Training system keeps IT skills on course

In the 18th century, Edward Lloyd helped merchants, marine underwriters and others connected with shipping, to exchange information by circulating a printed sheet of all the news he heard in his London coffee house. In 1760, the Register Society was formed by the customers of the coffee house, and in 1764, it printed the first Register of Ships, which gave underwriters and merchants an idea of the condition of the vessels they insured and chartered.

Today, Lloyd’s Register specialises in independent risk management and its expertise extends outside of shipping to industries such as oil, gas and rail. But in the marine sector, classification remains its principal activity. We can only wonder what the coffee shop owner to which the Register owes its name and foundation would have made of the high-tech world in which the organisation now operates. Lloyd managed with a printed sheet of paper; thousands of computers form the organisation’s information channel today.

When Lloyd’s Register rolled out a new global IT infrastructure as part of its IT Blueprint programme in 2002, which saw 5,000 PCs replaced as part of an upgrade to Windows XP and Office XP, its biggest challenge was training. With 200 offices worldwide and 5,000 employees, who were all affected by the roll-out, it needed a training system that would ensure its entire workforce learned the key skills needed to use the new hardware, operating system and office software applications.

“We wanted a solution that needed the minimum administration and intervention, but offered everyone the same level of access,” says Lloyd’s Register’s business relationship co-ordinator, Dermot Cronin.

The organisation wanted to work with a corporate learning provider that could give support and help drive usage through internal marketing as well as providing a wide range of courses. It decided to partner with Thomson NETg and selected a range of courses from the provider’s online library. Since going live in 2002, Lloyd’s Register’s employees have notched up 7,250 hours of usage on the hosted system, which is branded lr.learning, and accessed through its corporate intranet, called the Hub.

Target learners

Everyone in the organisation – from administration staff right up to board directors – has round-the-clock access to all of the courses via the lr.learning gateway. This also includes 25% to 35% of mobile employees, who are mainly engineers, surveyors and assessors.

Breakdown of the programme

Lloyd’s Register selected a range of Windows XP training courses from Thomson NETg’s library of IT skills courses.

It also implemented a further 74 Thomson NETg courses, covering additional IT skills such as the European Computer Driving Licence, and key business and professional development skills, including effective e-mail management, customer service and specialist financial courses.

Because the workforce is of mixed ability when it comes to IT, Cronin and his team decided to create some customised short courses to get people going. These included Windows XP Quickstart and a Microsoft Office Desktop Users course.

It also created customised content for its mobile users, and provided courses on CD-Rom for staff in global locations where internet connection is limited.

A performance support tool has also been available to Lloyd’s Register employees, which allows learners to search for and learn a specific skill in less than five minutes. For example, an employee could type in a question such as ‘How do I print in Word?’ and instantly receive a short learning activity as their answer. However, Cronin admits that this facility hasn’t been as widely used as had been anticipated, and it will be using other online support mechanisms in the future.

Main challenges

Lloyd’s Register’s overall challenge was to ensure a return on its investment in technology by achieving high global standards of IT skills. In order for this to happen, the training programme had to be of a consistently high standard.

“The main challenge was: ‘how can we train these people in a consistent fashion?’,” says Cronin. “So the programme we rolled out offers unrestricted access to everyone.”

This consistency was extended to the customised best practice XP courses that Thomson NETg created using its customisation tool, NLO+. The courses are designed for delivery via the internet or CD-Rom, and have the same look and feel as lr.learning.

Feedback and roll-out

The programme was launched at a time when e-learning was receiving a high degree of bad press based on the experience of some companies, and Cronin admits it got off to a slow start in 2002.

“But we never saw it as just a one-off solution,” he says. “The organisation has 260 years’ of history, and many employees were from a non-IT background, so we had to handle it in the right way.”

The programme soon gathered momentum, and recent IT customer satisfaction surveys show that 82% of employees believe it is an effective training method. This is further substantiated by a 50% drop in calls to the IT support line.

Cronin and his team hold regular meetings with Thomson NETg every six to seven weeks to review usage of the programme.

“Charting the usage of the system shows that it is very cyclical,” says Cronin. “When we market the courses, there is a surge, it peaks and then drops off.”

The Hub is used to promote the course via targeted e-mails, and training managers and HR professionals around the world play their part in ‘blitzing’ the organisation when it comes to internal marketing of the programme, says Cronin.

One of the most popular current courses is the European Computer Driving Licence.

“It has created an impetus because the employee gets external accreditation, and the organisation gets a benchmark of IT capability,” says Cronin.

What next?

Lloyd’s Register has recently renewed its contract with NETg, and its arrangement now includes the ability to develop new learning materials.
The organisation will be embarking on this during the summer and one of the first programmes it hopes to work on is an induction training course.

“E-learning is now embedded as a working tool,” says Cronin. “Next, we’ll be working with NETg to develop a capability to add more material ourselves.”

Blending IT

  • E-learning forms just one part of the overall learning strategy at Lloyd’s Register. As well as the range of online courses mentioned (opposite), there are technical, managerial and personal development courses and workshops delivered by internal and external specialists.
  • Support is also sometimes offered for employees who want to take local vocational qualifications or part-time study, which is directly related to the needs of the business and individual. On-the-job training and coaching is also part of the mix.
  • Members of professional institutes are expected to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date and the onus is on them to be aware of their institute’s Continuous Professional Development (CPD) requirements and take advantage of the opportunities to meet them – for example attendance at local branch meetings and Lloyd’s Register Technical Association.
  • Details of all courses, online or classroom-based, can be found on the training area of the corporate intranet, called the Hub.

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