Professionals involved in the creation and delivery of training in international enterprises will inevitably run up against the issue of cultural differences. For instance, many of the people in the learning and development profession have discovered a general resistance among European workers toward e-learning and computer-based training. They respond far better to interpersonal, face-to-face modes of training than to linear, technical modalities, which they regard as impersonal. By contrast, employees in North America and the Asia-Pacific region are much more receptive to this kind of learning.
However, the alternatives to e-learning in Europe — incurring large expenditures of time and money for traveling students and/or instructors, or simply not delivering the training there — are untenable. How then does one overcome the cultural barrier and provide them with the training they need?
Vince Eugenio, Ph.D., chief learning officer of Randstad North America and global head of e-learning for international staffing firm Randstad Holding, has worked on that issue extensively during his tenure at the company. Randstad’s workforce is truly global: Its learning population is spread throughout 17 countries, and a minority of them are located in the United States. What’s more, Randstad was founded in the Netherlands — with its corporate headquarters in Amsterdam — so European sensibilities must be taken into account when it comes to any operational issue, including training.
“Things are heavily in-the-classroom; it’s very much face-to-face,” Eugenio said of Randstad’s training programs in Europe. “The challenge that I face is helping my European colleagues understand that what I’m doing is not e-learning. It’s much bigger than that. What we’re doing is managing learning and development.”
Like many major companies, Randstad relies on a broad mix of training modalities, Eugenio said. “We use conference calling a lot. We use leader-led instruction. We will train managers in the field, and we’ll support them with facilitator guides, participator guides and that type of thing, to train their folks at the local level. We use job shadowing, and we have very sophisticated checklists that show them week by week what they get to be doing.”
Part of getting them enthusiastic about e-learning is showing them how it will fit into the bigger picture of training. “It’s much more than e-learning,” he said. “I’m looking at it more broadly, from the perspective of how we can manage the learning function globally and what we can gain from that global management. For example, we have fairly consistent business concepts from country to country. We are looking at providing global-level learning products that would be essentially 80 percent the same from country to country, with some local variation. We’d use our online platform to drive consistency and execution.”
Obviously, that local variation always will include language. Currently, Randstad offers e-learning programs in some form in English — both United Kingdom and United States idioms — French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Dutch and German. There is a push to expand e-learning further within each nation Randstad operates in, but Eugenio stressed this would have to be done prudently, meaning one country at a time.
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