<em>Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory leveraged its LMS to boost retention and cut costs.</em><br /><br />Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is one of the United States’ largest and most secure research facilities, employing more than 6,000 full time and 400 contract employees. As an applied science laboratory managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security LLC, the 1-square-mile site hosts one of the world’s fastest super computers and the world’s largest laser system, as well as research facilities that focus on developing science and technology, contributing directly to U.S. national defense.<br /><br />LLNL’s primary mission is to ensure that the nation’s nuclear weapons remain safe, secure and reliable — an undeniably serious responsibility. But the laboratory is also involved in research on energy, the environment, homeland security, bioscience, fundamental science and applied technology. With such a far-reaching scope of scientific endeavor, LLNL employs thousands of highly educated scientists and engineers — 6,400 in total, hailing from a wide variety of technical disciplines. Such a highly specialized employee population demands a variety of high-quality training and performance support resources on an ongoing basis.<br /><br />As a nuclear facility, a large component of its training is centered on compliance and safety, to ensure the safest work environment possible. Because of the highly sensitive and specialized nature of the work done there, nearly 100 percent of the compliance training is developed internally. Safety and compliance courses cover topics ranging from forklift operation to the handling of radioactive materials. The development and delivery of these courses is accomplished by 22 teaching organizations that specialize in specific operational areas. Employees log more than 136,000 course completions in the realm of compliance each year.<br /><br />While environment, health and safety are of primary importance, LLNL also realizes the significance and importance of developing the organizational, technical and professional skills of its employees, and that is in part managed by the training department within the centralized human resources organization. Leslie Positeri, the advanced learning technologies program leader, is part of this organization, and she has been in a training role at LLNL for 20 years. About 18 years ago, she started an initiative to move training into the technology realm. She has been working in this area ever since.<br /><br />“As a federal laboratory, we have had the Internet for a long time; we’ve always been networked,” Positeri said. “But in training, we’ve evolved along with technology. When I first joined LLNL, training was mostly instructor-led. We then moved to some computer-based training where people would go to labs and take courses off a CD-ROM. From there we went to e-learning on the Web, and now we find blended learning is more the answer for a lot of our needs.” <br /><br />One challenge addressed early on was the proliferation of e-learning approaches throughout LLNL’s complex organizational structure. “Back in 1997, we saw the directorates start to explore the many e-learning vendors,” Positeri said. “As a way to consolidate and streamline the offering of online courses, management made the decision to fund e-learning at the institutional level with input from the different directorates.”<br /><br />Today, there are two training technology systems in place at the facility. LTRAIN is a homegrown LMS that operates behind LLNL’s firewall and is the official database that tracks all of the training. U-Learn is an HR-managed LMS that delivers IT, business and desktop skills courses, as well as Books24x7 collections. U-Learn is the brand employees see, and the underlying technology is SkillSoft’s LMS, SkillPort. The two systems are not currently integrated because tight security restrictions prevent them from linking external and internal systems, but the data from U-Learn is entered into LTRAIN to update a central database at the request of the learner.<br /><br /><strong>Surviving Organizational Change</strong><br />These systems assisted LLNL in getting through a major organizational change in recent years. LLNL had been a government-owned, contractor-operated facility managed by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration within the Department of Energy. The laboratory transitioned to a limited liability corporation (LLC), with a management team composed of a consortium of private companies and organizations with expertise in managing nuclear defense programs.<br /><br />Positeri and the HR team anticipated how the upcoming change would affect their organization’s culture, which had developed over 50 years out of the collegial values of an academic institution. “We have a highly educated and skilled workforce, many of whom have spent their entire career at LLNL,” Positeri said. “Come transition time, some of them may [have decided] to retire or move on to second careers. It would be very difficult to replace them, so retention [was] one of our top concerns.”<br /><br />To address these specific issues, LLNL implemented blended learning programs that combine major speaking events and workshops with a comprehensive range of online learning resources. Through ongoing tracking of resource use and employee surveys, the HR department has been able to increase its number of users and document the value the program brings to the entire organization.<br /><br />LLNL’s HR department launched several major blended learning initiatives on change management and leadership. One began with a keynote speech by Beverly Kaye, author of Love ’Em or Lose ’Em: Getting Good People to Stay. The keynote was videotaped and is available for replay on the lab’s network.<br /><br />Training on retention was reinforced with a briefing by consultant Alan Vengel, titled “Influencing Conversations to Retain Key Talent,” and full-day workshops for supervisors on retaining key performers. Consultant Bruce Cryer gave a presentation on managing stress during periods of change, and another consultant, Anne Marie Clear, led “Managing the Moment,” a workshop focused on interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence factors. This presented tools that are useful for managing stress, reducing anxiety and improving performance and health. <br /><br />These events also were supplemented with a wide variety of learning assets that are available online. Positeri and her team selected the resources they felt were most helpful and arranged them in topical Web sites that are linked to the network of LLNL sites that serve various employee populations.<br /><br />IT system improvements made it possible for employees on the internal network to log in to the U-Learn system and gain access to its resources, which resulted in higher levels of use across the organization. Employees also can find learning resources through a network of folders organized by management competencies. Within the folders are links to specific online books that are mapped to leadership competencies. LLNL also has a large physical library on-site, with further collections accessible through an online records catalog.<br /><br /><strong>Getting the Word Out</strong><br />Building widespread awareness of the resources available in U-Learn proved crucial to the success of the program. This was accomplished by providing live demonstrations at events such as leadership training programs, informational sessions and keynote speaker events.<br /><br />Positeri also provides demos to several different work groups and teams. These demos are supplemented by follow-up e-mails to special interest groups and various internal newsletters. These resulted in an increase in user accounts; there are more than 2,400 active user accounts at present.<br /><br /><strong>Showing ROI</strong><br />Because Positeri’s program is funded at the institutional level, it is important for her to demonstrate tangible results. An annual survey is conducted by all current U-Learn users to retrieve information on how employees are using the resources, such as to fill in knowledge gaps, as a refresher to existing knowledge or to build new skills. In addition, twice per year the HR department does a study across all directorates to understand how the resources are being used by various job classes, as well as demographic groups. The aggregate data is used to understand how the department can continually improve service to all populations.<br /><br />“We have seen a significant growth in our online programs, where 50 percent of our total population now has an active account and uses the product on a regular basis, and that’s up from approximately from 32 to 38 percent,” Positeri said. “We are seeing an average of 123 percent return on investment for each year in our online learning center.”<br /><br />She outlined how this ROI is calculated. “We look at course completions and determine what it would have cost for an individual to go off-site or for us to bring that course on-site,” she said.<br /><br />Positeri then tracks the number of users, sessions, courses and Books24x7 titles accessed. On the Books24x7 side, she calculates cost savings by multiplying the number of users by the number of unique titles accessed. “We take averages over the course of the fiscal year, and we take a look at our ROI from our contract and the amount of usage. We calculate our ROI on that, and we have a 50 to 60 percent return on investment for every dollar that we put in. On average, we’re looking at a savings of about $4,000 a month,” Positeri said.<br /><br />Two years have now passed, and LLNL has successfully transitioned to management by Lawrence Livermore National Security LLC, while it continues to offer customized blended learning programs that meet specific programmatic needs. These programs did, as intended, assist with retention.<br /><br />“The program was very effective as far as ensuring that people were aware of the changes that were happening and able to verbalize their concerns about being retained during transition, and it supported management by giving them resources to help their employees move through the change going from being managed solely by the University of California to an LLC,” Positeri said. “And so it was effective in retaining who we needed to retain as far as all our scientists and engineers who are vital to our core business.”
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