Learning

Before You Stuff That Freshman Into Your Locker, Read This!

Dont ignore the young talent around you, mentor the next HR generation.

by Matt DeLuca

One of the requirements you need to meet as you become an HR professional of the 21st Century, is to go out and see what is occurring outside the office walls. Heeding my own words, this past week I participated in the 17th Annual Benefits Management Forum and Expo in Nashville, Tennessee. The conference was arranged by Thomson Media, the publishers of Employee Benefit News. Let me share with you some observations in case you either did not attend or were there but had a different experience.

First, it was good to see that there were a lot of senior HR professionals representing major buyers and providers of outsourced services, both as presenters and as participants. Unfortunately, it did not appear that the seniors brought along their juniors, the detriments of which I will discuss later.

Second, so what was new? I was impressed to see an increasing level of specialization among the exhibitors. The provider industry is becoming more and more specific in terms of what they wish to offer and to what size employee population they wish to offer their expertise. One of the exhibitors was a CPA firm that specializes in HR areas, particularly retirement plans, and is, in fact, getting referrals from the Big Four. This is a dramatic change from the past, where HR has had to suffer second-class status as part of the annual organizational audit, with short-shrift treatment from lower-level public accountants who had little experience in the HR and health and welfare area. What is the big deal? It is not so different, was the cry from their seniors. They didnt add, It is also so boring, but you could see it in their demeanor. Now, finally, there are thriving firms who relish the business in this most recently higher profiled area.

Third, there continue to be top-tier benefit professionals in placedespite the mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing that has frequently decimated HR professionals as part of cost-reduction programs.

Fourth, there is more interest at the C Levelthat is CEO, CFO, CTO, CLO, and hopefully CHROfor the benefits aspects of HR, and internal HR professionals are stepping up to the plate. The result is that credibility is increasing because HR professionals are doing a better job of communicating the message upward and sideways.

Here, though, comes the alas (I bet you knew it was coming). A panel of four very distinguished senior benefits executives was moderated by conference mastermind David Albertson. One of the participants asked the panelists what senior-level professionals, themselves included, are doing to grow the next generation of benefits professionals. Other than a response of That is a very good question, the answer seems to be not much at all based on the weaknesses of the replies. Sure they include junior-level staff at meetings, but did they bring them along to this conference? Are they offering any opportunity for formal structured training? How about networking?

Talk about Killer Skillswhether your HR specialization is benefits or any other HR function, the key question you should always be asking is what are you doing to grow your staff? Not to detract from the panelists own drive and intelligence, but I am sure that each of them was fortunate enough to have been nurtured by someone as they were learning the profession, and they benefited from it.

It should not be by chance that a person gets to grow professionally or not. Make it part of the HR DNA, and hopefully, it will become an integral part of the organizational fabric elsewhere as well. Start today to plot a specific professional development program for each member of your HR team. Whether they grow internally or move over to the other side (buyer or providerI am sure in the future it will go both ways), there is no greater legacy that you can leave behind.

To make you feel uncomfortable, let me ask you to consider the alternativeWhat if you do nothing to help your team to grow professionally? If you dont do anything, you should not be able to sleep nightsyou will have too much to worry about and may even feel guilty as well.

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A New Appetite for Learning

Corporate training and e-learning are poised for a rebound.

by Jean-Marc Levy

Corporate training budgets are notorious for being the first ones to be slashed by organizations in difficult economic times. The last two years proved no exception to the rule, and providers of corporate training services have had to learn new survival skills during dismal years for their industry. For the survivors, though, there is finally some indication that the corporate training market is recovering and is expected to grow robustly over the next several years.

According to research firm IDCs U.S. Corporate and Government eLearning Forecast2004-2007, all three segments of the corporate training market covered in the survey (e-learning, business skills training, and IT education services) should see substantial growth during the next five years. In particular, strong increases in e-learning spending should continue to outpace the already robust growth expected for the broader training market.

Three recent transactions, all taking place within weeks of each other earlier this year, illustrate the different ways in which investors and strategic buyers are placing new bets on the corporate training market.

TECHSKILLS

In January, Chrysalis Ventures led a B-round investment in TechSkills, the Austin-based national provider of IT certification, medical education, and general businessskills training. Chrysalis was joined in this round by OCA Ventures and Tobat Capital, both current investors in TechSkills.

TechSkills is extremely well-positioned to take advantage of the rebound in corporate training spending with an offering specializing in blended-learning solutions that combine instructor-led training with elearning solutions. With 30 learning centers across the country and more than 100 courses focused on skillsbased training or certification, TechSkills clearly hopes to bridge the gap many businesses are expected to face during the next five years as the U.S. educational system comes about 6 million graduates short of the anticipated demand for skilled labor.

INTREPID LEARNING SOLUTIONS

A few weeks later, Seattle-based Intrepid Learning Solutions announced an additional round of investment led by new investor Rustic Canyon Partners. Existing investors Madrona Venture Group, Buerk Dale Victor, and Staenberg Venture Partners also participated in the new round of financing.

Unlike TechSkills, with its proprietary training centers, Intrepid Learning is a provider of outsourced training services who takes over the management of existing corporate training departments for large clients (like Boeing) and applies a proprietary learning delivery system aimed at improving employee performance in a cost-effective manner. This model should appeal to larger organizations that have invested heavily in corporate university models and are now seeking to run these cost centers more effectively.

TRINITY LEARNING

Finally, in February, publicly-held Phoenixbased Prosoft Training and Berkeley-based Trinity Learning announced that they had agreed to merge their businesses.

The merged company combines Prosofts line of certification products and services for IT and communications professionals with Trinity Learnings current training and certification offerings. Prosofts Certified Internet Webmaster certification program, in particular, is a very well-recognized professional certificate covering IT job-role skills (in Web-site design, e-commerce, network administration, security, application development, and programming) and has been earned by individuals in more than 100 countries.

According to Harvard professor David A. Garvin, an expert on learning organizations, At the core of active learning is a deceptively simple requirement: Students must be personally invested in the learning process. Trinity Learning, Prosoft, and the roster of fund managers who invested in TechSkills and Intrepid Learning are in fact betting that investing with their wallets will bring rewards well beyond sheer learning for their investors and shareholders.

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