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Online, video and teleconferencing growing in popularity

Businesses embrace employee training alternatives

While face-to-face training workshops and seminars are still the best choice in some cases, a number of Mississippi companies are turning to alternative media such as Internet, video, computers and teleconferencing to deliver job training.

Barbara Atchley, vice president and director of corporate human resources for Hancock Bank, said they are choosing the media that best delivers the type of training needed. Hancock Bank, which has offices in four states, has five different training labs distributed in the areas of their largest employee populations. Trainers may travel to one of the labs to give a program, or the program may be done by teleconferencing.

“We’re doing that based on practical economic reasons,” Atchley said. “It keeps travel costs down and prevents loss of productivity. It prevents employees from having to travel so much.”

Compact disks (CDs) for computers are used for some self-paced learning programs. The advantage is that not all employees are available for training at the same time. This allows flexibility for when the training is done, and also allows the employee to learn at his own pace. In a classroom setting, one person having difficulty with mastering a skill can hold back others. With training available on CDs, that isn’t an issue.

Atchley said it can be expensive to develop the CD-based training programs, but there are savings from not needing an instructor to deliver the training.

The CDs are used when the curriculum is very standard, and unlikely to need frequent updates and changes.

Hancock Bank also uses the University of Southern Mississippi to deliver some of their training programs. Atchley said this is cost effective when classes are needed on a specific expertise, but not regularly enough to justify having someone on staff to teach the classes.

BellSouth is another company that is doing a lot of training in alternative media including computer-based training, Internet training and teleconferencing or distance learning networks.

“As much as possible we are shifting to some sort of alternative training,” said Earl Hollingsworth, director of training for BellSouth. “We are integrating a lot of training into the tool the person uses to do their job. It is just-in-time, refresher-type training. Our theme is over time we would like to have as much training as we can available to the employee on the employee’s terms so they can take it and access when they want and need it,” Hollingsworth said.

Alternatives such as online job aids are more efficient and less expensive than sending an employee to an all-day workshop. And it makes the training available when the user needs it.

Time is given on-the-job for training specific to their present job.

And if employees want to study to prepare for a higher-level job, they can take training home with them at night.

Besides being more cost effective, training consistency is another advantage. “You don’t have an instructor taking liberties and getting people confused,” Hollingsworth said.

Computer-based training and Internet training can be more costly to develop and maintain, but there are savings in personnel and travel costs. Hollingsworth said it is primarily stable subject matters that lend themselves well to computer training because it is cost prohibitive to upgrade computer training programs frequently.

Hospitals and health systems in Mississippi and across the country are also using a variety of technology and techniques to train employees. The Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA) helps its members meet their training goals by providing over 80 seminars and workshops each year.

“This is one trend in training that we haven’t seen on the decline,” said Heather Smith, director of education, training and professional development for the MHA. “The face-to-face networking is still important for health care employees. These programs range in topics dealing with economic issues, regulatory and accreditation issues and professional development.”

MHA has also seen an increasing trend in health care training towards distance learning and Internet education, especially for those hospitals that are short staffed or having to cut travel budgets due to the Balanced Budget Act.

“It is my opinion that the many technological advances being made for computer-based education will cause a decline in the future in the number of workshops and seminars in which employees have to travel,” said Jim Baddley, MHA senior vice president for education.

Another trend that can be seen in some companies is training designed to help employees develop their skills at working with and satisfying customers. Mississippi Power Company (MPC) has a program called Customer First Initiative.

Kurt Brautigam, spokesman for MPC, said that program has many components including classes and an intranet Web site to help with training and providing information.

“Another aspect of the Customer First Initiative is to help our employees understand our industry and prepare for the changes we can expect over the next several years,” Brautigam said. “ The more they can do to enhance the way we do business, obviously the better the company will be able to meet the needs of our customers.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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