Comments are closed. Well-oiled training machineOn 1 Oct 2001 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article Shell’s demand for training is constant and is spread across 108 countries.Could e-learning provide the flexibility the oil giant needs, as well as keepcoaching costs down? Sue Weekes reportsIndustries don’t come much more competitive than the oil business. Recenteconomic shifts in the energy industry have meant that companies have toproduce oil and gas against fluctuating prices while still providing innovativetechnical solutions that can meet current and future environmental, health andsafety standards. To keep in contention, major players have to stay in tune with rapidtechnological development, as well as be reactive to changes in the worldwideregulatory landscape. The Shell Exploration and Production division, one of five core businessunits of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, is one such organisation and is heavilyreliant on technology to keep costs down and overcome the challenges posed bysuch a volatile business environment. The division, which is involved in every aspect of energy production fromsearching for hydrocarbons to the delivery of oil and gas to refineries aroundthe world, employs more than 30,000 of Shell’s global workforce of 100,000people in over 130 countries. A consistent and continual programme of worldwide training is required if itis to create and maintain the kind of fluid and highly skilled andknowledgeable workforce that is required, but it is not always easy toimplement. Budgetary and resource constraints have meant that Shell’s local managersare often faced with the dilemma of sacrificing training for productivity andvice versa. Shell EP’s learning and education hub, the Shell Learning Centre inNoordwijkerhout in the Netherlands, is responsible for training the company’sglobal workforce in areas such as techncial competence, business leadership,exploration and production and health and safety. Around 90 per cent of Shell’s employees are local staff, so training aworkforce of 78 nationalities in over 108 countries can be fraught withpractical and logistical difficulties. Certainly delivering training from onecentral point has become increasingly difficult. Facing challenges Over a year ago, the team responsible for training at Shell decided thattraditional classroom-based training alone wasn’t sufficient to keep up withthe workforce’s needs. “We needed to look at ways of delivering a learningsystem that could transcend those challenges,” says Paul Wood, learningtechnology team leader at Shell EP. “The actual cost to employee productivity was only the tip of theiceberg – a whole host of other issues propelled the drive to revolutionise theway we delivered our learning programmes.” Shell EP needed a system that would ensure that employees around the worldcould have equal access to the same high levels of training, no matter whichpart of the organisation they work. “Shell employs an incredibly diverse group of people across the globeand we need to offer them the opportunities to get the most out of theircareers at Shell in terms of their personal and professional development,”says Wood. “In return, Shell benefits from one of the most skilled and motivatedworkforces in the industry.” E-learning seemed to offer the potential to transform Shell’s existingtraining programmes into a single, manageable global solution and the team atthe Shell Learning Centre developed a concept and a set of specifications inorder to achieve this. Shell EP evaluated several e-learning systems and products and opted for asolution from Docent Enterprise, a major provider of e-learning infrastructuresand services, which has its headquarters in California and has offices aroundthe world. Flexibility The Docent system offers a platform scalability and flexibility that itwouldn’t find elsewhere. Wood says, “A prime consideration was Docent’sopen architecture, allowing Shell to introduce its own workflow, desiredfeatures and look and feel. In addition, Docent was very supportive andflexible during the consultancy phase.” Jan Vels Jensen, marketing director of EMEA for Docent, says Shell’simplementation was very broad in its scope. “Shell has adapted the systemto suit its needs, probably more so than any other Docent customer,” hesays. “Personalisation of each individual organisations needs is one ofDocent’s core competitive advantages. It’s very easy for any organisation toget exactly what it needs from e-learning, mainly due to the fact that theDocent system is 100 per cent web-based.” The Docent learning management system can be accessed anywhere in the worldat any time of day or night through Shell’s intranet. It runs on leasedhardware, which Shell EP pays for monthly, and it includes two powerful serverswhich run the LMS via the Shell Website. The servers are each capable ofhandling 10,000 simultaneous users. Employees register themselves for the training via self-service tools, andthere is also online assessment. A post-test option ensures that Shell staffare aware of meeting their personal objectives and those of the company. Course content is a mixture of both existing and bought-in material. Shellhas 4,200 classroom hours of existing content which has been specificallydeveloped for their needs. It was mainly created in Microsoft Word andPowerpoint and this is now being converted into Web-deliverable content. “We can buy in commercially available content, but only if it can beadapted to our needs,” explains Wood. “I see this as a way of saving on the content construction costs. As acomparison, one can think of it as requiring 10 per cent effort to adaptcontent, compared with 100 per cent to construct it, it really is a hugesaving.” Motivation One of the common problems facing a training manager who is implementing ane-learning system is motivating the workforce to actually access the e-learningprogram. Wood says that although the initiative represents a learning curve forShell EP, staff feedback is good and motivation to use it is not an issuebecause they are giving the workforce the training they need and want. “People at Shell want to do their job well and this system deliversresults quickly, so people are getting the benefits of e-learning fast. “The pattern is that people learn a little, go off and do their jobwhere they can use the learning, and then come back having done the job andlearn the next steps to help them do an even better job,” he says. “We’re beginning to see exactly that happening with additionalperformance being seen in jobs already.” But Shell EP did face its own set of problems. One of these stemmed from itsback office integration. It had changed its administration system and was planningto install a SAP system. It had already chosen the Docent LMS and wanted to stick with this, but hadto figure out how this could be integrated with the SAP back office function. “In effect, we ended up doing a reverse functionality from the backoffice into the LMS, which is now working fine – it was challenging but wemanaged to stay on time and on budget,” says Wood The other main problem it had to get over was one of global technicalissues, with incompatibilities over browser and e-mail software. It has now developed a standard Shell desktop built around Internet Explorerand Windows 2000, which is used as a starting point to standardise desktops. Return on investment The question of when an organisation is expected to get a return on investmentfrom an e-learning programme is one that is frequently sidestepped byorganisations. Most ROI is based around processing and efficiency, but because Shell’sworkforce works fundamentally differently to this it makes it even moredifficult to measure ROI accurately. A decision made five years ago, forinstance, may only now be coming to fruition. Despite this, Wood claims he will be seeing a return sooner rather thanlater. Conventional cashback measures are easy in a business where even a 1 percent improvement in oil production can see revenues increase by $200m annually.”However, we are training post-graduate engineers who can make just onedecision that may in fact provide payback for the whole e-learning system forever,” he says. “These employees make decisions that can cost hundreds if not billionsof dollars, so the potential cost savings and potential income benefits can beenormous. “Shell is very much a learning company – we believe that learning iscrucial.” (Shell actually tries to assess its competency levels five yearsahead and is currently pursuing research into new and improved ways ofmeasuring ROI.) Currently Shell EP has 4,000 registered users and the company predicts thatmore than 10,000 employees will be using the programme over the next year. E-learning is not something that organisations should undertake lightly,says Wood, because he believes the technology isn’t yet understood by everyoneproperly and people may well be disappointed by a lot of products available. “You have to choose very carefully,” he says. However, its ownprogramme is there for the long-term and with human capital widely consideredas the main differentiator in business today, he believes e-learning will helpemployees constantly learn so that they become “too fast to follow”. “By offering a voluntary worldwide training programme in strategictechnical areas, our employees are able to develop portable skills that addvalue to their personal development at no extra cost to the stakeholders,”he says. ” I am convinced that e-learning is going to be key to the success ofour learning business in the coming years. It’s going to create opportunitiesthat we never before knew existed,” he says. In summaryGlobal demandsShell’s requirement Ascaleable training system that could be deployed globally to over 108 countriesand which ensured equal access and that the same high standards would be metacross Shell’s worldwide business. The system it chose had to allow integrationof Shell’s own course material and be flexible enough to adapt to rapidtechnological change when it came to course content.Why? Delivering advanced training from one central pointhad become increasingly difficult. Additionally, budgetary and resourceconstraints have meant that training has often had to be sacrificed forproductivity, and vice versa.Is e-learning delivering? Shell EP currently has 4,000registered users and expects that more than a third will be using the system ina year’s time. Potentially, the ROI could come quicker than expected (giventhat a 1 per cent improvement in oil production could see revenue increase by$200m annually). Shell eps’ top tips 1 It will be far bigger and moredifficult than you imagine2 It will cost a lot more than you expect, so budget carefully3 It will use a lot more resources than you plan for, so makesure you can handle it Related posts:No related photos.