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Targeted Training Puts NASWA on the Map

The site gives users a big payoff for a small investment of time.

September 18, 2003
Related Topics: Training Technology, Training & Development
Name: NASWA (National Association of State Workforce Agencies)
Location: Washington, D.C.
Type of organization: Trade association for state workforce agencies
Number of employees 10

Several years ago, the Department of Labor began building O*Net, an onlinedatabase of occupational information and labor-market research. The tool can beused by public and private employers, recruiters, and job seekers to define jobskills and competencies, track wages, and research employment data, saysKathleen Cashen, executive director of NASWA, the trade association in charge oftraining for O*Net users. "It helps employers make more educated hiringdecisions and it helps job seekers make better career choices."

    O*Net was designed to replace the paper-based dictionary of occupationaltitles (DOT), which workforce personnel have used since the 1930s as the primarysource of labor-market information, says Mary Sue Vickers, research director forNASWA. But the Department of Labor struggled to raise awareness and get buy-infor the new tool. "It’s like replacing the dictionary or the Bible,"Vickers says. "Employers used the DOT for 70 years, and old habits die hard."

    To help people make the switch, the NASWA team was contracted in 2001 tocreate training and build support for O*Net. They began by deliveringface-to-face train the- trainer courses to workforce agency personnel. Over ayear and a half, NASWA trainers traveled to 38 states and trained 732 people oneverything there was to know about O*Net with the hope that they would take thatinformation back to their peers, Cashen says. But it was an expensive andtime-consuming process. Budgets were tight and travel became an issue afterSeptember 11, so NASWA turned to e-learning. In conjunction with Maher andMaher, they built O*Net Academy (, an online community whereanyone anywhere can take free self-paced or live training on the value of anduses for O*Net.

    The first courses focused on the value and benefits of O*Net, to reduceapprehension about switching from the paper-based DOT to an online tool. To makethe training more attractive to skeptical users, NASWA designed several shorterlive courses to meet the specific needs of various groups. "Some people needto know very little about the database to use it, while others need to knoweverything," says Vickers. "Instead of putting them all through aneight-hour course, we take 45 minutes and give them what they need when theyneed it."

    The courses are delivered through live scheduled "Webinars" and covereverything from application overviews to HR planning to employee retraining andretention. The Webinar leaders use WebEx software and phone lines to deliverinteractive online presentations and field questions from participants. Forindividuals who can’t attend the live sessions, the Webinars are recorded andstored at the site for reuse, and are supported by self-paced tutorials forthose who need follow-up or performance support training while using thedatabase.

    "People love the sessions particularly because they are convenient andaddress their specific needs in a short amount of time," Cashen says. The factthat users can complete training over a lunch hour also gives it considerablevalue. It’s a big payoff for a small investment of time, she says.

    NASWA markets the training through e-mail notifications to its members andprevious O*Net users. It also delivers talks at conferences and places links tocourse schedules at the academy and the O*Net Web sites. But the heart of thecampaign strategy is word of mouth. It’s a community that grows as news of thetraining spreads, Vickers says. For example, from August to November of 2002,the number of participants in Webinars increased by 50 percent. Also, there were23,356 user sessions at O*Net sites in the last six months, and 40 percent werereturn users.

    But the best indicator of the academy’s success is the reaction from thegovernment agencies themselves. "The e-learning program for O*Net put NASWA onthe map," Cashen says. "The other agencies see that they can get informationout so much faster using e-learning and they are coming to us for guidance onhow to do it."

Workforce, March 2003, p. 62 -- Subscribe Now!

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