Great Ideas for your Small Business:
Train Your Employees Online
In the rush to upgrade computers and buy new software, many business owners forget that people need to be taught how to use the software before they can begin to be more productive. Employees can lose up to three weeks of work time tackling computer problems on their own, according to a survey of 400 PC users by SCO, a British software firm, and Harris Research.
In fact, the first month after a new software program is introduced, employees spend an average of 100 minutes a week trying to figure out how to use it. “The latest software isn’t empowering these users, it’s disrupting their workday,” said Geoff Seabrook of SCO.
One alternative to sending your employees to community college classes or hiring private instructors is to look into customized training provided online. “I don’t like to be instructed. I like to work on my own,” said Barbara Epstein, who spent about an hour a day teaching herself how to use Microsoft spreadsheet and database programs with an online tutoring service. “I really don’t enjoy reading instruction books,” said Epstein.
“This has given me confidence with the computer.” Epstein is the site manager for the Physick House, a historic mansion built in 1786 and located in Philadelphia’s downtown historic district. She now uses her personal computer to schedule tours, catalog antiques, and do the book- keeping. Because her job keeps her so busy, taking classes was not an attractive option. Instead, she taught herself how to use the programs via LearnItOnline, a tutoring service offered by Element K (formerly Ziff-Davis Education) on the World Wide Web. Because it operates twenty-four hours a day, LearnItOnline and other services like it allow people to work at their own pace and set their own training schedules.
It’s like having a virtual tutor who never sleeps and isn’t on the payroll. “The people who benefit most from this are often the people who are most scared of being online,” said Dina Wood, a spokeswoman for Hand Technologies in Austin, Texas.
Hand, which sells computers to small companies and individuals, has been offering LearnItOnline services to customers on a trial basis. The company, which has 1,000 sales consultants nationwide, now plans to offer the program to clients across the country.
Element K relies on computer resellers and popular web- sites to market the service, paying its partners a 10 percent referral fee for every new subscriber they sign up.
Because everyone learns differently, the online tutorials include audio instruction as well as visual demonstrations. You can pick up the basics of a program or learn more advanced functions. Then you can practice everything you’ve just learned.
Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, Epstein said her main complaint about her online tutoring was that the audio portion of the lesson takes several minutes to download. But she said it’s worth waiting for the voice to explain to her exactly what she should do to master the program.
In the year 2001, worldwide revenues for the information- technology training and education market was expected to reach $27 billion, according to International Data Corp.
Investing in training has become necessary because nearly one-fifth of the top U.S. information technology executives rated the lack of skilled people as the most serious constraint to the growth of their businesses, according to Ellen Julian, IDC’s research manager.
Tips for training employees
SAVVY ENTREPRENEURS invest time and money training their employees.
Here’s how to get started:
- Ask your employees what software programs they think would boost productivity before you buy anything new.
- Schedule time during the day for training, whether it’s online or with an instructor.
- Encourage employees to practice their new computer skills on company time and after hours.
- Share the expense of hiring a trainer with another small business owner in your area.
- Call your local community college district for information on the variety of affordable classes available for employees.