A computer system will only deliver value and fulfil a board's expectations if users know how to operate it properly. So you have to train users.
However, it is surprising how many companies install a new system without making sure operators know how to get the best from it.
If staff are poorly trained and have little confidence in how to use a system, implementation takes longer, the system does not perform as well as expected and there are cost overruns. Ultimately, the desired business benefits are not achieved.
The most common reason for not providing formal staff training is cost; although time is also a likely excuse because many companies resent the man hours lost when staff spend a couple of days every few months in the classroom. But the truth is that it costs far more in time and money if unskilled staff are let loose on new systems. If computer operators are trained properly, they will make better use of their time. An initial financial outlay will be quickly repaid in improved productivity.
There are also some companies that are reluctant to train users because they believe that, once trained, they will leave for better-paid jobs.
This may be true, but if staff are poorly paid, they will be looking to move anyway.
Indeed, research shows that a well-trained workforce is more loyal and responds favourably to the greater power afforded by training. Far from losing your staff, this can be the best way to keep them.
Every staff member should be assigned a training record, which includes regular dates for refresher courses. Also, new staff should be given an automatic induction session soon after joining a company. Professional training companies such as Cap Gemini Hoskyns Training use a system of needs analysis, in which every user is assessed.
This determines individual training requirements, and sets up a plan for further training as an employee's career progresses.
Some experts believe in training-on-demand, and maintain that if you train people too early in their careers, students can forget all they have learnt by the time they get around to using it. Ideally, you should deliver the right amount of training to match the immediate needs.
Depending on your type of business and the level of knowledge required, there are various options for delivering training. Programmers and senior managers do best by spending time away from the office in a fresh environment, free from distractions. However, junior managers and operators perform well in on-site groups, or by using computer-based training (CBT) in their own time.
Classrooms can be set up on-site, or you may decide to send users to a training organisation's offices. Both have advantages. It is often cheaper to arrange off-site training, and the facilities will probably be better as they are purpose-built. Also, users are less likely to be interrupted if they are off-site. On the other hand, if the trainer comes to your company, sessions can be better focused. Whichever you opt for, you should establish your expectations right at the start, and the trainer should tell you exactly what users will know at the end of the course.
Some companies prefer customised training in which a course is specifically tailored to an organisation. This can be an extremely effective technique, though it is often the most expensive. The cost can be offset if the course can then be used for computer-based training (CBT).
CBT has many benefits. For example, one set of training disks can be used time and again, and work can continue while training is taking place.
Also, individual users can take the CBT at their own pace and can repeat sections as often as they want. Consequently, they are more likely to remember the information.
Many believe that training has no value if it's not tested or there is no certification. Indeed, a test is the conventional way to measure the skills learned, and often students expect it. Others believe that continual assessment during a course and afterwards is best, although the final view depends largely on the type of training being undertaken. As a substitute for testing, some companies prefer auditing, in which the course is assessed regularly to make sure training materials and tutors are delivering the best possible results.
In the future, it seems likely that the Internet will increasingly be used to deliver training, often at the expense of more traditional training companies and their methods.
It will allow the latest training material to be downloaded to each user, and eventually will be accompanied by sound and individual feedback from remote tutors. Internet training can also be supplemented by workbooks, online discussions and email for personal tutorials.
For many students, training can be a disappointing experience. They may have expectations which are not met, or come up against tutors who know the subject but cannot teach.
People want different things from training: they often want to work at different speeds and achieve different levels. This means that courses often require a scientific approach of evaluation and bespoke delivery.
But one thing is for sure - training cannot be ignored.
Training is an investment. It may not generate a tangible asset, but it will offer a payback in terms of staff loyalty and improved productivity.
Asking a vendor to train staff inevitably means that they will only be taught how to use that product. For a broader prospectus go to a specialist training company.
For computer systems and solutions suppliers, training is an important revenue stream. Most will claim to offer training, but they may not have the necessary facilities or qualified staff. Consultants rarely make good trainers - you need an expert who has been trained in how to teach. Your supplier can recommend specialist training companies.
Cap Gemini Hoskyns Training on 0171 830 6830 Peritas on 01753 604053
Next month: Annie Gurton looks at upgrades and software maintenance.
Most software vendors regularly bring out new features. What are you entitled to and what will you have to pay for?
How can you make sure your purchase is future-proofed?
Annie Gurton is a freelance journalist and can be contacted on [email protected]
Training can be:
- In a classroom with a group of other students
Advantages: low cost
Disadvantages: can be unfocused and fail to pick up on the needs of individual students
- In a workshop with a small group of other students
Advantages: usually well focused
Disadvantages: more expensive with fewer students, although this may give better value
- Computer based (CBT)
Advantages: economical; training material can be re-used indefinitely, and the students can work at their own pace
Disadvantages: no control over the student
Advantages: convenient for the tutor to come to you
Disadvantage: frequent interruptions can prevent students from concentrating
Advantages: usually better facilities and more focused teaching
Disadvantages: often the most expensive option, although it should provide the best value for money
Training should be:
- Flexible to accommodate varying degrees of skill and aptitude
- Fluent so that it relates to real-life needs
- Frequent so that skills don't go rusty or out of date
- Focused on the needs of each individual user
- Friendly so that students enjoy the learning process and look forward to more
- Enabling so that students can grow and develop both within and outside the job
- Involving so that it creates greater loyalty towards the employer
- Enhancing the quality of worklife for employees and improving their productivity
- Encouraging - making staff feel wanted and valued
- Enjoyable - training can also be fun
CBT at Barclays Bank
Barclays Bank uses CBT to introduce its staff to a series of features in its customer system, a key application which helps the bank streamline its business processes. Tina Byrne, training manager at Barclays, says that initial tuition on the system was based in the classroom. 'Implementation training was delivered face to face using a simulated system at regional training centres. But we needed supplementary training which would keep everyone up to date with system changes and minimise disruption.'
Like other organisations with thousands of employees, Barclays has new staff constantly joining the company, employees returning from maternity leave and staff changing jobs, all of whom need training. The bank chose Peritas to develop 11 hours of CD-ROM-based CBT. Byrne says: 'It was important for us to have a clear idea of what we wanted from the system and to provide Peritas with precise information about our requirements.'
The multimedia CBT system comes in a series of modules, and users wear headsets to listen to instructions given by various animated cartoon characters which represent customers.
Byrne says the system has been a success because staff enjoy using it and because training managers can track the progress of trainees and assess their performance. 'For an organisation like ours, classroom training can be logistically difficult,' she adds.
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