CXO

IT training: The view from a manager's chair

As a senior IT educator at Humana, Jerry Cappel has a wide range of responsibilities. In this interview with Bruce Maples, he discusses what he does every day as well as the chief obstacle he faces: changing the corporate attitude toward learning.


Imagine yourself as a senior educator for one of the world’s largest health insurance companies. Imagine yourself being responsible for planning, designing, and delivering technical training to both IT workers and end users across that huge organization. What would be your greatest challenge: Money? Administration? Training space? Time?

“Culture,” replies Jerry Cappel. I’m intrigued with this answer, but before following up, I decide to learn more about Cappel and how he got into IT training.
This interview with a senior training manager is the fourth in a series by Bruce Maples as he takes a look at the training industry through the eyes of professionals in four different jobs in the field. In the first interview, he talked to Don Justice about his role as the manager of a training company.Then he got the inside view of a traveling trainer’s routine from Latifa Meena. When he talked to managers from a training brokerage, he explained how The Training Associates does business and where the brokers think the industry is going. Bruce will write a wrap-up of all the interviews in the last part of the series.
An unusual professional background
Cappel is Senior IT Educator at Humana, Inc., headquartered in Louisville, KY. He’s been with Humana since 1996. His journey into technical training was somewhat circuitous. In the 1980s he was a pastor, and decided to pursue his doctorate. He received his Ph.D. in Christian education in 1993 from one of the seminaries here in Louisville, and subsequently moved to South Carolina to work for Smith & Helwys Publishing as an editor.

After a while he decided he wanted to move back to Louisville, but wasn’t sure he wanted to go back into the pastorate. A friend offered him a job in the training department at Humana, he decided to give it a try, and voila! A new technical trainer was born.

When the company expanded its IT training efforts into a new department, “I was in the right place at the right time,” Cappel said. “As the department has grown, so have my workload and my responsibilities. At first I was the only one there who knew much about curriculum design or electronic media.” (He had been in charge of Smith & Helwys’ online learning site.) “Now there are a bunch of us, all basically doing the same things, only for different parts of Humana.”

And what are some of those ‘‘things’’ that he does? Here is a partial list:
  • Consult with other departments on training goals, plans, methodologies, and metrics
  • Deliver instructor-led training
  • Manage the training component of hardware and software rollouts
  • Design curriculum
  • Manage the IT education Web site on the company’s intranet
  • Design and write courseware
  • Design and write computer-based training (CBT)/Web-based training (WBT)
  • Manage vendor relationships, including negotiations for training services and products
  • Manage the administration and distribution of distance learning services
  • Track skill levels
  • Track training endeavors.

 

“Basically, we both ‘do’ and ‘manage’ technical training across the enterprise,” Cappel said. “Some of us serve only the IT department itself; others are responsible for end users in various regions. We also are assigned various rollouts and other projects. Whatever our area, we are responsible for all the training in that area–-planning it, contracting for it if need be, delivering it in one way or another, tracking it, and evaluating it.”

Corporate training–-one man’s viewpoint
TechRepublic: Tell me more about ‘culture’ as a challenge.
Cappel: Our biggest challenge is to change attitudes toward learning. We are constantly getting resistance from both management and from end users.

TR: Why management?
Cappel: They are worried that if training is freely available, workers will spend all their time training and not get their work done. If the training is Web-based, it means the workers have to have Web access, and management is worried the workers will surf over to Victoria’s Secret or some such place rather than doing the training. And finally, management doesn’t want to provide training to their workers, because they are afraid the workers will use the training to get a job somewhere else.



TR: So what’s the culture problem with end users?
Cappel: End users want to go to a regular ILT setting, preferably off-site, where they can kick their shoes off and have the instructor provide the learning energy and drive. They see it as a break, and I understand that. Unfortunately, this ‘’event-centered learning’’ is not always the best way to go. We are trying a number of other approaches, but the end users continue to want to ‘’go to class.’’

TR: What’s the problem with ‘’event-centered learning,’’ then?
Cappel: The training task is simply too big to be dealt with through traditional class-based instruction. We can’t get it done using just scheduled events. For one thing, you can only hold so many classes a year. And, each worker can only attend so many a year. Most managers will not put up with more than 40 hours a year given over to classroom training per worker. Giving workers 40 hours of generalized content a year is not going to get the job done.

TR: So what is the answer?
Cappel: We have to move toward smaller content units, and then distribute those units not in events but through other means. Then we’ve got to get the worker used to using those smaller, distributed learning tools. For example, if someone needs to learn to do tables in Word, they don’t need to go to a week-long class on Word; they need a short tutorial on tables that is available to them right at their computer. We’ve got to have that ready for them, and we’ve got to get them to look for it.

TR: So you’ve got both a culture and a distribution problem.
Cappel: Right.

TR: You must be heavily invested in CBTs.
Cappel: We’ve got a number of them out there, but we’re still evaluating their effectiveness. Overall, end users don’t like them.

TR: Why do you think that is?
Cappel: For one thing, they say many of the CBTs are boring. I think there’s a more fundamental reason, though: most end users don’t have the discipline to use CBTs. That’s why they like instructor-led training (ILT): the instructor brings the energy and discipline with him or her into the classroom, so the learner doesn’t have to.

TR: Why are CBTs so popular, then?
Cappel: Management likes them because of cost. I really think most CBTs are bought by management looking to cut costs, not because educators or end users like them.

TR: Is there anywhere that CBTs are working for you?
Cappel: They seem to work better in the IT area than in the end user area. I think that’s because of the tangible benefits such learning can provide to the IT worker. If you are an end user and you learn how to do tables in Word, you may be able to do your job better, but that’s a benefit to the company, not to you. In IT, on the other hand, if you learn SQL or SMS, you can actually change your pay scale or your job assignment, or even get a better job elsewhere. The tangible benefits to the learner provide the motivation.



TR: How does the demand look from where you sit?
Cappel: Growing exponentially. Not linearly—exponentially. That’s why we are examining all these alternative means of delivery. We simply can’t cover the demand doing things the old way. We must do whatever we can to cover the training task as efficiently as possible.

TR: So are you doing less ILT than before?
Cappel: Here’s the situation: Our goal is to get more training out of each trainer. Therefore, each trainer is doing more training, but less of that training is ILT. The remainder is some sort of distributed learning: distance, online, CBT, WBT, video-based training (VBT), electronic documentation. The answer to your question, though, is that we’re doing more ILT than ever before as well!

TR: How can that be?
Cappel: Because we are doing so much more training of all kinds than ever before. Even though the ILT percentage of overall training is decreasing, the amount of ILT is actually going up because the overall training task is growing so rapidly.

TR: We’ve had an ongoing discussion at TechRepublic about ILT versus CBT. What’s your take on that question?
Cappel: I think it’s the wrong question. It’s not an "either-or’’ question, it’s ‘‘both-and.’’ ILT will never go away; it’s too popular and too effective. CBT in all its forms is not competition—it’s additive. We aren’t moving from ILT to CBT, we’re adding CBT to the toolbox as another means of covering the training task.

TR: So, what would you say to someone going into corporate training? What is their job?
Cappel: When it comes to technical training in the corporation, we have to do the following:
  • Market it to management and to workers.
  • Create structures to support it.
  • Figure out ways to integrate it into their job descriptions, into their career path, and into their daily work.
  • Be sure it delivers tangible benefits not only to the company, but also to the learner.
What trends do you see in the training industry currently? Have you taken an interesting route to your current job? Write to Bruce and share your ideas about this article or suggest a topic for another.

Bruce Maples is an author, trainer, speaker, and consultant living in Louisville.

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