Rise of the middle men

is changing the way people buy training. Online one-stop shops now offer
information on a wide range of courses and materials. What are the benefits of
buying training this way? By Sally O’Reilly

least four major new training brokers have been launched in the UK in the last
year, each claiming to make sourcing and purchasing training faster and more

is this development really such good news for hard pressed training managers?
Does the reality match the hype – and what differentiates these new companies
from one another?

first sight, it seems that all are promising a very similar service. They act
as brokers for training companies, record feedback from staff who have attended
courses, enable companies to keep track of both spending and the training
programmes of employees, and allow individuals to keep their own training

far, so good. But Paul Buckley, managing director of TrainingNet UK, says that
sourcing training on the Internet can only work to the customer’s advantage if
the broker has a sufficiently comprehensive database.

company has an established record in the UK as the Graduate Group, set up 30
years ago when a number of companies set up a database of management courses.

became the National Training Index, which has 2,000 UK training providers on
its books, is used by more than 1,000 major employers including British
Aerospace, Ernst and Young and British Airways


points out that maintaining this level of service is hard work, no matter what method
of access you are offering.

the database is very time consuming,” he stresses. “Training organisations
won’t list their courses on your web site – you have to do the work yourself.
We have a team of people who do nothing but collate literature, edit it and
download it on to the system.”

– which already has the largest selection of courses available in the US – is
now keen to dominate the UK online training market.

company has raised more than $46m to do this, and has so far acquired both the
Graduate Group and Trainers Village, a web site designed to give IT training
providers access to freelance staff. Buckley is expecting to offer UK customers
an equivalent service to that available to US customers of TrainingNet by June.

TrainingNet’s selling point is its established track record in the UK, newcomer
bookacourse.com is trading on its specialist IT credentials.

director Aasim Khalid says he saw the need for such a service when he was
working as a technical trainer himself.

found that sourcing the right training at the right price was really
difficult,” he says. “The solution was a new kind of middle man, playing on the
side of the consumer.”

company was launched in May, and spent around 18 months preparing the ground.

bookacourse.com is working with some 85 partners and offering only IT training,
but Khalid says it will shortly be diversifying into soft skills and other
areas. He shares Buckley’s view that taking short cuts won’t work.

took time to get the technology right, and get the partnerships together,” he
says. “The idea is that consumers can find and compare courses. And we also
give training managers the chance to set their own rate.”

can specify the course they want, and price they want to pay – and see if
providers can match their request.


Anita Monteith, vertical markets director with worldoftraining.com, which was
launched late last year, is keen to stress her firm’s solid training

and her colleagues saw a gap in the UK market in which there are 30,000
providers of training courses, but no simple way to make the right choice,
particularly for people looking for courses not obviously linked to their job.

Monteith believes that on-line brokers shouldn’t promise too much and that
direct communication between companies and providers will still be necessary.

training providers are developing highly complex packages for companies, there
has to be a lot of discussion between the two sides,” she says.

instance, I did some training for a bank which meant I had to spend two days
there, looking at their accounting system. You can’t buy that off the Internet.
In cases like that, we will offer an introduction service.”

far, worldoftraining.com has 100 providers who are either active or about to be
included, and is in contact with a further 800.

and development materials include courses, books, CDs, distance learning
programmes and psychometric tests.

are very careful who we use,” says Monteith. “We have a company charter and we
expect people to abide by these terms. Anyone who puts their details on our
site has to give two references, and it is up to the training manager to check
these out.”


intermediary Skillvest.com, which launched in January, takes an even more
stringent approach.

company won’t say how many providers are signed up to it, but stresses that its
aim is to offer a service to major companies which includes detailed course
information on carefully chosen providers, on-line learning and feedback and
post training follow up.

target customers are large companies which don’t just want to go to a web site
to purchase training – they want a system which manages training for them,”
says Barbara Jamison, European director of marketing and PR with Skillvest.com

company offers access to courses covering a broad range of skills, including
leadership, the law and languages.

have concentrated on training companies who have done leading edge work,” says
Jamison. “It is not helpful to training managers if they input a request for
particular type of course and get 50 different alternatives and then have to go
through that themselves.”

advice is to find out as much as possible about these new players before taking
a decision.

that is accomplished, she believes that intermediaries like Skillvest can make
it easier for companies to build relationships with the right providers.

departments are functioning with fewer staff, and have less time to spend on
looking at a whole range of proposals,” she says.

technology like ours can help them focus their contact with providers, so they
know they are speaking to the right people.”

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