education are worthy of considerable attention. Colleen Fuhs, Manager of Education Information Services for Northwest Airlines has developed 80% computer-based Ė 20% instructor based training that is producing significant results in meeting technology competency levels now necessary in academic areas as well as in industry.
Elevating Commitment to Learning to New Heights
At the core of senior managers' learning initiative aptly named "Checklist for the Future" is an emphasis on empowering Northwest's people with knowledge and skills through quality professional development. The company's 55,000 employees have an advantage on the future, thanks to a wide array of resources --- a checkout library, a personal training plan, a successful book program, mentoring in combination with computer-based training , and a business skills library, where there are magazines, videos, audiotapes, books and periodicals.
"Today's learning environment is a startling contrast to four years ago, when only 10 percent of new training requests were being satisfied," said Colleen Fuhs, manager-education of Information Services at NWA. Her 13-person group is charged with overseeing training and the development of programs in line with the company's business objectives. "We are only as good as our employees, and we knew we needed to provide tools for a competitive edge, offer training based on skill gaps, and identify and link training to strategies."
Despite a training budget that has not increased in years, Fuhs's team has helped Northwest become a more efficient, effective learning organization. The company offers quality training to all 55,000 employees --- Information Services (IS) training that is now 80 percent computer-based training, or e-Learning, and 20 percent instructor-led training (ILT). With e-Learning, Northwest has decreased the number of students sent offsite, reduced work time lost, and increased training hours per employee.
Northwest's skills management system (SMS), in particular, has become an essential part of its enterprise learning environment. The company's self-built SMS has promoted communication between managers and employees, saved timed, and helped Fuhs's team identify appropriate reference and training options.
Northwest maintains NETg's entire e-Learning library, as well as offerings from other providers. In total, Northwest can pull from 1,800 training options to develop the 3,300 skills that the organization deems important for employees in different roles. Mathematically, if one were to link training and skilling, there could be 6 million possible matches. In times of layoffs and new business objectives stemming from an increased emphasis on the non-business traveler, manually linking training to skills is no longer an option. Speed is a must for Fuhs and her team.
How Do You Help 55,000 People Become Fast Learners?
Because hundreds of vendors may supply training to any single organization, the laborious process of searching through myriad catalogs for the right course was a culprit of time consumption known all too well by Fuhs and team. Even with an internally developed search feature, it still left links to inappropriate resources or outdated providers. Old-fashioned "linking" left them wanting for a more reliable and accurate output of best possible matches. Linking involves not only establishing a valid association of each training intervention to skills, but also matching the competency level for each training intervention. Considering that this process was done manually in response to each training request and that Fuhs and team typically receive 75 requests in a single week, it is easy to see why some training recommendations might be incomplete or inaccurate.
NETg's Precision Skilling was a welcome addition to Northwest. It automates the matching and linking, and systematically evaluates training course options against specific job profiles and skill requirement needs. The offering was easily integrated into Northwest's SMS, and in one thorough sweep, it accurately and reliably identifies the best training to develop a skill. With Precision Skilling, identifying all training resources for a skill gap can be done in minutes --- compared with the days to weeks it used to take.
How It Works
Precision Skilling's matching software does a comparison of training and skills metadata -- the descriptive information input into a company's SMS, and comes up with a table of matches with probability scores for each match of training intervention per skilling object. Precision Skilling searches Northwest's entire training database --- assigning weight and determining relevancy based on context, level and matching key words in the training intervention description. The match represents an association between the metadata for a skilling object and a training intervention. A 'valid' match is where there is a positive relationship between them. Precision Skilling then links results to Northwest's SMS. In only minutes, a recent request for training on the skill gap "Coaching in the Workplace" pinpointed 48 out of 1,800 training resources appropriate for the student.
Precision Skilling pulls broadly from all existing training interventions and enables a dynamic training program, keeping pace with the changing needs of a workforce responding to new market forces. Because Precision Skilling incorporates all types of learning into the solutions for filling skill gaps, Northwest's training is being selected from all possible matches --- not just e-Learning. Further, because an employee's role can change from day-to-day, Precision Skilling's update software reconciles the linkages by comparing the previous databases to the latest databases and conveying the impact of the changes to the Fuhs and her team.
"The payoff is a significantly shortened time commitment in providing our employees training that we can trust to be the smartest and most level-appropriate choice," said Fuhs.
Four years after beginning Northwest's transition to computer-based training Fuhs once again has caught the attention of Northwest's senior managers, who have asked Fuhs to introduce the IS educationís strategy and Precision Skilling company-wide upon noticing a significantly faster accommodation of training requests.
In the wake of layoffs and a company-wide focus on a new type of customer, there were new skill gaps that had not existed before. Northwest Airline's pledge to offer enterprise-wide learning was given impetus by senior managers' "Checklist for the Future." But the company's success in transitioning to technology-based training and increasing the number and types of learning resources created a labor problem for the company's information services group who were being asked to fill a growing number of requests for new training.
NETg's Precision Skilling automates the labor-intensive task of manually matching and linking training interventions (courses, units, lessons, topics, on-the-job training, tests, career experiences) to job skill requirements (skills, tasks, knowledge, behaviors).
As a result of Precision Skilling, employees are getting more appropriate training in a faster fashion. The manual process of linking skills to training once took days to weeks, but now level-appropriate training interventions can be linked in less than an hour.
Other training managers have expressed interest in Fuhs's latest weapon, and Precision Skilling is being introduced throughout the company. In addition, managers note a renewed interest in learning from their employees who are enthusiastic about the faster response to their training needs.
"We are only as good as our employees, and we knew we needed to provide tools for a competitive edge, offer training based on skill gaps, and identify and link training to strategies."
"There is heightened focus on knowledge throughout our company. Precision Skilling makes it possible to accurately and quickly map out the right training program for each of our 55,000 employees."
"The ability to offer a fast turnaround on training requests is an important part of advancing knowledge to keep our company running strong. But prompt attention to their employees' requests also makes our managers look good in the eyes of their staff, and it improves employee morale and productivity."
About the Author
Colleen Fuhs is Manager of Education Information Services for Northwest Airlines.