With more than a million residential, commercial and industrial customers throughout metropolitan Washington, D.C., and the surrounding regions, WGL Holdings Inc. and its subsidiary Washington Gas launched the Learning Solutions Center in May 2005 to create a consistent, systematic and more effective approach to learning for its 1,700 employees. Led by Organization and Employee Development Director Dori Ramsey, the Learning Solutions Center is working on two parallel efforts: the knowledge management initiative, which targets the organization’s entire workforce; and learning interventions, which at the outset are primarily focused on the operations division. Ultimately, the Learning Solutions Center will support all divisions of the company in meeting learning and development needs.
“One of the challenges that we are facing stems from having a large number of employees eligible for retirement over the next three to five years,” Ramsey said. “So, this has shown us that we have to be extremely efficient, shorten the learning curve and perhaps modify the ways that we have traditionally trained people in the past. Our basic approach is to make sure that we have clearly defined what an employee needs to know to do his or her job so that every minute we spend in the learning environment is really targeted on those objectives.”
The knowledge management initiative focuses on both the explicit and implicit knowledge of each WGL Holdings business unit. In order to identify this knowledge, the Learning Solutions Center had each division identify its core processes, complete gap analyses and create plans to address any gaps. “For the explicit piece, we are making sure that we have critical processes documented and that they are documented in such a way that the information is easily retrievable. We have purchased a knowledge management system from Contextware that we are currently implementing and will be rolling out over the remainder of this year. This is going to assist us in ensuring that employees have the most up-to-date information on specific processes,” Ramsey explained.
However, Ramsey said identifying and making implicit knowledge explicit is more challenging. “A lot of expertise, wisdom and knowledge that has become innate to our workers is not easily captured and put into a tool such as Contextware,” she said. “But it can be done through things like lessons learned and best practices. We are also looking at other learning interventions such as an expert speaker series, one-on-one coaching, mentoring, etc.”
For the operations group, Ramsey is currently focused on developing a learning environment to transfer knowledge through a more hands-on approach. “We want to put all of our training and learning solutions under a microscope and say, ‘OK, they need to be as good as we can make them because we have a challenge to bring new employees up to speed more quickly.’ We are expanding hands-on-type training and doing more scenario training as well, so that when C doesn’t follow A and B, employees know what to do,” Ramsey said. “The employees that are currently in our workforce just know what to do when C doesn’t follow A and B because they have been doing it for years.”
In addition, Ramsey and her team are developing career development paths for the operations group because with a large part of the workforce expected to retire, they need to accelerate learning and shorten the time it takes to move to other job functions. “As we look to attract people into the company, we want to make sure that when they look at Washington Gas they see a range of opportunities and that they understand how they can get from one position to another,” she said. “Another motivation is to simply make sure that we can start people down their preferred learning paths early so that when a job opens up they have already begun their training for that position.”
By clearly defining the job functions, career paths and the learning prerequisites for each job role, Ramsey envisions the organization will improve proficiency on the job, employee satisfaction and retention. Furthermore, Ramsey said the Learning Solutions Center will eventually offer support to the rest of the organization in order to realize such benefits throughout WGL Holdings. “We are inching toward expanding the Learning Solutions Center’s support to the rest of the company so we can give guidance on a more systematic approach toward learning,” she said. “We want to offer more opportunities for various types of solutions for the entire company, and we think this will help employees reach their full potential much more quickly and will present a lot of opportunities throughout the company.”
–Cari McLean, email@example.com
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