Prepare for Ongoing CAD Training Needs

26 Mar, 2017 By: Tony Glockler

Viewpoint: Keeping up with new software capabilities requires long-term effort on the part of CAD managers and users.

Because no one has endless time, CAD managers have to weigh multiple factors when determining which tools and resources they will provide to their team. CAD managers may feel that they have to hold off on implementing additional software capabilities or new applications, and miss out on powerful feature enhancements, because they fear the downtime needed for training will delay project deadlines. Or they may be under pressure to skimp on training after an implementation, leaving users unprepared to work with maximum efficiency.

The CAD manager’s challenge is figuring out how to maintain a competitive edge using the most appropriate tools, while not spending so much time training on said tools that users can’t complete their work. Managers often have to justify both direct budget and time allocation to upper management, who may be focused on short-term goals instead of long-term productivity.

When considering training options, the best scenario is to provide an in-depth classroom training experience coupled with an ongoing learning program to continue to develop skills. However, upper management may think of training as a one-time event and expense. Return-on-investment (ROI) calculators can be helpful in justifying training budget, demonstrating how much time is saved by using the CAD software more effectively and having an on-demand reference source for when users get stuck. To continue to budget for ongoing learning year after year, track the team’s progress to show quantifiable improvement and continued time savings.

Tackling Training in a Time of Change

Many CAD managers focus their training efforts on getting new hires up to speed quickly; however, experienced CAD users are often the ones who need training the most. Experienced users typically get comfortable with the tools and capabilities they used when they developed their CAD skills. As the tools evolve, they are unlikely to pick up new capabilities or adopt new best practices as quickly as newer users who are not yet set in their ways. For example, my experience has been that the longer a user has been working in 2D CAD, the more difficult the adjustment to 3D is for him or her.

In general, the more complex the software, and the more rapidly it evolves, the more training will be required for users. Upper-level managers who are used to mature tools that do not introduce many new features with each release (such as Microsoft Office products) might not understand how quickly CAD software is changing. Every year, new features and capabilities are introduced that can improve users’ productivity and design quality. Workflows are becoming more complex in CAD software as well, with multiple team members all working within the same file or project. Collaboration brings its own challenges, and standardizing design skills across the entire team is essential to producing high-quality designs.

This distinction is perhaps most profound in large software changes — from one software manufacturer to another, for example, or from desktop CAD to cloud-based CAD. However, even with smaller changes, such as the move to an updated version of a familiar software application, experienced users can be resistant to change and slower to take advantage of new capabilities. Often, the best way to reach these users is by providing them with the tools they need to retrain themselves, instead of forcing them into someone else’s methods. Once these users discover some of the new capabilities available and start applying them, they become excited to learn new skills instead of resisting the change.

The transition from 2D to 3D CAD is an obvious example of a shift that many teams have experienced firsthand, but it’s only one of many big changes in the CAD arena now that CAD software is evolving more rapidly than ever and introducing new features at a faster pace. The main reason for this escalation is the introduction of cloud-based CAD, which developers can update more frequently than the traditional annual update cycle of desktop CAD.

At the most recent Autodesk University conference, Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski explained that technology is increasing at an exponential rate through machine learning and virtual reality, both of which will have a profound impact on CAD. He stressed, however, that fast-evolving technologies such as generative design are not “the competition” — the real competitive threat comes from someone else adopting it before we do. Kowalski proposed that "ongoing learning is the antidote to fearing, and enabler of using, new technology."

Training: Isolated Event or Ongoing Influence?

Part of the frustration many users face when making software transitions stems from the traditional view of training held by many management teams. This “once and done” training model views training as a one-time event — often consisting of an in-class course — after which training is considered complete. To put this in a different context, how well would you expect your favorite basketball team to play over a season if the players only trained once, at the beginning of the season? You probably wouldn’t put any money on them in the playoffs!

Time after time. For CAD users to successfully navigate big changes, such as making the transition from 2D to 3D, they have to shift years — or even decades — of experience. They have to master new techniques, learn new best practices, and build new habits. An intensive training course, whether in a classroom or intra-company setting, can be a very valuable foundational learning experience, but users shouldn’t expect to attend a class and walk out hours or days later fully converted to a new way of working. A successful transition occurs when users review new concepts and design techniques repeatedly over time, with ongoing training that supplements their foundational learning experience.

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About the Author: Tony Glockler

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