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Faster, Cheaper, Smarter How Rockwell Collins Reinvented Its Training

September 16, 2001
Related Topics: Basic Skills Training, Training Technology, Featured Article
When Cliff Purington arrived in 1998 as manager of learning and developmentat Rockwell Collins, a manufacturer of communication and aviation electronics,he checked into the company's training-history database. "I thought itwould be rich with core competencies, and all I had to do was find the repeatcourses to see what they were," he says.

    But only 22 percent of the 1,400 individually titled classes had been repeated.Most of the course materials, developed in-house at a cost of $120 million,were unused. "We're not talking small change," Purington says. "Italso told me that we didn't have a good connection back to the business, ora good needs analysis to see if training really was the issue."

    He said the situation was not unusual for a large organization. "It wasone of these cases where the folks in training were getting calls from linemanagement, requesting very specific training." Often, he said, trainingwasn't really the fix that was needed.

    It might have been unclear roles and responsibilitiesor any number of other problems. But managers tended to identify training asthe solution, even if it really wasn't. Since then, Purington has put in placea new cost-saving, business-driven learning strategy, based on six objectives:

  • Link learning directly to business objectives. The training staff'sjob now is to work with the business groups to evaluate their training needs,make sure they're tied with the company's business objectives, and, if trainingis the solution or would be of benefit, work with outside vendors to developtraining programs.

  • Locate classes close to the work environment to provide students witheasier access. When Purington began working at Rockwell Collins, alltraining for the company's 17,500 employees, who work at 26 locations aroundthe world, was done in classrooms at the company's headquarters in CedarRapids, Iowa. The result was a lot of expensive travel and layer upon layerof scheduling difficulties.

  • Make learning accessible worldwide, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • Deliver the highest quality learning.

  • Reduce the cost of training by 40 percent.

  • Increase available curriculum by 40 percent.

    An example of a business-driven program that provides more learning in a moreaccessible form at lower cost is the course the company offers to engineersin electromagnetic interference. Previously, when courses were held only inCedar Rapids, it would have taken 13 years to train all the engineers who neededthe information, Purington says. Working with outside vendors, Purington andhis staff created a Web-based course that delivered in 9 hours what took 22hours to present in a classroom. "It has more content, and it's available24/7 in the work environment, because it's online," he says.

    Now, in the second year of the three-year learning-program overhaul, 80 percentof the company's training is available in alternative formats, including theWeb and CD-ROMs. There are 450 online courses, such as ethics training, dataprocessing, computer programming, diversity, and interpersonal skills, an increasesince 1998 of 250 percent. There are still 50 courses taught in the classroom,all complex engineering classes in which student-instructor interaction is crucial.In the first year of the new learning program, the company saved $6.37 millionin training costs -- or 38 percent. This year, it's on target to save $6.79million -- or 39 percent.

    For all of these accomplishments, can Purington show a direct line betweenthe revamped training programs and Rockwell Collins's profitability? He doesn'tmeasure training success that way. It's very hard to prove, and it's a defensiveposture, he says.

    "If you're on the back end of the process, which most training organizationsare, you spend too much time trying to justify your existence. If you're onthe front end, tied in to the business groups, and they know who you are andwhat you're doing, you don't have to do that. I don't have to justify the objectivesI defined. The organization told me that's what they wanted, and that's whatI provided."

    An example of delivering what the business needs is the development of shortcourses called Quicklearns. The business groups were concerned about the lossof what Purington calls "tribal knowledge" -- information that residesin the head of someone who has done a job for 40 years and vanishes when theemployee retires. Quicklearns, classes of 20 minutes or less (the average adult'sattention span), have a turnaround time from order to completion of 12 hours,and cost no more than $2,000.

    "I'm delivering 150 of those this year," Purington says. The programs,produced by the Performance Engineering Group, based in Santa Barbara, California,begin with an expert in the procedure demonstrating the process that's goingto be taught -- how to clean a clean room, for instance.

    The producers create a storyboard that outlines what will be shown. There'sa dry run, and then the process is filmed with a digital camera. The lessonis placed in an electronic template with text and questions for
self-checking, and stored on a CD-ROM.

    The subjects of the 75 or so programs that the company has created includehow to use an electronic microscope and how to choose and clean a solderinghead. Two student groups, one trained via CD-ROM and the other trained by aclassroom instructor, received virtually identical scores after being testedfor their proficiency in clean-room techniques.

    Here is Purington's formula for training success: "Get connected to thebusiness groups as quickly as possible. Service the people you're there to service.Find out their needs, and how best you can deliver. Develop rapport and trustwith the business groups, and then deliver what you say you're going to deliver.That's how you keep your budget from being cut."

Workforce, September 2001, p. 55 -- SubscribeNow!

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