One of the greatest challenges confronting companies with international operations is communicating and providing ongoing learning and development opportunities for employees dispersed throughout the world. This was the exact problem faced by VWR International, a leading worldwide distributor of scientific equipment, supplies, chemicals and furniture to the industrial, government, life science, education, electronics and pharmaceutical markets. Based in West Chester, Pa., VWR has more than 6,000 associates in more than 100 locations around the world, and VWR aims to provide all of its associates with learning and development opportunities, according to Marlene Ferris, director of learning at VWR.
In mid-2000, VWR teamed with e-learning systems provider GeoLearning Inc. to launch a comprehensive e-learning delivery platform and learning management system (LMS). At VWR, 42 percent of the employees in North America are logging into VWR’s Learning Center to acccess online resources such as company and product information. Another 25 percent are voluntarily registering for courses.
Early in the project, VWR decided to pursue the application service provider (ASP) delivery model, which sped implementation and saved significant resources. Just the hardware and software would have cost more than a quarter of a million dollars. “Bringing all these applications in-house to VWR would have been unmanageable in terms of available resources, and impossible from a cost standpoint,” said Ferris. “The ASP model reduced our total cost of ownership by as much as 350 percent when compared to hosting the system internally.”
Ferris cites VWR’s decision to start small as a key success factor. Her team rolled out e-learning location by location. They asked managers to communicate and demonstrate the new online learning center. Information packets and a series of communication sessions were held with the managers throughout North America during a two-month time frame. Managers then met with their respective teams to introduce the Learning Center and its benefits.
VWR Associates can take online courses in interpersonal skills and professional development areas like management and leadership, customer service and time management. “From the moment it went live, there were over 100 courses available to spark the interest of our associates,” said Ellen Teeter, learning specialist at VWR. “We work with our vendor to add and delete courses every few months to make sure that our curriculum is up-to-date, meaningful and meeting the needs of associates.”
When VWR made Office 2000 and Lotus Notes 5.0 the standard on all desktops, associates got up to speed quickly and cost-effectively with the Learning Center. “Offering the training online saved VWR the expense of sending a traveling team of four to six trainers to more than 20 major locations,” said Ferris. “We would also have had to make hundreds of associates in outlying areas and smaller facilities travel to larger locations for training. The travel costs alone, not to mention the opportunity costs of having so many people out of the office, saved us thousands of dollars. But, more importantly, as an organization we were able to reduce time-to-productivity on the new application by more than 50 percent because training was streamlined, standardized and self-paced.”
The next step for VWR is to make courses available to its associates who speak German, French, Spanish and Italian. “E-learning as a delivery mechanism has helped us conquer several challenges related to training and development at VWR,” said Ferris. “From distance and geography to time constraints and now language barriers, e-learning has been a big factor in helping us achieve our goal of providing learning and development opportunities to all associates. We can truly say that we are taking learning and development worldwide.”
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