Five Tips to Stand Out in Today’s Competitive Custom Training MarketCatherine Jones | Associate Vice President of Workforce Development, McHenry County College
In today’s crowded custom training marketplace, employers are demanding more from outsourced providers than merely a quick, easy and affordable training solution. Companies are looking to colleges and universities with an interest in developing true learning partnerships, partnerships that will deepen over time and partnerships that are truly strategic in nature. These partnerships are rewarding for the client and the university, as well as the faculty involved in training programs and the individual program participants, but demand careful attention and planning in order to capitalize on the benefits of intense collaboration.
Here are five tips to help your institution really stand out in the competitive custom training space.
1. Take time to listen
Too obvious you say? Who doesn’t listen? I’ll challenge you to think back to your last sales presentation and consider how much of the time in front of the potential client you spent talking about your organization. Did you lead off the conversation by introducing your school’s expertise, the qualifications of faculty, the breadth and depth of offerings?
It’s extremely easy to fall into this trap but make a commitment to listening twice as much as you talk. This rule of thumb will keep the conversation centered on both the expressed and unexpressed needs of the client. With careful listening and thoughtful, leading questions you’ll be able to more accurately diagnose the root cause of a concern or better understand how to link training to corporate strategy.
2. Speak technology
Employers are looking for custom training partners with the capability to deploy learning technology that can effectively and efficiently meet the needs of a widely dispersed, diverse and technologically savvy workforce. Begin by understanding the client’s culture and appetite for technology. With that perspective in mind you’ll be able to identify technology solutions that will resonate with learners while supporting the transfer of knowledge.
Plan to work closely with your organization’s instructional technology team to determine how technology that was originally intended for academic programs can be leveraged for use in custom engagements. Explore the many ways that classroom technology can be used to bring added value to a client engagement. For example, you might use video capture to provide a durable record of a program or embed short video presentations from a client’s senior leadership team in virtual delivery of a management development program.
3. Keep it real and relevant
Clients seek out learning partners that truly understand the current business environment and the day-to-day challenges that are unique to their industry. Encourage your internal team to read widely in order to recognize overarching trends. This can be very beneficial in assisting client companies who may have developed a more narrow industry specific focus. At the same time, follow the industry specific trade publications that your clients are exposed to and be able to translate industry challenges into learning solutions.
It is beneficial to assemble a faculty team from which you can select instructors with relevant industry expertise who will also be a great fit for the client’s organizational culture. Plan to set aside time during the development phase of a program for each faculty member working on a project to have the opportunity to connect with a subject matter expert from the client’s team. This step assists faculty in bringing real-life examples into the classroom, guides the selection of pertinent case studies and readings, and assures that the program will be well aligned with the client’s strategic direction.
4. Focus on results
Custom training programs can be a costly undertaking for an employer and the ability to articulate the ROI of a development program is critical. To capture the ROI of a project, begin with the end in mind. During the sales process, ask the employer to identify what will be different following the conclusion of the project—for example, what behaviors will change and what new techniques will be adopted. Doing so will keep the project focused on outcomes and provide the opportunity to define and quantify measurable results.
Embedding real-life project work in a program is another excellent way to be able to demonstrate ROI. Translating a firm’s strategic initiatives into project work with manageable scope and scale provides program participants with valuable learning experiences and has the added benefit of accomplishing meaningful work with quantifiable impact.
5. Listen some more
The conclusion of the classroom portion of a custom training program does not mark the end of an engagement but rather the beginning of an opportunity to support the transfer of learning from the classroom to day-to-day use. Be intentional with the development of each course evaluation and don’t settle for a simple “smile sheet.” Far better would be the Four-Level Evaluation Model, which was developed by Donald Kirkpatrick in 1954. Today, the model remains a best practice in the training and development field, providing actionable feedback and the ability to quantify results.
Regardless of the evaluation model, build in time at the conclusion of a program to allow learners to reflect on the experience they have just completed and identify any behaviors that they plan to modify as a result or new skills that they will be implementing. As part of this commitment to changed behavior, have the participants’ note any additional support they feel might be needed. With this information in hand, the client will then be able to enlist the support of direct supervisors, remove barriers, or schedule follow-up training sessions to continue the path of development.