The learning curve

Increasingly, integrators spend for internal training and education
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Sunday, March 1, 2009

When Paul Oswald took over Environmental Services in 2004, as president, the company was largely a contractor, living job to job on energy management and IT systems. A little more than four years later, the 70-employee company is pitching itself as a long-term service organization and doing 25 percent of its business in security. How do you make a change like that happen?

“We created Environmental Services University,” Oswald said, “and we employ a full-time director of education.” From the date of hire, new employees begin with an “on-boarding” plan, which gets them assimilated “with everything the company does.” After eight weeks, they get an individualized learning plan, with career goals oriented toward where they want to be in three or five years, and according to the needs of the organization.

This is true for the lowliest tech and the highest managers. “Not only is there a technical training component,” Oswald emphasized, “there’s a huge resource development component as well, working on communication skills, financial strategies, project management ... it’s about developing the well-rounded individual, and not letting anyone stagnate in a role.”

“It’s expensive,” Oswald chuckled, “but it has its rewards.”

It’s a model Stanley adopted in an aggressive way in 2008, with its IT Matters and On Fire programs designed to quickly increase the skill levels of its employees with regard to network installation and maintenance and fire alarm system installation and service. By educating its workforce with an internal program, said Tony Byerly, COO Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, “they can get to know something where there’s not a lot of fear factor - going to a third-party class, that can be a scary thing. You’ve got to go to a community college and there’s an instructor grading you. This is a much more accessible way of getting people’s skill levels up.”

Byerly said most employees see attaining IT certification, for example, as a “badge of honor,” as the industry as a whole makes the transition to IP technology. “There are still a lot of people,” Byerly noted, “who haven’t made the transition.”

And the way these technical programs are implemented are increasingly technical themselves. Stanley’s programs are all implemented via webinar and online survey. Allied Barton implemented a training program this year that allows its employees to set up online personalities, develop avatars to represent themselves, and download podcasts of lectures and training sessions to their iPods.

But, as Oswald mentioned, internal programs aren’t just about technical skills. Convergint Technologies, for example, works  to instill its corporate values and beliefs in its workforce, and  encourages community service and philanthropy with internal programs. Its Convergint Social Responsibility Day is held every June 18, whereby employees take the day off from work and go into their communities and do everything from read books to school children to clean up area parks and community spaces. The company also celebrates Companies that Care Day; last year the company contributed 2,500 new and used books to elementary schools and hospitals.

“The return on investment is huge,” Oswald said of his program at ESI. “It’s done more to change the culture here than any other single thing we’ve done. When you couple-in leadership development, accountability, delegation, setting expectations - when you start to turn that loose, it’s amazing what they can produce.”