Case Study 3. Professional Competency Training

You 're a VP at Virtual Nuts & Bolts, a multinational conglomerate that owns companies involved in a number of different businesses, from manufacturing to high-tech management consulting, to e-business software.

Virtual Nuts & Bolts has company-defined competencies (also called "in-house certifications") for positions like:

- Project Managers

- IT System Administrators

- Consultants

- ... and so on

Employees are expected to pass company-defined competency exams in order to perform those jobs. For example, new project managers need to be certified within three years in order to continue in the project management job. You have hundreds of employees on track to pass their competency exams.

Note: The case study here is similar to Case Study #2 above, but there are a couple of key differences for this case study:

1. This is a company-defined competency (or certification). An outside group will not be shutting your business down if some of your people fail the certification exam.

2. You can continue to have employees performing the job even before they are certified. And you can choose to have them continue to perform the job even if they fail the exam. (Although you probably don't want them doing it for long if they continue failing the exam.)

3. You are not bound to meet a deadline set by an outside regulatory organization—for example, you don't have a yearly recertification that you must meet. You can be more flexible about the time limits within which all the training and exams must be completed.

What's at Stake?

At stake is your ability to get high performance from your employees in certain jobs—where passing the competency exam is the mark of a certain skill level. You expect your business to run more productively when these key jobs are staffed to a predefined skill level.

But, the stakes are not as high as in Case Study #2 where the certification was required by an outside organization. There, your business could be shut down. In this case study, your business performance might be degraded if employees have not passed their exams, but it will not grind to a halt.

Student Motivation

Your employees are motivated to do the training and pass their competency tests, but they are not quite as motivated as the engineers in Case Study #2. There, the engineers could immediately lose their jobs if they didn't pass the recertification exam every year. In this case study, the pressure is not as intense so the employees might not be as motivated to be faithful to a training schedule. Their jobs depend on it in the long run, but not in the short run.

Note: Stop a moment and think of your own e-learning solution before reading on.

Solution Factors

The solution approach here, much like the one in Case Study #2, is centered on a learning management system (LMS). You need the LMS to manage the overall training program. You could never keep track of all the employees and how far they've progressed if you had to do it manually.

The first step is to develop a collection of training courses that lead your employees to the expected skill level. Depending on the type of competency being taught, the courses might be completely self-directed online, or you might include some courses with collaboration and instructors. In some cases (depending on the subject matter), you might even need to have a face-to-face session in addition to the online courses. We call this "blending" the instruction, and you'll remember that the IBM management development training course described in Chapter 1 did it this way because there were training situations that need face-to-face interaction.

Then, you need the exams that the employees will have to pass.

The learning management system will present the "roadmap" of courses that each employee on a path to a competency exam needs to complete to prep for certification. The LMS will track which courses the employee has taken and which are still to be taken.

Some LMSs can automatically schedule students for classes and can even automatically prompt the student with an e-mail when he's falling behind. And the learning management system will also deliver the quizzes and tests that move the employee along the competency roadmap, as well as delivering the final competency exam online.

The LMS will also provide reports to company management about where the various employees are in their competency road map, and it will report on who passed the final exams. The LMS can sometimes manage "testing out" of certain courses. If an employee has previous job experience, it would be useful to let the employee "test out" of taking the class.

The key advantage you have in this case study is motivated students. When the training is clearly connected to keeping a job, your training program has a good chance of overall success.

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