A learning revolution is taking place on the banks of the Glen of
Tranquility, where the world-famous Glenmorangie whisky is made
The image of the whisky-making industry is steeped in tradition and age-old
techniques. And as the leading provider of branded malt whiskies, Glenmorangie
epitomises this tradition: The Sixteen Men of Tain – which refers to the 16
craftsmen still employed by the company – are known by whisky lovers the world
over, and it remains one of the few independent, family-owned Scotch whisky
distillers and blenders.
You would be wrong, however, to think that this meant the £65m turnover
company, which has been making the spirit since 1843, relies solely on its
heritage when it comes to selling its products. Industry watchers have
commented that it has shown great innovation in creating and marketing whisky
while staying loyal to its roots. Acquisition and partnership strategies, such
as the appointment of Bacardi-Martini as a distributor in 2003, have created a
wider pan-European distribution for its brands, including Ardbeg Single Islay
and Glen Moray Speyside malt, as well as Glenmorangie itself.
Just as it manages to achieve the right blend of moving with the times and
holding on to tradition in its approach to business, its training and people
development strategies follow a similar line.
The Sixteen Men of Tain, who include the ‘mashmen’ and ‘stillmen’, are entrusted
with keeping the tradition and taste of Glenmorangie alive, and learn their
whisky-making skills on the job over many years. But other training needs are
more immediate. In keeping with all modern-thinking companies, Glenmorangie is
aware that employees need access to IT, business and professional development
skills for their own sake and that of the business – and even the fabled
sixteen need vital training in areas such as health and safety, risk assessment
and accident prevention.
Training and development manager Morag Mathieson felt that e-learning could
provide the answer, not only to improving the IT skills of the staff, but also
ensuring that learning opportunities were extended to everyone in the
geographically dispersed workforce. Glenmorangie has 340 staff at its main
plant at Broxburn, near Edinburgh, and also at the remote distillery sites of
Ardbeg on Islay, Glen Moray and, of course, Glenmorangie on the banks of the
Dornoch Firth in Tain.
"I felt e-learning could offer 24-hour opportunities for
learning," says Mathieson, "and we wanted training to be available to
everyone from distillery staff to office workers, including those at remote
locations. We have a big commitment to training and want to develop everyone to
their full potential."
The starting point for Mathieson and her team was to carry out extensive
background research and surveys on what staff wanted when it came to
e-learning. Based on this, it ran a number of pilot projects with key suppliers
and as a result of these, commissioned Thomson NETg to deliver the learning.
While the research didn’t bring any major surprises when it came to the
content required by the workforce, it did reveal that employees were more
comfortable having a learning zone distinct from the workplace, where they
could sit courses. "We created a quiet study area, called the Learning
Centre, with four PCs, as well as other learning materials such as videos and
resources," says Mathieson. "We’ve deliberately located it next door
to the canteen as this is the busiest and most visible location on the
Each of the satellite distilleries is equipped with a laptop, which runs the
same courses as the main plant in Broxburn.
Twenty-eight courses are currently available on the intranet-based system
from Thomson NETg’s Open Learning Solution, including the European Computer
Driving Licence (ECDL) and a selection of management, personnel development and
senior management courses. E-learning is also being used as part of a wider
blended learning programme, often to prepare staff for instructor-led courses,
such as management development. This makes sure that full use is made of the
time spent in the classroom.
Glenmorangie decided from the start not to tie individuals down purely to
business training needs and employees can request to sit any course. "We
wanted people to have a degree of freedom," says Mathieson. "The
executive management team agreed that each employee could have an hour a week
for training to ensure that time was made available for it by line managers."
The Learning Centre was heavily marketed and incentives to sit courses
include certificates and awards and points towards the employee’s recognition
Glemorangie is using Thomson NETg’s Skill Vantage Manager learning
management system. "This tells staff which courses they have started,
whether they’ve completed it or not and what their score was," says
Malcolm Dundas, learning consultant at Thomson NETg who worked closely on the
implementation. "This was particularly important for the compulsory
courses, such as health and safety."
Mathieson uses the LMS to keep a scorecard on usage and measures this in
learning hours. "In March we scored 330 hours, with 80 hours in one week
the record so far," she says. "More and more employees are expressing
an interest in sitting a course, and we also allow them to bring family and
friends in to access learning. Computer courses are popular, and we’ve already
noticed an increase in IT literacy among distillery staff."
This echoes a more general trend across the UK, says Laura Kelly,
international marketing manager at Thomson NETg. "We are seeing very
strong growth of ECDL courses," she says. "This is mainly as a result
in demand in the public sector where ECDL is also being used as a way to
benchmark the IT literacy of non-IT employees."
It isn’t just friends and family who are taking advantage of the Learning
Centre, which has been awarded quality-assured status by the Government online
learning initiative, Learndirect. As the only organisation on its industrial
estate with a Learning Centre, other companies have also been invited in, along
with local schools.
The dedication to its people strategies and the open management style has
seen Glenmorangie rise from 78th to 42nd position in the 100 Best Companies to
Work For survey this year (sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry),
and came in second place for best employer in Scotland two years running. The
Learning Centre is bolstering Glenmorangie’s commitment to developing staff
further and is putting in place valuable foundations for future learning
strategies. It is continuing to work with NETg on developing its e-learning and
blended strategies (it can change its library of training courses every year to
ensure its relevance) and it has also begun to run more technical
computer-based courses with the help of Glasgow-based course designers Junction
"Our workforce is becoming much more multi-skilled and confident using
technology. We are currently pioneering a 3D modelling course for changing over
a whisky label," explains Mathieson. "It’s a complicated technical
process, and normally employees would have to do the training on the job. It
may even be sold to other companies by learndirect Scotland."
Morag Mathieson’s top tips
Getting people onside
– Make it personal: – have a friendly
face there to help staff and talk to them as you progress
– Integrate the new system into your existing training
structure: ie the company’s current induction programme/management development
and so forth)
– Involve everyone in the journey: employees need to be part of
things from the outset
– Make some aspects compulsory
– Get buy-in from the top team as to what these should be
Aim: Created a Learning Centre
with online access to 28e-learning courses to meet the training needs of the
business as well as increase the IT savviness of the workforce. Satellite
centres were set up at its three remote distilleries.
Why: Prior to this the organisation had to carry out
off-site training which was time-consuming and had an impact on productivity.
It also wanted to extend learning opportunities to the workforce, including
those at remote sites.
Is e-learning delivering? So far, its success has been
measured in number of learning hours taken up and in March this reached 330,
the highest so far. Training and development manager Morag Mathieson says that
staff are already more confident when it comes to IT and the centre is
enthusiastically used by the workforce, who are also able to bring their
families into to access training.