General Motors University was launched to close the ‘human-to-technology’
gap. Four years on, it forms the hub of the company’s global development
programme and is set to become a centre for its knowledge management
While the dotcoms have been busy making the headlines for the right and
wrong reasons over the past 12 months, the old world economy has been having
its own revolution, albeit a rather more silent one.
In the manufacturing industry, the "e" word will not be a passing
fad because here it is not just about making huge sums of money in as little
time as possible, but about making the business processes quicker and more
efficient, and saving money.
The potential of new technology and processes in the car manufacturing
industry can only be realised through their effective use, and for General
Motors Corporation this meant turning itself from a knowledge organisation to a
"learning organisation" back in 1997.
Helping it make the transition was General Physics, described as a
"performance improvement" company, which has worked on education and
training with GM for 16 years. One of its specialities is aiming to close the
human-to-technology gap and in order to facilitate the transition, it worked
with GM to create the online or virtual General Motors University.
The GMU, which can be accessed by all GM employees around the world,
recorded over 80,000 enrolments from GM "students" and 8,500 training
classes delivered on a global basis in just one year.
"The GMU was set up in 1997 as a way of centralising training and
development for GM’s executive, management, professional and technical
employees," says Christine DeAngela, communications manager at GMU.
"In addition to building knowledge and skills, this corporate
university aims to build a global team that shares a common culture and vision
of the company’s future.
"The idea was to use learning resources and content to create leverage
among key global processes that will drive value into GM products."
The GMU is split into different colleges, just as a bricks and mortar
university is. These colleges provide GM’s employees with specific centres of
excellence, including Engineering, John G Smale brand management, Leadership,
Legal, Manufacturing, Public Policy, Sales, Service and Parts, and Worldwide
Purchasing/Production Control & Logistics.
Just for the College of Engineering alone, 150 courses have been developed
including body-in-white, sheet metal, design-in-safety, fasteners, dimensional
engineering, and tool and die.
GM’s virtual university is delivered over the Internet and, alongside its
use of the Web, GMU uses a multimedia mix of electronic job aids, electronic
performance support systems (EPSS), video production, 2- or 3D animation
services, as well as the traditional classroom.
The duration of modules can be anything from one hour for a distance
learning course to six days for some of the classroom-based workshops.
Such an involved learning programme needs managing, and three years ago GM
saw the need and value of implementing a learning management system to support
the training of 47,000 GM executives, managers, technical and professional
employees in the US and Canada.
GP and its LMS partner Saba, along with key contractor Micro Edit, were
chosen for the task.
"We have been working on implementing this system by performing the
complex integration work needed to customise an off-the-shelf LMS to meet GM’s
complex systems and business process needs for two years," says Darrell
Cope, director, automative marketing at GP in the US, whose offices around the
world in the UK, US, Mexico, Brazil, Canada and Malaysia can provide
instructor-led training for GM and its suppliers, giving GP an international
presence on the ground to match its virtual training provision.
An analysis of international curriculum requirements throughout GM was
conducted in the areas of operations, quality assurance, purchasing, HR and
It resulted in the formation of a GMU curriculum to keep employees
"agile" or skills-fluent in computers, continuing development,
engineering, health and safety, operations, quality, technical, and skilled
trades. Training for 300 soft skills is provided.
Human development is a serious business at GM, where it’s known as the
Individual Growth Strategy Process.
Each employee has a very detailed individual development plan. In management
positions, for example, GM has leadership competencies for technical knowledge
and management, such as decision-making, functional expertise, integrating and
functioning globally and strategic thinking and execution.
For employees operating on a technical level, a 12-course multimedia
curriculum provides training on materials and fasteners, the Engineering
Development Planning Tool database, and GM’s 4VDP (vehicle development process)
which includes design, development, delivery, and evaluation.
Equipment specific training in support of the 12-year modernisation
programme for GM Metal Fabricating is also available along with both AA and A3
press training programs, and sheet metal formability.
The GMU is still evolving and setting up a virtual corporate university can
be a long and involved process. "Do not take it lightly," says GP’s
"Spend the appropriate amount of time planning before making a
selection to move forward. Understand that the many vendors who propose
off-the-shelf systems may not meet your goals.
"Identify a competent, experienced integration partner who has worked
with several different LMS systems and will be able to make recommendations on
the approach and system that will best meet your companies long range education
goals," he says.
DeAngela, meanwhile, stresses the importance of linking training to the
bottom line. "Learning needs to be connected to business results. It needs
to be employee-centred knowledge management that helps someone succeed in a
critical task or assignment that improves the return for the company," she
"The results of a talented workforce that can deliver results that show
up in the financials over time. If you can improve quality, profits etc, it
will justify the investment."
The GMU is still evolving and there are innovations on the horizon. These
will improve the services on offer and fine-tune technology provision in line
with GM’s changing requirements.
By focusing on e-learning and expanding its global offerings, GMU intends to
make learning available on demand, anytime and anywhere, in a way that blends a
variety of delivery methods that allow the learner to get what he or she needs
to achieve in terms of business results.
The new elements will have a more web-based focus, linking training directly
to specific roles and performance on the job. One example is the Center of
Expertise, which uses the Saba LMS.
The COE will become the central database of knowledge for GM, where the
amassed skills and information of the organisation can be contributed, spread
and extracted by each member.
DeAngela says, "Knowledge and learning go hand in hand. Learning is
about understanding how your knowledge base, tools, techniques and capabilities
need to change as you continually refine your processes.
"The knowledge changes fast, and that’s usually connected to learning
and performance support.
"The big measure of competitive advantage will be how quickly you can
share the right knowledge."
GM’s requirement To create an
online virtual university, complete with a learning management system.
Why? To centralise training and development for GM’s
global workforce and transform GM from a knowledge organisation to a learning
Is e-learning delivering? In one year, the LMS recorded
80,000 enrolments from GM students. GM believes training should be linked
directly to business results. It won’t be drawn on figures, but says the
results of a talented workforce that can deliver results "shows up in the
financials over time".