Because the company is a 24×7 operation, Naylor said, making the training available when the employees are available to attend it is a major issue. The other problem is that the company’s workforce is so widely dispersed. “We operate in 23 states west of the Mississippi River, and so physical location and delivering the training where it’s needed—not only when it’s needed, but where it’s needed—those are probably our two biggest challenges.”
Nick Ericksen, director of training performance improvement for Union Pacific, added that the major population addressed by technical training does not work a regular schedule. Naylor explained, “Of the 47,000 employees, approximately 19,000 are what we call train service employees. These are the people who work on the trains and switch the cars. They don’t work on any kind of a set schedule.”
According to Naylor, in the past Union Pacific simply tried to fit training opportunities into employees’ schedules, a difficult task when those schedules are so irregular. Aside from the difficulty of making a training schedule fit into an irregular work schedule, this method was expensive. “We’re losing the productivity, and we’re paying their labor at the same time we have the training and delivery costs,” Naylor said. In addition to scheduled training, Naylor said that Union Pacific has traditionally relied on on-the-job training using peer trainers.
Now the company is moving toward asynchronous delivery of training—using the Web and other technology to deliver training in non-traditional ways, Naylor said. Ericksen added that Union Pacific is also using technology to deliver synchronous training.
Union Pacific is now implementing Plateau Systems’ learning management system within a defined subject area, and will continue to add more training to the system over the next five years. This all started with a pilot project. “Everybody who operates a train has to have a special certification from the federal government, and that certification has to be renewed every three years,” said Naylor. “We have other mandatory training that has to occur every other year, and what we had been doing is delivering that training by pulling people out of their jobs and delivering it in a stand-up, traditional, instructor-led training format.”
The pilot program that was run in one of Union Pacific’s southern areas took that same training content and delivered it via the Web. Naylor said that the head of the operating department was impressed with this format and said he wanted to implement this training and certification system-wide. The main issue in doing that, Naylor said, was scaling up the training. “It’s one thing to deliver training via the Web or some new technology for 100 to 200 people,” he explained. “It’s a completely different story to do it for 18,000 or 19,000. We simply didn’t have the infrastructure with our existing classroom scheduling software to be able to do that. We had to be able to track preparation and track results, and those kinds of things that Plateau would let us do.”
Naylor said that one of the immediate benefits of implementing the LMS is the easing of administrative loads. “Many of the behind-the-scenes processes that the learning management system can handle for us we’re doing manually right now,” he said.
Ericksen said that moving forward, Union Pacific plans to migrate much of its training to the e-learning environment. “We’ve created a five-year strategy that would have us move components into an e-learning environment over those five years,” he said.
Naylor emphasized that this overall strategic plan will deliver multiple benefits. “It allows us to deliver better training because we can spread the cost of having the best experts over many training instances,” he said. “It allows us to save time and money in terms of being able to allow all of our employees to take training at times that are convenient for them and in places that are convenient for them—whether it’s at work or at home or wherever they can access the Internet. It really saves us money in terms of time away from the job, which is probably the company’s biggest training expense.”