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It's Always Training Time

WALDEN SECURITY had four employees when it was founded in 1990. It has since grown to more than 1,000 security officers licensed in 14 states and operating in both commercial and government facilities, including corporate campuses, shopping malls, and industrial and transportation sites. However, with this rapid growth has come challenges. In early 2004, Walden was faced with a large, diverse work force spread across several states and industries.

Senior managers at Walden wanted a way to ensure that staff in each state would be properly and consistently trained in accordance with nationwide company standards. They began investigating alternative training methods to supplement their traditional training programs. One alternative training program that continually surfaced during their investigation was e-learning.

Though traditional training programs could be increased to provide a solution, Walden’s managers felt that technology might be used to deliver the training more quickly and with less expense. Providing training via the Internet seemed to meet the company’s needs. By delivering the courseware online, Walden Security would be able to reach individuals faster and with greater frequency. Officers would not have to wait for a class to be scheduled.

Also, though classroom settings are ideal in certain cases, the company found that consistency was key in dealing with several issues. For example, Walden requires that reports be completed in a specific way and that information be conveyed uniformly. With individual trainers teaching around the country, mistakes were made, and officers often became confused about reporting requirements. E-learning helps solve this problem by ensuring that all officers learn report writing from a single source.

Walden hired Intellum, Inc., an e-learning and software services company based in Atlanta, to devise and launch the Walden University e-Learning program. Intellum worked with Walden to address the logistical challenges of implementing an e-learning system before designing the content of the program.

Once content was developed, the company went through four months of beta testing, during which the program was sampled by more than two dozen security officers. After the testing, Walden solicited feedback from participants to fine-tune the program.

Most participants felt comfortable with the Web-based training and said that they were “very likely” to voluntarily participate in another Walden Security University e-learning class. The courses were described as “user friendly,” “educational,” and “useful.” Minor software glitches were pointed out during the feedback sessions, but most participants gave the program high marks. In early 2005, the company rolled out the complete Walden Security University e-Learning program.

The first issue Walden grappled with was whether to dedicate a facility to e-learning or to have officers take the classes remotely. The company found that having the security guards travel to take e-courses took away one of the major benefits of the program. Officers may now take online courses from work computers or from their personal computers at home at any time. For those without Internet access, Walden provides training modules via CDROM. All officers have access to computer workstations at each Walden Security branch office.

The Walden University e-Learning program consists of five courses: communications, emergency situations, ethics and professional conduct, field notes and report writing, and human and public relations. These topics were adapted from the materials presented in the traditional training programs. The information was broken up into small, easily understood components, and then review questions were developed around these focused components.

The officers also have access to Intellum’s extensive resource library of readymade courseware, including modules on safety, human resources, and a drug-free workplace. Some modules specifically address requirements from government agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Important laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), are also discussed.

Walden is developing new, customized management track modules as well. These modules will be offered to give the security officers an additional tool for career advancement.

All officers are required to take certain core courses within six months of hiring. Other courses may be required to help the officer meet licensing or training requirements in a particular state or industry. Officers are encouraged to take courses that interest them to further their education and their careers.

When taking a course, students are required to navigate through a series of screens and complete learning objectives, such as organizing a list of procedures in the correct order. At the end of each module, students are tested on their information retention and a score is tallied. If the score is below 80 percent, the officer must retake the course.

The convenience of using the Internet for training allows the security officers the flexibility to take the courses at a pace that is comfortable for them. And Walden has found that, for its purposes, Web-based training has advantages over traditional training.

For example, the Web provides a safe and nonthreatening environment, where students aren’t afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Also, students can get immediate feedback on their performance. E-learning can encourage timid learners with cues like “help” or “show me more,” while allowing more confident ones to work at a faster pace.

Additionally, security officers can log on to see what courses are available, register for new courses, and view their own enrollment history. Employees can also register online for instructor-led courses like CPR and can print out their certificates of completion.

Managers can use the system to track employee progress. The Web-based training is integrated with work-force-management solutions to help simplify the tracking process used for internal recognition and to manage external oversight from clients and government entities.

Managers can log onto the system, assign courses, view test scores, and determine which security officers need which courses and when certifications expire. The company can now easily generate reports for clients, whereas it was previously much more labor-intensive. All of the paperwork is now done electronically.

Walden has plans for expanding the e-learning program. The platform can support streaming audio and video, live Web broadcasts, videoconferencing, bulletin boards, instant messaging, and discussion threads. All of these features are under review by Walden management for possible inclusion in the program.

The program has saved the company money. The online training has proved to be economical because it simply takes less time, approximately one-third less, than traditional training. Maintaining the e-learning system is also less expensive than hiring instructors to teach the classes. Similarly, guards are paid for the time they are in class, so shorter travel times save labor costs, especially in overtime.

Walden Security boasts one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry, at just 32 percent. These rates have been steady from 2004 to 2005. Senior managers believe that this is due, in part, to their training, now supplemented by the e-learning program.

As the company hires new employees, it hopes that the program will help it to maintain good retention. It also helps to ensure officer performance. Senior managers feel that a better-trained employee is more likely to remain with Walden, adding more stability to their careers, to the company, and to the company’s clients.

Joseph Ricci is CEO of Ricci Communications LLC of Alexandria, Virginia.