Nascar: Learning at 200 MPH

Nascar: Learning at 200 MPH

BY GREG ROSE

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is a big deal. In 2014 alone, it sanctioned more than 1,000 stock car races across 10 different series at hundreds of tracks in seven countries. An average of 5.3 million viewers tune into each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event from February through November.

According to various independent economic studies, on average, each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race adds nearly $150 million to local and regional economies.

Imagine for a moment the human capital and logistics required to successfully execute an entire NASCAR season. If you total up all the National Series race days across all 29 active tracks, NASCAR relies on more than 8,000 “day-of ” people to ensure that every race delivers the quintessential NASCAR experience.

TRAINING THAT STICKS

NASCAR breaks the total number of “day-of” resources into groups. About 7,800 of these individuals are employed by the tracks themselves and fall under the category of “Track Services.” The remainder are track employees and volunteers who work in other areas or are NASCAR employees and race officials who have a multitude of race-day responsibilities. Both the Track Services workers and NASCAR officials have to be trained meticulously in preparation for a race.

“Safety is NASCAR’s highest priority,” says Karen Masencup, director of Training & Development. “Each race requires a skilled group of fire, EMS and track operations professionals who are prepared to respond quickly to any number of potential incidents that could occur during NASCAR’s unique racing environment.”

Stock car specifications and configurations change annually; tracks are designed to maximize speed and competitiveness; cars can achieve speeds of more than 200 miles per hour; and driver cockpit temperatures often creep past 130 degrees. As a result, NASCAR training initiatives must cover a wide variety of issues including vehicle specs, pit road speeds, fire suppression, driver extrication, vehicle roll-over processes, track clearing, cleanup, and proper transport of injured individuals to infield medical care facilities.

There is so much at stake that simply making training materials available and hoping students utilize them is not enough. The trick is to significantly improve the training, or the trainee’s, experience. This allows NASCAR to ensure that the training sticks.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT PARTNER

In some way, shape or form, NASCAR has been training personnel to address the unique challenges presented by the sport since its inception in the late 1940s. Historically, much of this training was individualized and “hands-on” — directed, delivered and assessed by a direct supervisor.

As the sport grew in popularity and the modifications and complexity of the cars and the events continued to increase, so did the depth and complexity of the organization’s training needs. By the 1990s, individualized training had been enhanced with group focused classroom sessions that were followed up by specialized (and localized) function area break-out training events. As an early adopter, NASCAR even began to experiment with online training courses for officials in the 2000s.

“Our NASCAR officials live in different parts of the country,” says Masencup. “In the past, we brought them to the Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., to attend the classroom training. We thought we could give more in-depth training with online courses that people could take at their leisure when it was convenient for them.”

Leveraging those early successes, NASCAR launched a bold online training campaign in 2012 that was aimed at the significantly larger Track Services audience. The rollout secured high levels of participation and received such positive feedback, NASCAR increased the number of online courses in 2013. It then recognized a new hurdle: its existing learning management solution (LMS) was outdated and incapable of scaling to meet the demands of the new initiative and its audience. So the hunt began for a technology partner that could help deliver a better employee training experience.

THE CHALLENGES

“With multiple departments involved in the selection process for a new learning management system, we first had to determine our short and long-term goals for it. Then we researched and vetted many companies,” says Masencup. After extensive review and consideration, NASCAR chose Atlanta-based Intellum and its Exceed Learning Management System. “There were several larger LMS providers in the group of finalists, but Intellum’s approach to technology stood out, and they really demonstrated that they wanted to work with us and be our partner. We soon discovered that, even after they won our business, the high level of customer service and sense of partnership would continue.”

NASCAR realized that the success of a new LMS would ultimately be determined by user engagement. The organization also knew that driving user engagement would require an extremely positive user experience, for both the trainees and the employees tasked with administering the solution. To secure that engagement, NASCAR and Intellum put their new partnership to the test, working closely together to tackle five unique challenges.

The rapidly approaching start of a new season

“Our first challenge was timing. From an internal employee standpoint, our NASCAR officials typically do a large amount of their training in January and February before the race season kicks off with the Daytona 500,” says Masencup. “On the Track Services side, online training may begin in early December in order for their hands-on training to begin immediately after the first of the year.” NASCAR made the decision to go with Intellum in the fourth quarter of 2013, which required a small window to transition. But rapid implementation is a key offering for Intellum, a company that relies on 15 years of industry experience to implement most clients in less than four weeks — and NASCAR had a tremendous amount of historical data to roll into its new system.

Incorporating years of training and certification data

“Any time you move a large amount of data, it can be challenging,” says Masencup. “We had about nine years of data to import, including many courses that were no longer active in our system. But it was important to us, and to our students, that we retain that history. Intellum worked hand-in-hand with us during the implementation process and we were able to import all of our previous student data into Intellum’s Exceed.” Now, utilizing a feature called External Credits, an individual can scan and upload an external credit, further reducing administrative backlogs. “This critical feature means our students and our learning team are now able to view all of a specific student’s training history,” says Masencup.

Tracking a large number of external and remote

Even though NASCAR provides training for all Track Services workers like they were FTEs, the Track Services team members are employed by host tracks. These team members fluctuate, creating a complicated external audience scenario that requires a solution tailor-made for NASCAR.

“Tracking and reporting was previously a challenge, given our often-changing, remote learning audience,” says Masencup. “Now it’s easy. Learners present their NASCAR I.D. card, which has a barcode that ties directly to that learner’s profile in the LMS. Training coordinators simply scan I.D. cards to automatically record on-site course credits in the learner’s account.”

By introducing customized data import and mapping functionality, NASCAR and Intellum simplified and improved the process of tracking the external and remote trainees. While this leads to better NASCAR insight into training initiatives, it also significantly improves the experience of an often overlooked audience: the employees administering individual training events.

Addressing function area and location-specific concerns

With 8,000 fluctuating track services workers across three national series, understanding how an individual fits into NASCAR Training’s big picture, and effectively managing that individual’s learning experience, was another historical challenge for the organization. Training courses are consistent between all tracks, but training requirements for specific function areas may vary. Some elements of training at a short track, for example, are different than that at a superspeedway.

Then consider the fact that some individuals move between job responsibilities, or work at multiple tracks throughout a given season. NASCAR needed not only the ability to assign Track Services workers to various groups based on specific criteria, but a way to recognize and avoid training overlaps when an individual transitions between job responsibilities and locations.

So the organization now leverages the dynamic auto-enrollment functionality of Exceed to overcome this hurdle. When NASCAR builds a new group with deep profiles on members, adds new team members or adds new training requirements, the system automatically identifies the individuals who meet specific criteria based on these profiles and can auto-enroll them in the correct groups. Users see only the learning opportunities that are germane to them. As for team members who move from group to group or track to track, the LMS now also recognizes potential training overlaps and automatically “completes” the student in courses shared by groups or locations.

Significantly enhancing the NASCAR student experience

Together, NASCAR and Intellum redesigned the NASCAR LMS user experience, presenting students with a more modern learning environment that is visually appealing and easy to navigate.

The way the catalog presents “featured” and “recommended courses”, for example, is based on a user’s profile and group membership. It seems familiar to the student — more like an app store or a streaming music service than a clunky enterprise software solution. By focusing on the experience the student has with the LMS itself, NASCAR has witnessed improved engagement and is even beginning to think about the learning experience on the individual group level.

“We are now using multiple groupspecific branded landing pages, so that different people in different groups can have customized experiences when they log in,” says Masencup. The flexibility of the system also allows NASCAR to rethink content. “We are designing our courses in smaller, bite-size pieces,” she adds. “Gone are the days of hour-long courses where people sit in front of their computers and complete the course. Now, they need easier to download, shorter courses that can be taken anywhere.” The LMS is also mobile optimized, allowing students to complete courses on their own mobile devices as well.

INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

NASCAR is a sport that heavily relies on technology and innovation. You can see it in NASCAR’s new pit road technology that utilizes a state-of-the-art camera-based video system to identify pit road infractions. A move to a fully digital rulebook and streamlined inspection process has given NASCAR and the teams the opportunity for back-end data analysis. Sprint Cup cars will even utilize digital dashboards next season. Leveraged technology and innovation is also now present in NASCAR’s approach to the student learning experience.

“In 2014, NASCAR Track Services team members alone completed 84,000 courses through Exceed,” says Masencup. And even higher engagement numbers are expected this year, with 53,000 course completions through the first five months. “The great thing about the Exceed LMS is that it is limitless,” she notes. “It can grow as needed with users and content, which is a real plus in our world. As we continue to increase our course offerings and look at ways to address training needs, we know Exceed can meet the challenge.”

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