Higher Education for Higher Education | Article

Outsourcing Elevates Employee Skills

outsourcing helps collegesThe problems in training and enhancing the skills of employees at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) were multi-faceted. Located 65 miles north of Denver in Greeley, the remote location hampered training efforts at a public institution with a small budget. There were no training facilities nearby, so the university had to pick up travel and lodging expenses every time it sent an employee to a training session. While there were many training opportunities in Denver, training sessions there required a two-hour drive each way, according to Judith Zewe, director of human resources.

In addition, the university’s lean staffing made it difficult for anyone to be out of the office for long. “There was the infamous cry, ‘I can’t afford to have Jane out of the office for three days,'” says Zewe.

The Internet promised a solution through eLearning. Janet Asteroff, eLearning consultant for The Conference Board in New York City, says eLearning “offers anytime, anywhere, any place education to anyone.” Cost is a major advantage. She says the cost of class learning averages $65 per person; learning on-line costs cuts that number to $10 per person. Users like it because they can complete the courses on their schedule, not somebody else’s. And the boss can actually tell if an employee finished the last lesson. This is not possible with CD-ROMs or videotapes, since they lack interactivity.

While UNC liked the idea that eLearning was easily available to every member of its staff, it had neither the time nor the resources to develop its own courses.

A Synergistic Solution

SkillSoft, headquartered in Nashua, N.H., approached the higher education institutions of Colorado in July 2000 to propose a pilot program. Zewe and her staff were impressed by the course content that, in part, had been developed by such respected institutions as the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

But funding remained a problem. Zewe reports five schools in Colorado were ready to move forward. These schools formed a consortium comprised of private and public four-year schools and a two-year community college. The consortium funding would be able to provide 20 courses to 50 employees. With this joint funding, UNC was able to harness the power of eLearning by outsourcing its training to SkillSoft.

Implementing the program, known as SkillPort, is a relatively easy process, according to Zewe. Initial planning includes defining the course library and success criteria. UNC completed this task within a matter of days. Once the buyers submit all technical files and documentation, SkillPort guarantees to implement the training in no more than five business days, according to Jeff Bond, SkillSoft product manager.

UNC launched its program in October 2000. Participants in the pilot program met with UNC and SkillSoft representatives to learn how to launch and access the courses.

The courses are now offered at a center that features 30 computers and a large projection screen. Zewe immediately recognized the variance in computer literacy. “We had a diverse group, ranging from people who could not turn on a computer to sophisticated users, taking the courses. The SkillSoft courses are so easy to navigate that everyone could run the program by the end of orientation,” she reports.

Zewe discovered that the courses were effective and well received, based on progress reports and focus groups that discussed the course content and its use. “We can also determine what works and what doesn’t and use the tools to fine tune and customize the courses,” she says. She was happy to learn many department supervisors who lacked enthusiasm for eLearning training initially discovered how it worked and suddenly became “big advocates.” In addition, research revealed UNC employees use the knowledge from the courses in different ways.

Zewe is pleased with the results of outsourcing. The pilot program was successful enough that UNC expanded the offerings from 50 people to 350. The university now offers the entire SkillSoft library, which includes over 450 courses. “SkillSoft levels the playing field. Before, there was an employee group that had been totally remiss from participating in training opportunities,” she says.

In addition, the SkillSoft program has increased the efficiency and helped further the mission of HR. “The SkillSoft program is a way to provide a variety of training opportunities based upon independent needs at a minimal cost. We can offer more for less. We have been able to use the SkillSoft courses to expand requisite skills and shore up deficiencies at a relative minimal cost in time and money. The efficiency of the employee group has improved since they now have the resources to help them do their job better,” she says.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • The eLearning solution is a good one for educational institutions and companies that are not located in major urban centers with readily available training facilities.
  • Learning online is cost effective, reducing costs from $65 to $10 per person.
  • Outsourcing allows eLearning customers to tap into great curriculums written by experts.
  • HR departments can afford to offer training to all employees with an outsourced eLearning program.


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