E-learning to smooth career paths

The U.S. Postal Service soon will bring learning online, allowing the agency to streamline training processes and give employees some control over their career advancement.

The new e-learning system, which the Postal Service plans to begin testing next month, will eventually track and administer training for the agency's 750,000 employees. It is designed to significantly reduce training costs and help recruit and retain good employees.

Under the current system, the Postal Service has no way to track training or ensure that an employee received the training necessary for career advancement. But within the next few months, the learning management system, provided by Thinq Learning Solutions Inc., will begin to change that by providing employees with career road maps.

"We're such a large company that every unit across the nation does their own thing when it comes to training.... We couldn't get a handle on the types of training" employees have had, said Robert Otto, chief technology officer for the Postal Service. "We weren't enabling our employees to achieve what they wanted in their careers."

If a USPS computer programmer wants to advance to management, a development profile would map career choices and the curriculum necessary to reach that goal, Otto said. Soon, the computer programmer will know just what courses to take during the next three years and will be held accountable to take those courses, because the formalized system will track progress.

With career advancement opportunities and a streamlined training process, the Postal Service can better compete with the private sector to retain satisfied and productive workers, thus better serving the public, said Michele Cunningham, vice president of marketing for Thinq.

The Thinq software also will create an entirely Web-based training program, standardizing the courses and making them easier to administer. To train employees today, USPS managers have three choices: send employees to a training facility in Oklahoma or Maryland; hire a consultant to conduct training at a postal facility; or send employees to out-of-town conferences or seminars.

The new system will eliminate the need to travel for training, reducing training costs by about 30 percent to 40 percent, Otto said.

The system also will standardize the information taught, Otto said, ensuring, for example, that rural post office employees receive the same five courses on safety in the workplace as their counterparts in a large city.

"There [are] goods and bads with all of this," Otto said. "There still may be people who [want to travel for training] as we roll this out, but we'll be able to capture those costs and ask why."

The program will soon enter a testing phase in the Pittsburgh area, initially offering about 100 courses, and the agency plans to roll it out in about a month and a half (see box).

By summer, the program is slated to reach 15,000 employees. Cunningham said that starting with a small cross-section of the workforce will enable the agency to fine-tune the program and training courses while creating interest in the new system.

The Postal Service is riding a trend. By 2005, e-learning will be one of the most-used applications on the Web, said James Lundy, an analyst at Gartner Inc.

However, the deployment of such a system can often be the hardest part, Lundy said. "There are cultural issues. You've got to market the program."

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