The U.S. Gypsum Corp. (USG), which manufactures building materials like wall panels, ceiling tiles, and cement and composite boards, has a learning department comprised of two people: Mike Garber, USG’s director of training and development, and his training coordinator. Because the company has more than 13,500 employees at approximately 60 plants and 8,500 distribution centers around the world, Garber has adopted a mixture of learning solutions in order to educate a workforce that outnumbers his own staff by about 6,250 to one.
To accomplish his imperatives in an efficient and cost-effective way, Garber purchases many products from and maintains close relationships with a variety of providers. “I outsource everything, but I manage everything,” he said. “As we roll out a particular training project or program, I know who to go to. We’ve had some of these training partners for years, and they know us extremely well. They’re almost like USG employees. When we begin to talk to them about a new program or process, they already understand our culture, our approaches, our languages. It’s almost like we’ve transferred organizational memory to them by having them as a long-term partner.”
Another issue for USG’s training and development department is the delivery of learning to its many remote and mobile employees. Some of these groups are the managers, engineering groups, technical services groups, and research and development groups that travel to various USG sites to support the business. There are several tools and technologies available to these personnel that facilitate knowledge sharing across the organization, Garber said.
“In training and development, we support the operation of training programs that help them analyze and access the data,” he said. “We have our own Internet site where we post the latest bulletins, competitive information and a variety of facts that are available to people within the organization. Within our research and development operation, there are Web servers that contain vast amounts of information. The whole organization is networked, so I could actually go online and see what our plant in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., is making right now and what their recovery is.”
Additionally, USG implemented Web conferencing in the fall of 2004, and usage has increased steadily as this becomes the method par excellence to push information across the enterprise. “We are increasingly using Web conferencing to develop an understanding of new processes and procedures within the organization, as opposed to having everyone come together for a meeting involving training around new processes,” Garber said. “When we do roll out any kind of change in the organization that we want to train people on, we will use webcasting to push that information and engage them through that kind of environment.”
“Our initial thoughts were that we were very pleased with it, and the respondents are as well,” he added. “They recognize the fact that it reduces the amount of travel that they have to do. It’s a nice system to help us get information out faster. It’s better than written communication that might come at them with a lot of facts.”
Training and development has enhanced the Web conferencing component with capture tools, which preserve and archive meetings to be used as a reference and learning opportunity in the future. “If it’s a Web meeting or conference where we’re presenting something, we capture that and make it available for people to have access to it,” Garber said. “When you’re trying to touch people around the globe, you’re going to run into people who are on vacation or sick or something like that, and they are going to need the opportunity to get at it sometime. Some people just want to review it.”
One big plan in the works for USG’s training and development department is a blended learning suite akin to the methodologies of online universities, which will include anytime, anywhere access. This program will enhance the quality of—but reduce the quantity of—time employees spend in the classroom at the USG learning center, Garber said. “We’ll create a course room that people can log into and begin to do pre-work and post-work, and come and do a session here at our learning center and really discuss it. Instead of having somebody lecture to them, it’s going to be more interactive and use case studies and things of that nature to get the point across. They will be able to access the pre-work and post-work remotely online. If they’re coming in for a certification in something—maybe operations management—then they’d be able to do the pre-work online.”
All of these initiatives fit hand-in-glove with the philosophy of USG’s training and development division, Garber explained. “USG training’s role is to make sure to enhance the capability of our people,” he said. “We’ve got goals, just like any part of the organization. We want to have the most comprehensively trained, knowledgeable and adaptable workforce in the industry. We want to do it more effectively than the competition. The way we see it, the organization that has the ability to learn and to apply this learning faster is going to be the winner in the marketplace.”
–Brian Summerfield, email@example.comFiled under: Learning Delivery