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Training

By now you’ve probably heard it a thousand times: “We’re living in the
Information Age.” To which you may well respond: “So what?”


After all, you deal in a product something
that must be manufactured, shipped, sold, delivered, installed and maintained.
What does the Information Age or the
“knowledge based economy” or any
of those other trendy descriptions
have to do with your business?



While such skepticism is understandable, today’s Information Age actually has had a dramatic impact on many aspects of the contracting,
home improvement and building products
industries. One of the most significantly
impacted areas is training.



In today’s competitive economy, companies
can no longer rely on “natural
born” salesmen. They can no longer dispatch
installation crews who are simply
“good with their hands.” And today’s
complex and fast-changing supply
chains require manufacturers and distributors
to have more than just a
“knack for the business.” In today’s
industry, all these disciplines require
training-of all types and at all levels of
the organization.



Training—What’s In It for You?

A well-designed and consistently executed
training program offers an excellent
return for both the company that
institutes it and the participants who
take part in it. For customers, channel
partners and employees, a carefully
designed training program can provide
valuable information on product features
and benefits, installation and
maintenance of products, and a variety
of other subjects even company history,
policy and procedures. For the company,
an effective training program can
help improve employee morale, which
ultimately helps employees perform
their jobs more productively and effectively.



Typical courseware examples among
companies in the building materials and
construction industries include such
familiar “standards” as sales training,
product knowledge and installation
training, along with newer curriculum
entries such as management and leadership
development, customer service
training and, of course, general computer
training and computer software
courses. Such programs can help
improve a company’s position within
the industry by helping to generate
more sales while improving profitability,
increase customer satisfaction,
improve work-force recruitment and
retention, improve channel development,
enhance results from product roll-outs
and introductions, and generally
increase manufacturing and inventory management
efficiency.


Key Elements of a Successful Training Program



Among adult learners in a business environment,
a key requirement for any
training program is flexibility. After all,
not everyone has the time or inclination
to sit in a classroom. And even if they
do, a traditional classroom is not necessarily the most effective way to deliver
training.




Today’s most successful training programs
offer participants a varied range
of learning venues and formats-they
may choose to study at home, on the
job, in a regional location such as a
meeting facility, or at corporate offices,
using either traditional classroom settings,
self-paced video and text programs,
or state-of-the-art Internet learning
technology.



The following list is by no means comprehensive new approaches are constantly
being developed-but here are a
few of the elements that can be found in
many of today’s most successful training
programs:



Instructor — Led Seminars – The traditional
approach to training, seminars are
still among the most popular methods
of conveying information. They can be
held in a dedicated learning center, a
hotel meeting room or any other location
that accommodates the requirements.



Video Learning — Videotape and DVD-based
courses provide your training program
with added convenience and flexibility
by enabling participants to access
courseware regardless of time or location.
In most instances, the course structure
is similar to traditional instructor-led
seminars, complete with workbooks
and final exams.



Internet-Based Learning — With Internet
usage growing rapidly, online delivery
has become an essential part of any
contemporary training program. As
with video learning, Internet-based
instruction offers both convenience and
flexibility, allowing users increased accessibility to training content. In addition,
online learning can enhance retention
by breaking lengthy or complex subject
matter into shorter modules. By the way,
if you are developing an online program,
be sure your IT and training consultants
make allowances to accommodate both
dial-up and broadband users, so that all
participants find the courseware easy to
use regardless of their connection speed.



Mobile Training — For even greater
training flexibility, one leading building
material manufacturer, Alcoa Home
Exteriors, has developed a mobile training
unit that is housed in a 53-foot semi-trailer,
complete with a video classroom,
hands-on installation facilities, product
demonstration areas and more. Within
a few weeks of its introduction, this self-contained
mobile training facility was
booked ahead for six months and more
by distributors who were eager to use it
to provide added value and further
strengthen their relationships with local
dealers and contractors.



Publications — Creating a newsletter
about your training program and its
resources helps to reinforce the benefits
and advantages of training, while also
expanding the audience of potential participants.
For example, a manufacturer
may choose to mail or e-mail the
newsletter to its customer base to introduce
them to the program, and to keep
them abreast of future new courseware
offerings.



Training Web Site — A key component
of any contemporary training program
is a dedicated Web site, which generally
will be linked to your main corporate
Web site. In addition to offering online
enrollment for seminars, and serving as
an entry point for online courses, such a
site can also provide access to current
and back issues of your company’s
newsletters and other communications
devices. It also can serve as a host for
forums that let training participants
communicate with each other to share
best practices, questions and solutions to
common problems.



Other popular training-related Web features
include an online “gallery” where
participants can showcase photos and
descriptions of recent projects, and an Developing a Training
online “library” of books and articles Program That Works
related to specific courses or to your
industry in general. Be sure to include
links to online retailers where the items
may be purchased.



Above all, the site should offer e-commerce capabilities. Your training program
can quickly gain visibility and a
sense of identity by offering wearables
and other items with your company
logo, augmented by the name and logo
of your training program. A special section
of the training Web site should be
dedicated to offering these, along with
special tools, products, sales support
items or other related merchandise.



Developing a Training Program That Works



In addition to flexibility and up-to-date
technology a successful training program
must have one more important
attribute: commitment. Your program
will inevitably struggle-and likely be
abandoned-if the responsibility for its
design and delivery is just one more
added duty for an already overworked
manager. To succeed, a training program
must be a high priority of your company’s
top leaders-and the number one priority
of the executive who is chosen to
lead it.



Just as the term, “Information Age,” is
accurate in spite of being overused, there
is an element of truth in another popular
phrase: “Knowledge is power.” In
today’s building materials and home
improvement industries, knowledge and the training that conveys that
knowledge—are integral to your company’s
success. Whether you are a manufacturer,
distributor or dealer, a multifaceted
training program can provide an
important strategic advantage by helping
you to improve customer loyalty and
product usage, further channel your
marketing efforts, increase efficiency and
improve employee morale and retention.



About the Author



Charles Cibella is president of the Creative
Connection, a Ml-service marketing
communications firm with extensive
marketing and training experience in the
home improvement, construction and
building products industries. The Creative
Connection serves clients through-out
the United States and Canada.

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