How Fast-Track Learning Paths Create Skills and Talent For Next Economy

June 3, 2008

While the world shrunk in the pursuit of a globalized economy both major and minor players unwittingly created the world’s largest post-industrial society in North America. The indeterminate trend to out-source and off-shore production and services created both winners and losers. In the balance the social pact that shared wealth with the employee community that produced the wealth broke apart. Profit increases were no longer shared by employees and their local communities but strictly with senior management, shareholders and off-shore companies.

Winners included workers in affordable economies who took on the work of displaced North American workers, distant local economies who benefited from the increased wealth of their neighbours and shareholders, executives and owners of North American and off-shore companies who reaped higher profits, increased share value and higher salaries.

Losers were the folks for whom the more sophisticated terms of “Talent Gap” and “Skills Gap” meant simply that they were laid off and needed to find a new job often paying less than their old one, or re-train full-time for a new job that would pay the same or less after their education and lifestyle costs were paid. Other losers were investors of all stripes who lost their shirts in the housing market boom, while underlying economic fundamentals were vigorously selectively ignored.

The disturbing trend, in word-tempered terms, is that the losing side is showing signs of positive growth. In plainer language, numbers of income-challenged people in North America are increasing. A two-fold trend shows an increase in the high-income class and an increase in the struggling low-income class, while the middle class declines. But many more are in the second group or newly joining it. Many families now struggle to stay in the same place as they were 10 or 15 years ago.

Social gaps among North American workers have stratified and condensed into several new groups, the working poor, the temporary worker, the working wounded, the classically disengaged, the overeducated and underemployed, the newly hot skilled trades sector, the technical and professional class, the project-to-project creative professionals, the self-employed, the corporate class including the bulk of soon-to-be retired boomers who still have good jobs and pensions and the under 30’s and new immigrants still looking for their first decent full-time job so they can give up the low-paying and part-time jobs they’ve been juggling in the interim.

Experts cried over an impending talent war several years ago. What they meant is that organizations would have to “fight” over a scarce supply of global talent. They didn’t talk much about the possibility that both economics and technology might have an interesting way of leveling the playing field. Fortunately the impasse creates continued employment for public policy analysts who now are trying to find solutions to think outside the mess and grow the economy.

Not all countries enjoy turfing out workers to fatten shareholder’s wallets as much as we do in North America. Some countries maintain a social and ethical value for creating work because they recognize that keeping people gainfully employed, when the alternative is unemployment, helps the whole economy. As the gravitas of the current situation becomes more visible every day, North America is beginning to see the impact of their failure to do the same.

Fast-track training approaches are the light at the end of the economic tunnel. They bring tractable solutions the things that are important to economic development and rebuilding a strong economy. Investment at all levels of talent, capital and skill are needed to support the emerging next economy.

Twenty and thirty years ago, before organizations expected educational institutions to deliver fully trained employees with degrees, all companies trained their work and talent force themselves. The learning front has evolved considerably since then. What would take years to learn can now be effectively done in months and even weeks. While a lot has been said about the use fast-track approaches to leverage learning, like e-learning and other quick learning technologies, less has been said about accelerated learning approaches. A beacon light on the horizon to help create the next economy is through the use of Learning Paths to fast-track employee training and performance.

The Learning Paths approach, introduced by Steve Rosenbaum of Learning Paths International, co-author of the best-selling training book Learning Paths, co-published by Pfeiffer and the ASTD in 2004 who is the field leader for this low-tech, high precision and results outcome to narrow both the Talent and Employment Gap. Learning Paths provide the training field with a discipline that has all the rigour and measures of the quality movement to speed up time-to-proficiency and improve performance.

In a time when trainers are still trying to convince business managers of their value, this approach requires very little convincing. Both the learning path and the business track are the same. Results are always observable and measurable. Business returns are obvious; lower costs and time for training and increased sales or service from performance gains which in turn generate profit.

Learning Paths represent a marriage of quality, re-engineering and accelerated training methodologies. A Learning Path is defined as the sequence of both formal and informal training, practice, experience, coaching and anything else that leads to proficiency. They can be used for everything from creating jobs and retraining workers to increasing proficiency of existing staff or maximizing productivity for in-sourcing, out-sourcing and integrating learning operations for mergers or acquisitions. Some, like Ed Robbins, a respected former GE Director of Learning, say that Learning Paths is one of the most exciting developments to happen in the training industry for a long time.

Every day an employee isn’t productive costs a company both money and customers, it also reduces morale and introduces unwanted turnover. By optimizing learning outcomes employees become more knowledgeable and capable faster and have more enthusiasm for the impact they have on the organization and are clearer about the business outcomes they need to achieve.

The science of Learning Paths as a training discipline evolved when Steve, whose background as a trainer and consultant for leading American companies, like Disney, Dupont, GE Capital, Carlson Wagonlit and others, was introduced by Ed Robbins to Jim Williams, then a training leader at General Electric. They began to develop and apply a quality-improvement method to training projects. Together with their clearly impressed clients and Learning Path participants they began seeing remarkable success with their method, which was clearly superior to the typical curriculum-based approach used by most training departments and management.

Each Learning Path Project is done for a single function of employees, ranging from sales staff, to health-care workers, in every sector from financial to service to manufacturing saves a bottom-line average of 30-50% in time-to-proficiency. Although 30% is usually the minimum, Steve says the average based on projects done for over 30,000 employees in 400 functions across 7 countries is closer to 50%.

What Learning Paths do best is apply the discipline and measures of the quality movement to training. The result creates high impact not only by shortening the learning curve, but also maximizing performance, even in white-collar professions like sales, banking and insurance.

Here’s how they work. The up front measure is to establish what proficiency looks like for a well performing employee is and how long it typically takes employees to get there. Sometimes they never get there.

Usually real learning begins once the classroom or training program ends. How learning happens tends to be more informal and highly subjective depending on who the supervisor is or how helpful, knowledgeable or close-by your colleagues are. A Learning Paths approach removes the variation in learning and ensures that the right things are taught the right way and in the shortest time. The focus is on achieving that independent proficiency level using the best combination of formal and informal training along the way while the job is getting done. The biggest time and performance gains tend to happen during the so-called “Mystery Period” between when training ends and proficiency is achieved.

In addition to the obvious business productivity gains companies experience from applying this approach many other types of organizations can use Learning Paths for the purpose of economic growth and renewal, such as employment and workforce development arms of federal, state/provincial or municipal governments, local economic development organizations and committee initiatives, boards of trade and chambers of commerce, colleges, training institutions, corporate universities, professional associations, industry groups and non-profit organizations.

Within organizations, the best people to start Learning Path initiatives include operations management and training leaders and their executives, quality program leaders, sales and marketing leaders, and finance executives and comptrollers. Learning Paths Certification is available for internal training leaders from Learning Paths International.

Learning Paths can be used to:

· Train new employees faster

· Create high performers

· Increase proficiency of existing employees

· Turn average performers into high performers

· Fast-track professional training programs

· Increase sales or improve service performance

· Reduce job turnover

· Create jobs or re-train workers to address skill shortages

· Launch new products or services

· Out-source or in-source operations

· Revise or upgrade existing training

· Close learning gaps before workforce retirements occur

· Integrate learning in mergers & acquisitions

Industry Results:

Rail Industry - Job Creation & Re-Training

A State College established a 7-week Rail Conductor School to train staff who were productive from Day 1 and addressed a severe industry shortage of qualified staff.

Banking/Insurance - Increase Sales

New sales people selling insurance for a major bank quickly began outperforming existing sales people after a Learning Path was implemented.

Pharmaceutical Sales & Service - Improve Services

A leading mail-order pharmacy reduced time-to-proficiency by 40% and implemented over 40 service improvements to call center operations and fulfillment functions.

Health Care Services - Reduce High Turnover

Axis Minnesota partnered with Century College & the State Department of Economic Opportunity to increase proficiency while reducing turnover from 50% to virtually 0.

Equipment Leasing - Create High Performers

GE Capital moved an existing sales force from proficient to high performance.

Manufacturing - New Plant Start Up

A major international manufacturer of building materials accelerated development of new-hires to ease a plant start-up and improved employee performance in other plants.


Arupa is a leading Intuition Speaker, Trainer and Grassroots Innovation Coach who has authored two breakthrough books on business intuition and innovation. "Ting! A Surprising Way to Listen to Intuition & Do Business Better," was rated 4-Stars, the highest, by Training Magazine US and "Spark - Raise Your Mind to the Power of Infinity & Create Anything." With an enlightened perspective that balances learning and scientific elegance, Arupa brings her audiences invaluable know-how on how to efe...

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