Training Spans the World

Diverse, dispersed IT staffs present challenges.

Imagine youre stuck with 1,200 legacy system experts, scattered all over the world. Granted, theyve been your enterprises backbone, developing legacy systems for finance, warehousing and purchasing, but, still, they dont exactly form a cutting-edge e-business work force. You cant fire them; that would be both ungrateful and politically suicidal. So what do you do?

If youre Motorola Inc., you embark on a daunting, far-flung retraining project, one that will span thousands of miles. Motorola, based in Schaumburg, Ill., released curriculum to retrain its semiconductor IT staffers a year ago. The results were so impressive that an even vaster mandate went forth: Upgrade IT skills in all business groups, to the tune of 4,500 staff members across the globe. Now, every Motorola IT staffer in upward of 50 countries is now planning his or her training for the coming year.

Of course, training IT staffs is increasingly critical as skills change at lightning speed. But training globally can present logistical, financial and technical challenges unknown to domestic businesses, such as myriad political and climatic difficulties that beset Quest International, a London-based manufacturer of fragrance and flavor ingredients, when it recently rolled out a global training program. And crossing oceans can dilute even the best training programs, said Kathy Harris, an analyst for Gartner Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. Which training programs can leap borders? Those with reliable connectivity, human interaction, timeliness, an understanding of cultural nuance and, in the case of e-learning, an interface thats more than just a glorified textbook on a computer screen, Harris said.

To make global training work, Dave Basarab, global business director for Motorola Universitys Semiconductor Products Sector learning team, gathered his group and spent two days in mid-1999 with a dozen experts from Motorolas semiconductor staff—those considered the most qualified to figure out what skills to instill in the group as members migrated from developers to integrators. They then spent four weeks analyzing what skills the staffers already possessed.

Each IT staffer received a customized training plan that incorporated courses from an overall IT curriculum. And depending on where that staffer worked and his or her particular learning style, he or she chose from a combination of classroom, CD-ROM and Web-based training.

One potential roadblock to this kind of global training is poor overseas bandwidth, said Scott Andre, vice president and product manager for the educational services division of TechOnline Inc., in Bedford, Mass. "Connectivity, whether in Europe or the Pacific Rim, is one of the biggest limiting factors to e-learning," Andre said.

Then there are the less predictable predicaments. Quest grappled with earthquakes, floods, the financial crisis in Brazil and political instability in Indonesia during a training initiative that wrapped up in mid-1999, according to Richard Sweaney, Quests director of business excellence. Quest hired KnowledgePool Inc.—an IT and business skills training organization based in Dallas with locations around the world—to smooth the transition to a Windows NT platform for nearly 4,000 Quest employees who speak 12 languages at 71 sites in 31 countries.

Getting people to show up is another trick. "When you have a massive training rollout, the challenge is getting the user to take the training, to meet the [return on investment] that was projected," Sweaney said. "Its all moot if theyre not there."

And theyre often not there, according to a recent report from Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., on the shortcomings of online training. The report pegged dropout rates as high as 80 percent. The report also chided companies for not doing a better job at measuring effectiveness. In other words, are the students learning anything that helps them do their jobs better?

Theyd better be—at least if they work at Motorola. Lifelong learning is a driving principle of the company, Basarab said, with every employee spending at least 40 hours a year in training. The average IT staffer is in training 100 to 150 hours.

According to Forrester, it pays to be flexible and creative with your delivery system. And thats what Motorola promises to do. "Were moving away from brick and mortar to training by [oneself]," Basarab said. "CD courses and the Web are available whenever and wherever the employee needs it."

What better way to reach IT people in every nook and cranny on this planet?