In a recent article, ”Best Practices for CAD Training,” we reviewed some of the best practices to ensure users get the proper training to get their jobs done, even in a bad economy. We invited Matt Cohen, Divisional Vice President of PTC University, to tell us more about PTC’s approach to training.
GH: Before we start, can we agree that the value of good training isn’t going away? I’ve noticed training cuts are slowing—in the CAD Manager’s Survey 2010, Robert Green, author of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, found that 71% of companies report they have not cut their training budget, a significant change over 2009 when nearly half (46%) reported they were reducing training expenses. Is training on the rebound and why?
Cohen: Yes. I believe organizations are starting to understand that in leaner economic times improving human capital can have a dramatic effect on the bottom line.
The easiest place for an organization to cut is training and travel, so in traditional economic downturns we see training budgets slashed. Today, however, technology is the backbone of how individuals do their jobs. Companies have invested large dollar values in these underlying technologies. Teaching users how to adopt these technologies in the context of their jobs and in turn become more productive is one of the best ways to improve overall profitability.
The only way to realize the value of the initial investment is through the optimization of people. I think we have started to see organizations realize this finally coming out of this last economic downturn. They’re starting to hold the line on keeping training budgets intact. For sure, the old method of having students out of the office at classes for extended periods no longer works, but newer training approaches tailored to individual needs producing real business results has helped organizations change their thinking on people investment and start to hold the line on budgets.
GH: The original article sparked quite a flood of comments and discussions. What would you add to it?
Cohen: In general, the article covered all the right points – but there were two major best practices I’d dispute. First, I wouldn’t recommend developing your own training approaches and content from scratch and, second, I disagree that it’s a good idea to tie up subject matter experts (SMEs) to support and train users.
GH: What’s the harm in companies developing their own training approaches and content and having SMEs deliver it?
Cohen. Many companies start with the best of intentions – they quickly develop an internal course that introduces the basic capabilities of new software. What many companies don’t realize is the considerable follow-on investment needed. For example, perhaps the company has users in other sites that need localized training, perhaps the company adds specialized software extensions to the environment that need more in-house training to be developed, perhaps the company wants to train on best practices rather than UI and function. Maybe the SME is working on a critical project and simply doesn’t have the time to deliver or develop materials, And of course, once there’s a new release, updates to all the materials need to be made in all languages.
You’ve got to ask, who’ll actually develop, maintain, and deliver all that training? It’s often the most skilled user of the products, the SMEs. I would argue you want these experts developing your products rather than developing and delivering training. For sure a good training program involves including the SMEs from an organization in the development. No vendor can do this all on their own. But a good training vendor provides the foundational materials and the tools and processes to configure/customize this content so that overall investment across the lifecycle can be reduced and SME time can be optimized. A good training vendor spends millions on building scalable, configurable, and localized content so an organization doesn’t have to.
GH: So that’s what PTC University does.
Cohen. PTC University can cover many of those training issues that aren’t apparent at first, but become very expensive later. You mentioned in your article, work with the software vendor to see what’s available. Let me describe PTC University. We provide a comprehensive series of tools, learning approaches, processes, experts in both learning and products, and up-to-date content in multiple languages that can deliver effective training solutions for an organization’s and individual’s precise learning needs to maximize their productivity.
GH: How’s PTC University’ effectiveness compared to other training programs?
Cohen: Our programs focus on the customer’s business priorities. While addressing the features and functions through training is important, even more important is addressing how users are using the software to ensure the company’s business objectives are met – and this comes down to having your entire product development team follow best practices – not just pockets of experts.
And as you’d expect, individuals learn in different ways and speeds – so we can tailor the program to the individual as well as organizations. A good training program will include needs assessment, educational planning, and the option for custom and configured curriculum development.
GH: What should companies look for in a training vendor?
Cohen: There are critical things we see that make the difference between an okay training vendor and an excellent one. I think there’s six factors companies should consider:
- Individuals learn effectively in many different ways. Some like online self-paced training. Some learn best in an instructor-led training course. Look for a vendor that offers a wide variety of content and delivery methods from eLearning, Instructor-led training, virtual offerings, etc.
- Increasingly, all sizes and types of companies are becoming global, many have locations in China, Europe, and so on – make sure the content is available in many languages, so that non-English speakers aren’t hampered by the language of the content.
- Look for a vendor that delivers real business value through its training – ask the vendors how their training has helped improve productivity and delivered real value to their customers.
- Make sure the vendor can help you track student development and identify individual training needs. Too many vendors have just one mass approach to training.
- Work with a vendor that develops the right learning program for individuals, roles, or departments within your company. Again, the goal is to make sure you maximize product development.
- Finally, work with a vendor that has tools and processes to measure success and ensure adoption of the training approach.
GH: What would be your message to those companies thinking of reducing or cutting training?
Cohen: Think carefully about it. When we compare companies that have invested in training to those that don’t – there’re clear differences. Poor adoption, inefficient or suboptimal use of technology, and low return on investment are all apparent. For individuals, the risk is that their skill sets are weak, resulting in lower performance.
GH: Some companies will have budget constraints. What’s your advice to them?
Cohen: I wouldn’t be surprised if every company has some form of budget constraints. Gone are the days when users would spend weeks at a time offsite, learning the basics of products, and then hone them onsite with in-house experts. To maximize the budget, I’d really recommend three steps.
First, leverage skill assessments to better understand your organization’s training needs – many of the skill assessment are free and can be run online.
Second, focus on areas that have the greatest need and where you can make the most business impact – the right vendor will be able to help with that.
Finally, work with your vendor to see what creative solutions are in place. The best vendors will work with you, and may even provide free access to self-paced training and tutorials. Or, join the vendors’ blogs and communities; you can often access free resources there.
GH: How will Creo change PTC University?
Cohen: The Creo vision and strategy calls for even more people to be involved in product development – marketing, production, service documentation, etc. Creo apps will be used across the enterprise and across various roles. You can imagine that introduces the need for a newer approach to training, including bite-sized training for non-engineers, on-demand in-context training while using the product, and best practices that span an enterprise. We’re busy working on new tools and methods to optimize the productivity of both the individual and organization with Creo.
Watch for future Behind the Scenes articles that look at more ways PTC University can help optimize productivity with Creo.