Corporate learning evolves to meet today’s needs

U.S. organizations spent about $125.88 billion on employee learning and development in 2009, according to the 2010 State of the Industry Report by the American Society for Training and Development. That was about 6.1 percent less than in 2009.

“Companies eliminated duplication and made sensible changes in their training divisions to be more efficient, but overall most didn’t see budgets slashed,” said Pat Galagan, executive editor for the ASTD. “In tough times, companies need to improve the skills of their workers more than ever, and they need to do it efficiently. You wouldn’t expect to buy a computer and never upgrade the software, would you? People need new skills.”

With a long-standing culture for leadership development and training, UPS didn’t flinch in the recession, said Anne Schwartz, vice president for global leadership development.

“We’ve had formal leadership development schools since 1962, and our company spends more than $325 million a year on training,” she said. “But in 2007-2008, we began to analyze our products and found that the skills and competencies we were teaching were a bit outdated.”

Her team decided to take down its corporate learning schools, define new competencies and skills for management positions, and align learning to them. “Our goal was to improve performance, which would be a more direct return on investment,” said Schwartz. “We knew that we had to leverage technology to do it, but we needed to build the infrastructure.”

In 2009, they introduced virtual learning, with 18 Web-based courses that supervisors could take online at their own pace. This year, they piloted a new management performance program for supervisors who train UPS drivers. It's taught online and by instructors at UPS learning facilities. Managing the drivers is a big responsibility that directly affects UPS' goals, she said.

“Our U.S. small-package business unit has adopted the program and is asking for more of that [kind of training],” said Schwartz. Her team is developing it by leveraging technology that will support more virtual courses and mobile learning via iPads and social media. “It’s an exciting time to be in corporate learning,” she said.

Especially when top leaders really get it, said David Lamb, vice president of learning and media services at Rollins Inc., parent company to Orkin Pest Control.

“The only way for a service company to achieve its goals is to attract the right people and to invest in the tools and training they need,” said Lamb. “Our senior leaders are more than onboard with learning; they’re rabid fans.”

Rollins has won multiple awards for its training programs, including being named to Training Magazine’s Top 125 nine times. The company owns a $10 million broadcast studio and simulation training center in Atlanta.

New technicians go through eight weeks of virtual and field training. "For new leaders, the training is an eight-or nine-month journey," capped by a two-week management school where senior leaders share their expertise, said Lamb.

“In designing new programs, we treat our employees as customers and ask them what they need to be successful,” said Lamb. Programs speak to the different needs of service managers, sales staff and technicians. Recently, his team developed new programs to address the bedbug explosion.

Built into all key initiatives is an alignment with company goals and metrics for measuring the business value of the learning. “A company needs vision, clearly established goals and strategy. When learning is aligned at every level, it contributes to company success,” said Lamb.

The recession forced the training industry to evolve, said Mark Myette, president of the ASTD Greater Atlanta chapter. There’s less formal classroom delivery, and more on-demand, virtual and mobile delivery of training.

“Informal learning is growing with the use of Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media, and some companies are using these tools well,” said Myette. “People have always learned by asking others; now they’re not limited to who they know.” Trainers and instructional designers need current technical skills.

They also need to understand business objectives before designing programs. “Companies want talent development programs to improve efficiencies, sales or customer satisfaction, all of which affect reputation, stock prices and profitability. Learning has to be more strategic and offer direct business value,” said Myette.

Anyone wanting to hear more about trends in workplace learning and development can register to attend the ACE 2011 Atlanta Conference and Expo on Aug. 16. For more information, visit

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