Maximum Training for Minimum Money

2 Jul, 2010 By: Robert Green

Set up a self-learning program for your users to increase skills and productivity even when times are tight.

Training users has always been a key part of the CAD manager's job, but when times get tight, the training budget is often the first thing cut. But now is not the time to throw in the training towel. It is time to adapt and establish a self-training program for your users. So let's determine your training goals, make use of today's low-cost training tools, and make your new resources easily accessible to your users — then turn them loose to learn.

In this installment of "CAD Manager," I'll pass along some tips for creating a self-learning program for your users that will bring you closer to your training goals regardless of budget.

Be Goal-Oriented

Before you can begin to develop a self-learning program for your users, you need to clarify your mission. Any training program will take less time and be more effective if it focuses sharply on meeting key training goals. The trick is to know what those goals should be, right? Here are my tips for where to begin:

Fill in software knowledge gaps. Although most users know the basics of their design software, few really know everything they should. As a result, the majority spend too much time performing routine tasks. Identify these knowledge gaps and make them a focus of your training so your users will become more productive. Keep in mind that not all users will have the same gaps in knowledge, so you'll want to assess what's going on at all levels of user expertise in your firm.

Reduce errors. What are your users' most common mistakes? Develop training that will help them avoid making the same mistakes over and over. Reduced user error translates into saved time and money.

Emphasize standards. CAD managers perform all sorts of customization and setup work to simplify and standardize software use, yet they often neglect to train users to take full advantage of those efforts. Make sure your users understand the tools and standards you've developed by incorporating them into your training exercises.

Support Self-Learning

Now that you know what to teach, you'll want to give users the opportunity to train themselves. You can encourage this process by providing easy access to learning resources. Then it is up to users to dig in and get smart. Here are some ideas about what those self-learning resources might be

Books and computer-based videos from third-party vendors. Purchase copies of a book that includes exercises on CD — available from many CAD software companies, resellers, online booksellers, and other sources — then allow users to check out copies for use on their own time. Some users prefer computer-based video training over books, so check out companies such as Axiom and CADLearning. Many can provide site licenses for your company. Buying these materials requires some investment, but it will enable self-learning that will save you time — and a bundle of money — compared with instructor-led training.

Custom handouts and videos.
You can create your own materials, customized for the needs of your workplace, and users can learn from them just as they would from any other book or video. To educate users about using your custom standards and how to reduce errors, create simple handout-style materials using Microsoft Word and save them as PDF files to distribute electronically. Create your own training videos easily and inexpensively using an application such as Camtasia. (See my two-part CAD Manager's Newsletter series about creating training videos.)

User groups. Another great way to encourage self-learning is to get users involved with local or national user groups, such as AUGI for Autodesk users, Be User Groups for Bentley, or SWUGN for SolidWorks. User groups offer forums, tutorials, and learning resources for motivated CAD users at little or no cost. For the ultimate in personalization, see if you can get a few of your power users to start a user group in your company that meets once a month.

Make Materials Easy to Access

Now that you have your training resources, you need to make them easy to access. Here are a few low- and no-cost ideas for deploying your resources:

Company intranet. Use a web-page creation tool, such as Microsoft's FrontPage, to deploy your PDF files and video segments on your company's network. Users can access learning resources at the office, at home, or on the road, 24 hours a day.

YouTube. If your responsibilities involve standards training for vendors or partners, and you don't want those outside parties logging into your network, set up a YouTube channel to share your videos without spurring security concerns.

The common theme to these deployment methods is they are cheap and they allow anyone with an Internet connection to use your materials whenever and wherever they like. The more convenient you can make your self-learning resources, the more users will take advantage of them.

Motivate and Reward

With every training program I've ever organized, I've had some power users who advance at warp speed, while some of their less-motivated counterparts lag behind. So how do you motivate everyone to study and achieve without having to over-manage them? Incentives, that's how.

A simple certificate signifying completion of a training program will motivate many. Gift cards or financial incentives at review time will encourage others. Consider any options that might motivate your group and that you have the authority to offer. Don't overlook the opportunity to give verbal kudos and encouragement, whether in staff meetings or in private. By acknowledging those who achieve, you will create an environ-ment in which peer pressure leads to increased learning — and that is the best way to get hesitant users to invest their own time and effort.

Instructor-Led Training

In case you got the idea that I'm against instructor-led training, let me assure you that I'm not! In fact, all the self-learning methods in the world won't eliminate the need for instructor-led training. Some CAD coordination tasks, such as project-kickoff training or introducing new work procedures, are easier to present in team environments and are thus ideal candidates for an instructor-led session.

I do believe, however, that a self-learning program drastically reduces the need for instructor-led training. The key is to reserve instructor-led training for situations in which it pays to use it and rely on self-learning for the rest.

Summing Up

Now that you have some ideas for controlling your training costs, it's up to you to implement your own plan. Once you've set up your users for self-learning success, you should be able to spend the time you gain creating formal training for high-value projects.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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