CAD Manager-Effective Training Programs

28 Feb, 2005 By: Buffy Atwood,Robert Green

How to design in-house training on a limited budget.

Most cad managers function as a corporate CAD training department while at the same time keeping the CAD department running. Although training remains on the CAD manager's plate, funding and resources for it have declined noticeably in recent years.

Code. autocad menu syntax
Code. autocad menu syntax

I first noticed that companies were cutting back on training resources during the recession between 2001 and 2003 and, in down markets, I understood the trend. However, current upswings in business and decisions to upgrade software aren't yet reflected in recessionary-level training budgets. It seems that the days of formal training programs are over, leaving the CAD manager to reinvent corporate CAD training. This month I'll pass along some approaches and procedures I've found useful in my own training programs.

First, Sell the Concept

In order to conduct a training program, you must convince management that training is worthwhile. When you consider that training not only costs money to deliver, but also causes a drop in productivity while users are in class, you can see management's viewpoint. To get management on board, assure them that you'll do the following:
  • 1. Target the training to increase user productivity.
  • 2. Keep the time demands on users to a minimum.
  • 3. Use training to increase acceptance of standards.

All of these objectives demonstrate that you plan to tailor a training program to maximize results and minimize expenses, thereby maximizing value for your company. In short, if management believes you'll deliver as much "bang for the buck" as possible with your training program, they'll be much more likely to support you. I can't stress enough that getting management support is crucial to maintaining a long-term training program.

Deciding on Topics

Once you have management's support, it's time to list and prioritize your training objectives. How do you know what topics to cover? How do you prioritize those topics?

The first place to look for training topics is your e-mail inbox. Search through your e-mails and tabulate what sorts of questions you're asked. If the number-one user question you receive is how to use your company's xref standards, a tutorial on proper use of xrefs should be your very first training class. If the next most common question is how to access a particular plotting device, then you know what your second training class should be. Analyzing your training needs based on questions from users is a blessing because you're finding out what confuses your users, giving you insight on how to improve your procedures and standards as you train.

Useful utilities
Useful utilities

You'll most likely notice that the training topics you compile have a close correlation to how people work with CAD tools in your specific environment. The question won't be "What is an xref?," but rather, "How do I use xrefs on a given project to meet our CAD standards?" The distinction between these two types of questions is that users don't typically blame a command (such as the Xref command) for being confusing, but they are happy to blame CAD standards or procedures. Your training challenge is to teach people how to use CAD tools in your particular environment, not merely the generic use of a given set of commands.

Fix Processes as Required

If your list of training topics seems to indicate that not comprehending standards is the top cause of confusion in your company, it may be time to examine your standards. Bottom line: If it's hard for you to train people how to use a feature, imagine how hard it will be for users to learn it.

You may find that embarking on a training program gives you a great opportunity to update and tweak company standards and procedures. Because the training program is supposed to raise user productivity and cause minimal intrusion on work schedules, everyone involved should support your desire to simplify work processes via training.

Build training materials

Running a training class without training materials is, in my experience, a waste of time. Because most people don't take good notes during a class, it becomes the instructor's responsibility to provide a handout or workbook that chronicles the training. After all, as soon as users walk out of a training class, the only resources they have to fall back on are their memories and the handouts you provide.

Because I've advocated targeted training that solves your company's specific problems, you can't go to your local bookstore and buy a training workbook. That means that you must create your own training materials. Before you panic, here are some ways to easily create quality handout materials.

1 Purchase some software tools to help compile, record and publish your training materials. Learn more about my favorite software tools, Camtasia and SnagIt, in the box "Useful Utilities."

2 Conceptualize what you'll be teaching and then come up with some example files to illustrate and demonstrate the concept. Don't worry about anything polished at this point; just make sure you can convey the information to your students with the files you've created.

3 Turn on Camtasia, put on your headset microphone and run through your lesson just as if you were running a training class. Don't worry if you flub something—just keep going as if you were in a real class. I recommend taking a laptop into a conference room or working at home, so you don't have to deal with phone interruptions while recording your lessons. When you're finished, close out your Camtasia session and save the file so you can find it later.

4 Using your recorded presentation as a guide, open your word processor and listen to your lesson, typing in highlights of your presentation and capturing graphics into the open document. Don't forget to save often! Don't worry about spelling or polished formatting right now—just get the content into your document.

5 Finish off your handout by running spell-check, editing syntax and formatting the document so it looks good and reads easily. Print it out to review it and make adjustments until you're happy with it. Congratulations, you're done.

As you create training materials, always strive for concise wording, illustrative screen captures and clean layout as the most important attributes. After all, if your materials are easy to read and visually rich, people will look forward to attending your training and keep your handouts for reference.

Establish a training library

Once you create snazzy training materials and recorded training sessions, you should put those resources to work for your department full-time. By creating an organized library of materials, you'll make it easy for users to look things up for themselves. And you'll be amazed at how much a training library helps when training new employees. A training library is a result of your efforts that will continue to pay back long after your training sessions are finished.

Incidentally, the concept of a training library typically plays very well with project managers and technical management. If you can make the case that the training library will help new employees smoothly make the transition into your CAD standards environment, management will line up to support you.

Here are two useful tips for deploying an electronic training library:

  • 1. If your primary CAD tool is AutoCAD-based, you can link to the required training files by adding them to the Help pull-down menu. By placing links to your training materials in the AutoCAD interface, your users don't have to learn anything new. For sample menu syntax, see the code box above.
  • 2. Set up an area on your corporate intranet or CAD server where all your training materials can be stored . Provide read-only access to these materials for all CAD users on the network. This lets you point to the training resources from AutoCAD menus or Inter/intranet as needed.

Training Success

If you use this methodology to produce an in-house training program, you'll find that it isn't as hard as you may have thought. You'll also find that by taking control of the training process, you reap the benefits of a better-trained CAD workforce that asks fewer questions and follows procedures and standards more closely. New employee orientation is also much easier. In fact, by dovetailing your training classes with building a training library, you're actually solving multiple problems. We all know that getting two jobs done at once is the ultimate in efficiency.

If you have any other hints for making in-house training easier, e-mail me at with the details. I'll address training issues later this year in my CAD Manager's Newsletter.

Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. Reach him at

About the Author: Buffy Atwood

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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