Motivating Employees With Online Learning


In 2004, FedEx Express was faced with an issue of high turnover, especially among frontline employees in important, entry-level jobs. While the company’s culture was based on treating all 290,000 employees in a manner that fosters employee loyalty, senior management became concerned about the challenge of keeping employees engaged.

Employees at all levels not only needed the tools and training to do their jobs effectively but also the opportunity for further self-development. The company had already launched interactive job training capabilities and provided support for continuing education through tuition reimbursement. However, that was not a total solution to the turnover issue.

"Many factors created complex obstacles to solving the high turnover problem,” says Karl Guenther, a manager in Human Resource Development (HRD). The primary challenges included, but were not limited to: 

>> Productivity: A large number of employees were permanent part-time status. Developmental training was not allowed "on the clock” for hourly employees. 

>>Marketability: Many of this these employees needed more post-secondary education or professional experience, thus limiting internal marketability for promotion and/or career growth at FedEx. 

>> Motivation to learn: Programs compelling employees to self-develop — professionally, personally or both — needed more emphasis. 

>> Resource constraints: In many instances, individuals struggled with having the necessary time and financial resources.

>> Low awareness: Employees were not taking advantage of already existing and fully funded resources, like SkillSoft and tuition assistance, because they were unaware of the options available. They were also under-informed of the resources that were available once developmental goals were identified. 

The company took into account all employee schedules and availability and decided that the best way to implement learning and development opportunities would have to be with a flexible solution. 

FedEx had already launched an online learning program powered by SkillSoft in 2002. Although the program was greeted with a warm reception, a more definitive return on the investment was desired. In those early days, the e-learning program success was affected by:  

>> Limited, if any, alignment to job roles or key initiatives that would create a compelling reason for learners to take online training.

>> Culture of manager-directed learning, not continuous self-development driven by individuals.

>> Difficulty in achieving widespread awareness of the online program’s availability.

To help address these matters and achieve a higher return on investment, the FedEx learning team began looking for ways to get more value.

HRD determined that blending the online program with an existing, popular program was the right approach. The end result had to be a program that was available to all FedEx Express employees and did not require mandatory participation due to the number of hourly workers who would not be offered paid time for self-development.

The option most closely meeting the defined criteria was the corporate tuition reimbursement program. So FedEx Express leveraged SkillSoft’s ACE accreditation and existing relationships with higher education institutions and built the College Credit Consortium, taking standard tuition reimbursement to a strategic business level.

"We searched our database and pulled out the 10 institutions we worked with the most and focused on formalizing our alliance with them first,” says Clara Wherry-Porter, HRD’s process improvement advisor.

Now, the Consortium is aligned with 17 U.S.-based colleges and universities and provides employees with the following benefits:

>> Free college credits for successful completion of e-learning courses.
>> Tuition discounts that range from 5 to 50 percent. 
>> Deferred billing. 
>> Waived application fees during education forums.
>> Free Prior Learning Assessment.
>> Certificate options at no additional costs.
>> Ability to skip terms without penalty during peak work time.
>> Thirty college credits for managers with 500 training hours.
>> Flexible degree programs.
>> Custom curriculum development. 

Today, FedEx Express employees are much more aware of their development opportunities, plus tuition reimbursement dollars are stretching further then ever before. With a new Center for Employee Self Development (CESD) program now being rolled out, managers have new tools to discuss career paths and interests with employees. Together, the manager and employee review the in-house inventory of training available to identify the right opportunities. Then, the employee’s choices are worked into their Individual Development Plan (IDP), which has been part of FedEx’s performance management program for years.

This unique program has realized year over- year growth in the areas of e-learning adoption, marketing strategy development and blended learning strategies, advancing from Supplemental (Stage 1) to Optimized (Stage 5) in just over three years.

The College Credit Consortium is creating a competitive advantage for FedEx Express by:

>> Developing immense goodwill and strong personal loyalty among participating employees that has led to a demonstrated positive impact on retention rates.

>> Stretching tuition reimbursement dollars further than anyone imagined, helping to control costs and increasing the program’s reach.

>> Finding ways to make the internal customer experience as outstanding as that of the end customer. Internal commitment to employees reinforces the core People/Service/Profit philosophy, which results in greater employee commitment to external customer satisfaction.

>> Serving as a foundation on which to build other blended programs designed to impact key priorities, like career building and succession planning at FedEx.

The program is continually expanding, as CESD builds brand recognition for the myriad of self-development resources available to FedEx Express employees.

For instance, CESD is now working on designing custom curriculums from existing courses with new job-specific blended goals. A main feature of CESD’s approach includes a custom portal containing a Job Readiness Map application that enables management to develop career paths for their organizations and lay out competency-based training for strengthening core competencies. With the readiness maps, each employee has a clear picture of "what’s in it for me” when choosing to invest time in self development. According to Karl Guenther, "We now provide all employees at all levels, the tools they need to plant the seeds for a future harvest.”

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