By Ann M. Kearney
A large real-estate company decided its agents needed stronger technical skills, and I was hired to develop a technology-training track to accomplish that goal. The agents (we call them contractors) needed a solid set of basic technical skills, including how to use the Internet, e-mail, word-processing software, industry-specific software, and database management.The classes were free, and after taking a series of five courses, the agents were awarded a certificate of completion. Agents used their “I-NET Certifications” to let their clients know they had real-estate expertise and technical proficiency as well.
Our contractor-training plan resulted in:
- a more highly skilled and efficient group of agents
- happier customers, because the agents handled their real-estate transactions quickly and easily
- providing a new recruiting tool to attract potential employees
If you want to plan a training program for your own contract workers, these tips should help you get started.
Outline what you want to accomplish
First, you need to formulate a plan, and to do this, you need to identify the end goal. Your answers to the following questions should direct your plan outline.
- What is your goal?
In our case, it was to train our contractors to use electronic methods of conducting business, while providing the highest level of customer service and giving the company a competitive edge.
- How can you accomplish this?
What is your budget? How many people do you need to train? How many trainers do you have? What is the timeline? What facilities will you use? Once you know what your resources and constraints are, you’ll have a better idea of the scope of your project.
Next, review these two statements about your goal and logistics with your manager or client for approval and to garner suggestions. Then, move on to the following questions:
- What standards do you want your contractors to meet?
Write an outline to give to the contractors when they sign up for the program. This document should cover all the basic questions, such as: How many classes must they attend? Can they test out? How long will they have to complete the process?
- How will you handle logistics?
How will you keep registration running smoothly? How will you track each contractor’s progress? How often will you publish a training calendar?
- How will you keep your contractors excited about the program?
Publicize their accomplishments and involve managers as much as possible. Invite them to the classes. Encourage them to “showcase” the classes to potential contractors. Make sure they are fully aware of the positives this program brings to the company. Have them mention it whenever possible in speeches, meetings, and publications.
Once a program is up and running, you never want it to be taken for granted. Submit success-story articles to the company newspaper and local newspapers (with permission) featuring a contractor who did well and is up-to-date with the program.
Working with independent trainers
Due to the scope of the project (1,400 agents in 40 locations), I had to hire an outside training company to run the program in their facilities with their trainers. Doing so presented its own challenges.
Although our courses were basic, I felt it was imperative to “train the trainers” myself. I wanted them to understand how the real-estate agents would be using the information from the training. I had the trainers come to our company, and I reviewed each course as well as general company information. The trainers needed not only to be consistent in covering the material but also have a contact within the company who could answer frequent questions.
It is wise to keep in touch with the outside vendor on a consistent basis. Making a surprise visit to a class helps to ensure that they are prepared for all of your classes. I learned that even though I handed over a good portion of the project to them, I still needed to stay involved or too many things would be overlooked (software not loaded, switching instructors, starting late), and students would complain.
Your staff needs training on industry-specific software, and you’re going to contract the work out to a training firm. How can you be sure the outside trainers are familiar enough with the material to teach it well? And how do you monitor the situation once the classes are underway? Send us your tips on how to make sure customized training happens with contract trainers.
Satisfying end results and plans for the future
Our program was received well by the contractors. I attribute this to the intensive planning and the serious approach we took with the agents’ feedback about the program. After each class, agents filled out a class assessment that rated the trainer, the class content, and its relevance and then asked for their suggestions. Based on these assessments, I created two new class electives, curtailed one course, and created a way to feature “star agents” who explained how they use the software.
We learned to put out the class calendar on a monthly basis rather than a quarterly one to balance the class load and to prevent last-minute cancellations. Although the classes were free, the registration process required the agents to sign a form at least three days prior to the class stating the date, time, location, and course they had agreed to attend, along with a cancellation policy. No-shows would be charged $50, which would be deducted from their commissions, to show that the company was serious about training. Upper management was supportive and would not waive the fee unless the agent had a closing or was hospitalized.
When the program was a year old, 600 out of 1400 agents had completed all five courses and were awarded “I-NET Certification.” Over 800 agents had taken at least one “I-NET” course and many spoke of continuing with the courses as schedules allowed. Agents proudly hang their certificates on the walls and showcase them in their profiles on the Web and in portfolios. The company enjoyed a surge in sales, agent retention went up for the year, and managers used the program as a powerful recruitment tool. Now, new agents automatically start the program.
If your company’s employees need technical training, consider these steps when outlining your plan. Identifying your goals for the program and then making sure you are clear with your employees about the program’s requirements and rewards can shape your program into a sharp recruiting tool. Whether you choose to conduct the program in-house or contract it out to a training firm, offering technical training to your employees is a smart business move for everyone.
Ann Kearney has more than 10 years of experience in both classroom training and development, as well as upper-level management of CompUSA Training centers, Caldor’s, and JCPenney stores. She has been a project manager of curriculum development and created a certification program for 1,200 contractors.