According to Jon Reardon, vice president and general manager of BPG’s Service and Support Division, the products cover a wide range of functions. “Our products run the spectrum,” he said. “They go all the way up to 85-page-per-minute devices. Those devices can be clustered together so that you can quadruple output. It’s fairly sophisticated. Our products, much like an automobile, require a regularly scheduled preventive maintenance program.”
Previously, Minolta’s technicians would attend classroom training and get certified on a product. But with the help of Maritz Learning, Minolta has moved away from a classroom-centric training program toward a more blended approach. “We’ve moved to a new competency- and skill-based model, where the learning is just ongoing,” said Reardon. “It’s just part of the professional development activity of all our technicians.”
John Lent, BPG’s national technical training manager described Minolta’s technical training as occurring in a blended world. “We have instructors in classroom facilities, and the bulk of our training nowadays is Web-based, and one is used in conjunction with the other,” he said. “So all of these Web elements and online elements serve as prerequisites to get to the classroom.”
But this blended world of training is new to Minolta, which previously sent its technicians and its channel partners’ technicians to one of five locations across the United States for training. Unfortunately, this approach was cost-prohibitive due to extensive travel requirements, and it could not keep up with the accelerating product development and rollout cycles.
Maritz Learning helped Reardon’s group design the Minolta Professional Development System, which combines e-learning for introductory and theoretical concepts with classroom training to provide the hands-on learning technicians need to service, troubleshoot and repair the company’s products. According to Reardon, the biggest challenge in making the switch to a more blended approach was changing the behavior of its learners. “Our audience is a combination of internal staff and channel partners,” he explained. “The challenge was to change the behavior in terms of how they learned because, up until three years ago, it was almost primarily, exclusively classroom, instructor-facilitated type training.”
Lent added, “Their first impression was that we were going to somehow reduce or eliminate the classroom event and replace it with an e-learning event. There were a lot of doubters, and that was both externally and internally because our instructors also though as we gravitated toward this blended environment that they would some day be out of a job.”
But Minolta did not replace classroom learning with e-learning. Rather, it used e-learning to get all of its technicians up to the same level before sending them to shortened, more focused classroom sessions.
“The kinetic learning, the hands-on learning is obviously best done in the classroom, it’s hard to transfer that over the Web,” explained Reardon. “Additionally, it allows us to focus our classroom activity on things like troubleshooting, problem diagnosis in the real world and to get them more physically comfortable with the machine. So what we do on the front end on the blended side is deliver a lot of the theoretical concepts and product overview and things like that pre-class.”
Lent added that e-learning can help Minolta with new product rollouts that are based on earlier products. “In those cases, it’s a specification change, so you don’t necessarily need to revisit the classroom,” he explained. “If we can make a sort of addendum type of coursework, that would lend itself to an online event instead of creating a new classroom event.”
BPG also chose to use Maritz’s LIBRIX Performance Management System to administer its new blended learning program. The system provides reporting capabilities that help managers track learners in the system and streamline the certification process.
Brian Carlin, president of Maritz Learning, said that Reardon and his team understand that professional development can be leveraged to increase business success. “Essentially, we’ve been helping them achieve their vision,” said Carlin. “Step number one was to get from where they were, which was a rapidly changing product mix and a very classroom-intensive training program, and get them to the next level, which involved shifting the mix to include e-learning to reduce some of the cost and to put LMS technology in place to help better facilitate the process of professional development for those technicians.”
Minolta’s new blended approach to learning has helped it control costs for training technicians while getting more technicians trained. Reardon explained that before the blended learning program, channel partners had to send technicians to one of the five classroom facilities for courses as long as 10 business days. “Now when they do come to the classroom, it’s a shortened event,” said Reardon. “Many of our classroom events are as short as two days, and I think our longest one is around four days.”
Minolta has also revitalized its Authorized Training Partner program, which adds what Reardon called a “secondary layer of additional classrooms” for its channel partners. Lent also mentioned that BPG went from 11 full-time instructors to only six, and the company has also saved money and time in the administration of the program with the LMS capabilities.
Minolta has also seen less tangible benefits from the new program. Before implementing the system, Reardon said it would take six months to build a curriculum, and training modules were delivered to the classroom between 45 and 90 days after a new product launch. Nowadays, new training is delivered between 15 and 30 days prior to a new product’s launch. “It’s really impacted our business in a positive way,” said Reardon.
Lent added that more of Minolta’s technicians are getting certified on its products. By Web-enabling the self-paced testing element of its coursework, Minolta increased its number of certified technicians from a couple hundred in early 2001 to more than 3,000 by the end of 2001. The certification process has been streamlined as well. “Two years ago, all of those tests were actually faxed in, and we had someone who graded with a red pen, entered them into the database with their score and so forth, then printed out their certificate, mailed the envelope, licked the stamp and mailed it all to the dealership,” Lent said. “Today, that’s 100 percent automated. The testing is online, the database is updated, and the certificates are printed right from the technician’s desktop.”
Reardon explained that within the BPG division, more employees are earning industry-recognized certifications such as the Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+), Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) than ever before. He added that this has an impact on employee satisfaction, which in turn improves customer satisfaction and drives turnover down. “We believe those are very strong kinds of connections,” said Reardon. “For example, we had double-digit annualized turnover in our technical ranks before, and it would take about two years to bring one of these guys up to speed on our complete product line. Today, we have been able to significantly reduce that number.”
All of this adds up to Minolta achieving its goal of being a market leader in technical education. Reardon said that Minolta believes that it can differentiate its products by outstripping its competition in the area of learning. “We want to have the best-informed, best-skilled technicians touching our product and interacting with the customers,” he said.
Carlin added that Minolta recognizes its strengths and weaknesses, which allowed Maritz to cooperate with the company to drive its success. “They are leveraging a vendor relationship into a strategic business advantage,” explained Carlin. “They have used us to shore up some of their weaknesses and to develop some of their strengths, and Maritz is proud to help them succeed in achieving their vision.”
Minolta is now establishing a network of subject matter expert communities to provide the raw material to build a new theory-based approach to learning. By breaking down the technology that drives its products into 15 functional systems, Minolta will be able to help its workforce understand the technology.
Lent explained that by using the SME communities to provide the raw information, Minolta has found a creative way of leveraging its field staff to build new curriculum. “They’re the intellectual capital,” said Lent. “They’re providing the content, and we have the curriculum development and instructional design people to put it together.”
“If we want to establish ourselves as number one in the industry,” explained Reardon, “we had to break the mold because everybody does it the same way. But we actually believe so heavily in this approach that we think it has applicability to other similar industries.”
Reardon added that the reason no one has taken this approach before is due to the fear that they’d be teaching their technicians to service competitive products. “And you know what our position is?” asked Reardon. “We don’t care, because they’ll be servicing our product, and if we can gain that mind share of the technicians—that where he’s really going to learn it is with Minolta—then we’ve established a fairly significant victory.”