By Shannon Stein

If you need to expand your training department without hiring any new people and raise the general skill level of your employees at the same time, consider creating a PC liaison program. These individuals, selected by department managers, help with departmental and interdepartmental information exchange on policies, procedures, technology, and best practices. They also can provide technical support and help with department-specific problems.

Once you’ve chosen a liaison for each department, you need to think about how to provide continuing, as well as advanced, training for the group. In this article, I will discuss how to develop that training program and how to keep the liaisons enthusiastic about it.
For ideas on how to select people to be liaisons and get the program going, read my article on the basics of starting a liaison group.
A solid background as well as advanced study
PC liaisons have access to a variety of computer training. Initial training starts in each individual department on specific issues or problems that need to be resolved. PC liaisons are typically experienced individuals who are familiar with the workings of their departments.

PC liaisons in the main offices of Roadway Express can take classes led by in-house instructors who cover a wide range of Microsoft software, including Access, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

The training department at Roadway, staffed by Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS), posts a schedule of classes on the training intranet site. With a manager’s approval, all PC liaisons can enroll online and take as many classes as they want. To allow the liaisons to keep up with their daily responsibilities and to take onsite classes, each course is broken up into a series of 90-minute sessions each week.

For example, we may schedule an Access class each Tuesday from 9:00-10:30 A.M. for six weeks. With this class format, individuals do not fall behind in their daily workload, yet are also able to return to their desks and apply what they have learned between classes. Students have a higher retention rate when information is provided in several short blocks of time as opposed to one long seminar.

The added bonus of online training
Roadway also offers computer-based training through NETg. The response to this type of training has been overwhelming. Many people have commented on the content and overall presentation of the material provided. We decided to make these online classes available because we needed to provide computer training for remote locations. Computer-based training is the ideal method to do this.

Thin client technology, where everything is hosted on a server, allows access through a Windows terminal, such as a WinTerm or Compaq T100. This, in a sense, allows us to keep our desktop environment locked down. Through this thin client technology, all Roadway employees have access to our computer-based training at their convenience.

Rewarding liaisons and keeping them involved
All our liaisons are volunteers and have other full-time jobs. We don’t pay them anything more to help with training and support, so we have to find ways to keep them enthusiastic about their work.

One way we’ve decided to reward the liaisons is by offering Microsoft Office User Specialist (MOUS) certification to anyone who is interested in taking the exams. Certification recognizes the advanced experience of these more accomplished individuals. Depending on how well the testing works out, we may offer it to the whole company.

Also, our desktop technology department, along with training, will soon implement new subsets of PC liaisons called Special Interest Groups. These special interest groups will be made up of liaison volunteers, but will have assorted privileges that other PC liaisons and employees don’t have. To keep the PC liaisons informed about new technology, we are going to have them do some product testing. This could include, for example, getting Office 2000 before the rest of the company so that when it is time to migrate to Office 2000, the PC liaisons will be up to speed on the changes between the two versions.

Finally, we have Brown Bag Sessions during the lunch hour. Sometimes we want to present information to PC liaisons that may not be work related, but deals with computers. We don’t want to present these topics on company work time, so we hold a Brown Bag Session during their lunch hour. For example, we held a very popular FBI presentation called, “A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety.” FBI agents who specialize in computer and Internet crime presented the latest tips and strategies for parents in the modern “web family.”

We also try to solicit ideas from the liaisons about what they want to learn. Several people mentioned they were interested in learning to use HTML. We learned the topic and taught them the basics. They were ecstatic.

PC liaisons: A win-win strategy
I cannot overemphasize the positive effect the PC liaison group has had on our training department. We use the liaisons as a source of communication among the employees of Roadway for almost everything that has gone on in training. The liaisons have helped increase interest in our training program, which has shown a dramatic increase in enrollment. They have also helped spread the word about the benefits of training. The results have been unbelievable.

The liaisons have helped the company overall as well. By training our PC liaisons to field questions from colleagues, we can raise overall knowledge of the latest technology. Creating a smarter workforce will raise the standards, capability, and capacity of any company.
Has your company ever examined the relationship between training and productivity? Do you have the numbers to prove training’s worth? Send us an e-mail and tell us how you prove your worth to your managers.

Shannon Stein works for Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS), a worldwide information technology outsourcing company that offers technology and business solutions. Shannon works in the training department of Roadway Express, which has a contract with ACS for technical support as well as training.