Open Market: Train to Retain

Software developer outsources its Web training efforts

Open Market Inc., a 6-year-old software company in Burlington, Mass., has had trouble finding and keeping good employees. That's no surprise to anyone who has tried to hire programmers in the current hot job market.

Like many companies, Open Market is looking for ways to attract and retain skilled technical people. One perk it has put into place, says Mike Messier, vice president of human resources, is a comprehensive Web-based training program.

The company's previous education efforts took the form of "by chance and by accident," says Messier. That wasn't good enough to compete for talent against older, more established companies with sophisticated training systems, he says. Anecdotal evidence pointed toward growth opportunities as a key way candidates differentiate prospective employers. Messier validated that theory by doing some internal research with current employees and then signed up for an e-learning service from TrainingNet Inc. in Billerica, Mass.

TrainingNet aggregates courses from many different vendors, delivering both online and live classes. Messier says he likes the ability to offer a broad set of classes without human resources taking on a lot of overhead, which would have happened if his department had to manage relationships with multiple course providers. Another big draw is TrainingNet's geographical reach, says Messier, because Open Market has international employees it needs to include in the program.

Open Market's training center opened in January as an intranet application that acts as a gateway to TrainingNet's catalog of technical, managerial and personal development courses. Any employee can take any course, with his manager's approval, says Messier.

In order to give the program the best chance of success, he says, Open Market did two things. First, all managers took a course on career and skills development so they could coach employees on how to get the most out of training. Second, Messier ran a contest to promote the new program; everyone who signed up was entered into a drawing for a digital camcorder.

So far, about 5% of the company's 600 employees have taken a course, according to Messier. He says he thinks the program is working well, because employees say they feel the company is investing in their success. Messier is gathering data to measure return on investment, looking to validate his investment in terms of productivity increases, a drop in employee turnover and a rise in skill levels.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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