UPS Solves IT Training Dilemma

Shipping company joins E-learning consortium that offers a pay-per-use model

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Senior Writer, InformationWeek

October 18, 2003

3 Min Read

When United Parcel Service Inc. began considering E-learning for its IT organization in early 2002, Lina Hardenburg, the shipping company's information-services learning and development manager, grappled with the costs of E-learning products versus the number of employees who would actually use them.

"Even though our IT people are surrounded by technology, they weren't enthusiastic about using E-learning," Hardenburg recalls. "They thought there were bigger benefits from classroom training by instructors who could share war stories about technology."

With the reluctance of the IT staff in mind and the fact that E-learning vendors, on average, wanted UPS to commit to spending about $500,000 for a selection of up to 150 courses, Hardenburg was faced with a dilemma. "I didn't think I was taking a good risk, based on the number of IT people who would likely use it," she says.

That's when Hardenburg and fellow UPS managers decided to go with an alternative approach: membership in LearnShare, a consortium of 13 noncompeting Fortune 500 companies that have access to E-learning courses from leading training providers. LearnShare members take advantage of their cumulative size. They pay for E-learning as each employee takes a course --a pay-per-use model--plus a small membership fee, Hardenburg says. The fee for UPS is $50,000 per year for a two-year membership. IT courses cost about $100 per employee.

Even with the LearnShare membership fee, that's an enormous savings, Hardenburg says. The cost of other E-learning systems UPS considered averaged about $300 per course, and classroom training can range from $300 to $1,000 per employee for smaller groups that need to be sent off-site, she says.

LearnShare's consortium members have access to each other's internally developed training courses and content related to management and soft skills. Even though LearnShare members come from a range of noncompeting industries, they provide each other with valuable insight, Hardenburg says. "Some companies are very innovative, and it's great to hear new ideas," she says.

LearnShare also works with members to customize classes. "We'll help match a class to the needs of a particular job, and we can also help develop a curriculum for the needs of a particular employer," says Lois Webster, LearnShare's CEO.

To date, about 750 UPS IT professionals have taken Unix courses via LearnShare, and the company plans to offer introductory technology E-learning classes so workers have the same foundation of knowledge before taking more-advanced courses, Hardenburg says. About 90% of UPS's IT training still takes place in traditional classroom settings, but the goal is to grow E-learning to 20% by next year, she says.

Other companies are increasing their use of more traditional E-learning courses to train nontechnical staff. Colgate-Palmolive Co. now offers its 3,000 global sales and marketing staff customized E-learning courses from Tata Interactive Systems via the Web and on CD-ROM. Until now, Colgate has used primarily classroom training for its sales and marketing staff, but that proved expensive--about $500 per class per employee, versus about $20 per head per course via the Tata system, says Paula Disberry, Colgate's customer marketing director for global sales.

The U.S. military also is tapping E-learning to train IT and non-IT employees. Last month, the Air Force signed a multiyear contract with IBM and Thomson Corp. for an E-learning system to train up to 10,000 networking professionals per year. IBM also provides E-learning products to the Army as part of eArmyU, which delivers to soldiers more than 138 college-degree and certificate programs over the Web.

About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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