How an Industrial Manufacturing Company Became an E-Trainer

The industrial manufacturing sectormight not seem like particularly fertile ground for training via the Internet,but when Chesterton, a company that makes sealing devices, wanted to cuttraining costs, it decided to do a major portion of its sales-force trainingonline. “We used to send out videotapes and we also had a four-week, on-sitetraining course, but that was very expensive. Rather than waste the first weekor two having all the salespeople in a class get an overview, we do it onlinenow,” says Ralph Merullo, manager of Chesterton Global Training in Winchester,Massachusetts.

    For two weeks,salespeople receive an introduction and general information about Chesterton’sequipment. Merullo says the students then come to the instructor-led class“warmed-up” and at relatively the same level. Before Web training, somestudents in the class found it too slow, while others were lost. “The Webtraining also helps us determine what our sales force knows and doesn’t knowcoming into the classroom. If they’ve passed particular modules, then we knowtheir general knowledge level,” he says.

    Chesterton decidedto write its own instructional systems design software program, structured sothat students are presented with information and then asked questions about it.The program can determine if they understand the course material or not, saysMerullo.

    “We have corecompetencies for salespeople, so for instance if we’re teaching about a pump,first they learn what pressure is, what the flow of liquid should be, thosekinds of things. Those are units, and they are combined into modules and on upthe chain until you create a core,” he says. “Then these students go out andtrain on the equipment at the plant or learn in one of our facilities. TheWeb-based portion gives them the cognitive skills, and the instructor-ledportion reinforces that Web-based training.”

    Feedback from thesales force has been mixed. At first, managers who had been with the company fordecades didn’t want to take the courses, believing them unnecessary. Legalissues involved with those out in the field – safety and health issuesespecially – required field managers to take the online courses.

    And because thecourses can be started and stopped whenever an employee likes, nearly two-thirdsof Chesterton’s field managers have completed therequired training.

    In fact, thecompany’s e-learning program is so successful that it’s now marketed toChesterton customers, and has inadvertently put the manufacturer in the onlinelearning business. Chesterton sold nearly $30,000 worth of its training productin the last two years.

Workforce, January 2001, Vol80, No 1, p. 42  SubscribeNow!