Work-Force Development

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Constructivism means giving employees the resources and opportunity to learn on their own, at their pace, when they need it.

January 01, 2003

 

Constructivism means giving employees the resources and opportunity to learn on their own, at their pace, when they need it. At Houston-based David Weekley Homes, constructivism is achieved by using e-learning to separate the "need to know" from the "nice to know."

"E-learning forced our training content to be consistent across the board," says Mike Humphrey, vice president of operations. "It forces the discipline of giving only the absolute 'need to know' information."

The strength of the e-learning model is standardization, but it also allows for individualized curriculum based on an associate's assessed skill level and knowledge base. This saves time, compared with more standard classroom-style training, and frees David Weekley Homes' 14 training "coaches" to divide their energy more equitably and effectively among various regions and offices.

 

THE PLAYERS: David Weekley, chairman and CEO; Ann Kennedy, e-learning team leader; and Mike Humphrey, vice president of operations, David Weekley Homes

THE ACHIEVEMENT: Development and implementation of a solely Web-based format for companywide training. All employees are given a "blueprint for success" with requisite course listings (which later serve as certification vehicles). New employees complete e-learning within their first 90 days, taking a pre-test to see what they already know and a post-test at the end of instruction. Tenured employees can take refresher tests throughout the year that tailor course material to their weak or forgotten subject areas. Tests are augmented with "need to know" information in the form of Web links that give information tailored to specific Weekley divisions, regional construction types, etc.

THE SCOPE: Serves all 1,000 David Weekley employees in seven states

THE LIGHT BULB: The first course was offered in June 2001. Currently, the e-learning curriculum comprises 19 full courses.

THE ULTIMATE GOAL: Efficiency and consistency of training content and increased face-to-face interaction between coaches and employees

THE HOOK: A $600,000-plus investment to date (about $250,000 annually)

THE FUTURE: The addition of 13 e-learning courses dealing primarily with ethics, warranty issues, home services training, technology and orientation to Weekley culture and values

But the real challenge will come in the next six months. The company will try to correlate survey responses and e-learning scores to return on investment, a territory that's admittedly difficult, somewhat murky and wholly uncharted across most businesses and industries (not just home building). But Humphrey says it's absolutely necessary and feasible.

"Trainers don't necessarily want to be measured on ROI, but we think that measure will cause us to leverage our trainers even better than we do today," he says. "It'll focus them down to very specific needs of our people, in the review process and ongoing throughout the year. It's simple: If communication test scores go up, customer satisfaction ought to go up. If people do well on the Build the Weekley Way test, our quality walk scores should go up."

The company estimates that e-learning adds six weeks per year to work schedules - more time in the field, with customers and for coaches to work with employees to strengthen the Weekley mission.

The Web-based training has changed the paradigm for interaction between trainers and employees. With increased, better-quality field time, Humphrey has seen a shift from a "cop-like" environment toward one in which the trainer is a resource, a liaison who bridges employees' needs, the project manager's requirements and the company's mission.

"It's been challenging because when you have full-time trainers, they see e-learning as a threat," chairman and CEO David Weekley says. "They think they're going to lose their job, or they're standoffish because they say, 'You can't do with a computer what I can do as a human.' But now our coaches do a combination of training and on-site individual coaching. They're excited because they figure the less time they spend in the classroom means more time spent one on one with skills training."

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