September 15, 2014
Column | techwatch

Make software learning easy for the work force

Computerized training systems designed specifically for warehouse and logistics applications can make mastering the software easier.

By James A. Cooke

Learning the ins and outs of software can be a challenge for even the most computer-literate employees. That's why learning management systems (LMS) were developed. These software programs are designed to provide interactive online training as well as courseware, documentation, and testing to help a worker master various software operations. A number of vendors provide this type of software, and these programs in many cases can be adapted to help, say, distribution center workers learn to use a logistics-related application like a warehouse management system.

But off-the-shelf programs aren't the only computerized training option available today. Many supply chain software vendors have developed their own learning software—software that's specifically designed to work in conjunction with their own applications, such as their warehouse management or transportation management systems. According to these vendors, the customized programs offer a quicker and more effective way of getting workers up and running on their software. "Most LMS applications try to be all things to all people, so it's not the right fit for the supply chain space," says Stephanie Crowe, senior director of global learning and development at software developer Manhattan Associates. On top of that, it's not efficient, she adds. "If you use an off-the-shelf authoring tool to build courseware, it takes 10 times as long."

Today's computerized training systems typically include an online course in how to use a software application as well as online documentation. After users complete the course, they can take a test to gauge their mastery of the material. The programs also handle administrative functions, such as skills gap analysis, performance tracking, and reporting. "The system can track that these folks have [achieved a specified] level of proficiency, " Crowe notes.

HighJump Software Inc., for instance, offers an online learning portal with a complete suite of education materials that are available 24/7. The JDA Software Group also offers "e-learning courses" via the cloud. Thomas Kozenski, a vice president for industry strategy at JDA, says these courses provide an "orientation" for new and existing employees on how to use its solutions and provide ongoing reinforcement.

Manhattan has established a learning portal that comes with an authoring tool that allows clients to embed images and videos in the online training materials. The systems can also produce step-by-step instructions using the client's own terminology for each process involved in the use of, say, a warehouse management system.

The biggest advantage to this approach is that people learn only what they need to know. Video-based training and in-application training can be geared to a worker's specific roles and tasks. "If you do it wisely, you [provide] just the right ... training experience to the right people," says Crowe.

This approach to training has been shown to have a huge payback. Crowe says that Manhattan has found that companies using its computer-based worker training system spend up to 80 percent less time on preparing documentation and up to 40 percent less time correcting errors than those that don't. Plus, their employees spend up to 30 percent less time in training classes.

Above all, Crowe says, interactive learning systems are geared to the millennial work force coming into today's distribution centers, a work force that grew up playing Nintendo, Wii, and Xbox games. The interactivity of these training programs mimics online game playing. "By 2017, 70 percent of the DC work force will be millennial," she says. "The question is: How can we engage employees so they will do well every day without error in a way that motivates them?"

About the Author

James A. Cooke
James Cooke is a principal analyst with Nucleus Research in Boston, covering supply chain planning software. He was previously the editor of CSCMP’s Supply Chain Quarterly and a staff writer for DC Velocity.

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