The new language training model that Gas Natural Fenosa is offering its more than 21,000 employees worldwide is turning out to be a big success. Thanks to the use of new technologies, and with flexibility as one of the cornerstones of the program, each user follows a three-step methodology: online preparation, interaction with a trainer, and post-class consolidation. All of this under the guidance and supervision of Training Express, the language training consultancy firm in charge of designing and developing this new system.
Why did you decide to change your language training strategy?
Victorino Anguera (V.A.): Up until last year, we had a very traditional language program, with face-to-face group sessions. But we wanted to go a step further, and design a common learning model for our entire staff, made up of more than 21,000 people all over the world. In fact, last November, we integrated a Chilean company into the group, adding 8,000 employees. With all this in mind, we took on the design of a new model with the following basic characteristics: it had to be uniform, solid, efficient, flexible, innovative and available in any location and company within the group, accessible to every employee, regardless of their position. We are growing very quickly in terms of geographical dispersion, and a demand-oriented system is the ideal solution.
How did you go about launching the new training model?
V.A.: When we set up the model, we implemented two different courses of action. The first one is ongoing: we have a customized digital magazine where we post interesting content related to the company and the energy industry. This training option is accessible to everybody, allowing the staff to work on their language skills whenever they want, through subjects that are relevant to their own professional development. The second approach is more focused, with self-study programs at different levels, virtual and/or telephone sessions one or two times a week, and focused seminars to promote and improve learning and develop different skills.
Benjamin Joseph (B.J.): Taking all of this into consideration, employees are assigned a pre-established Training Path, but it’s flexible, since they can use the platform to reschedule a session if their work prevents them from attending. The idea is to offer them a guided path with a certain degree of flexibility, so they’ll commit to the training program.
Additionally, we wanted these Training Paths to be measurable, both in terms of time and effectiveness, so we could assess the investment made per employee, and the return on said investment. We built the whole system based on innovation and the use of new technologies. One of the most relevant features of this model is that practically 100% of training is now cloud-based, which offers a lot of advantages in terms of management, costs and standardization for all countries involved.
What kind of methodology do you use?
B.J.: We use a flipped-classroom Blended Learning methodology, with a strong emphasis on virtual training. There are three steps in the process. First, learners prepare the class on the online platform, using a PC or a mobile device. Then, they join a virtual session, where they can practice what they’ve learned, individually or in a group, under the supervision of a native teacher. Finally, once they’ve assimilated the necessary concepts, they carry out additional activities to consolidate and memorize what they have learned.
V.A.: For very specific cases, we also use face-to-face training, especially for individual or group immersion programs. For example, our European employees are currently attending face-to-face Spanish classes, but this will only be for a few months, until they’re ready to use the platform.
How is the Training Path decided?
V.A.: Based on their job post, employees analyze the need to improve their own language skills. They inform their supervisor, justifying their reasons. Finally, the request is conveyed to the Human Resources Department and the Corporate University and they, after analyzing each person’s needs, as well as their level, establish a Training Path. We are currently offering our employees nine different languages: English, Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, German, Turkish, Catalan and Portuguese. There is an assortment of learning options: learners can have telephone or virtual sessions, practice by reading the magazine, or even attend specialized or skills seminars, to reinforce their language training.
B.J.: The idea is to reach total digital immersion. Given that this training model is available on the participants’ devices, it’s become part of their daily lives. Their classes go straight into their Outlook calendar, and they access course contents and sessions using their mobile phones.One of the main goals of this model is to make us more efficient, not just in terms of financial investment, but also in terms of individual return on investment
Do you monitor employee activity on the platform?
V.A.: One of the main goals of this model is to make us more efficient, not just in terms of financial investment, but also in terms of individual return on investment. For that purpose, we measure certain aspects before, during and after the training program and, based on the results, we adapt each employee’s Training Path. Indicators show high levels of participation, with an 87% attendance rate.
B.J.: Absolutely. We’ve designed a very detailed dashboard where we can see how learners spend their study time, check on their performance, and keep an eye on their attendance rate, etc. These KPIs show us whether or not students are meeting their objectives so that, if they aren’t, we can take the necessary measures to get them back on track.
What stage are you currently at in the implementation of this model?
B.J.: We are constantly evolving and perfecting the model and analyzing the results. We launched the program on April 22, 2014, and we carried out a study in December to see where we were in terms of meeting objectives. There will be another one in June. Of the whole process, I think the launch period is particularly worth mentioning, since it was unique, involving many different levels within the organization. In fact, before we launched it, we developed a training diagnosis tool that was approved by the business partners, and an information program to explain the new language training model to the staff.
What tools did you use in this information campaign?
V.A.: We used every possible channel, from our Corporate University to the company intranet, including emails, videos, commercials, interviews, banners, etc. The truth is that we advertised it a lot internally and I genuinely think the impact of the campaign was very positive.
B.J.: There are several informative videos on the platform explaining how it works. Additionally, we designed a specific communication campaign for Gas Natural Fenosa, hand in hand with their Department of Communication. Even trainers cleared up doubts regarding technical issues during the initial sessions.
What’s your assessment, now that the model has been up and running for close to a year?
V.A.: Decidedly, very positive. In fact, the satisfaction rate is very high, 4.3 out of 5. The level of acceptance is excellent. It is true that there are still things we need to improve, but they are minor or merely functional issues.
B.J.: All the KPIs, such as attendance, study time and satisfaction, are very high. This is important, because it’s always difficult to get employees to study on their own and use the resources made available to them; this requires additional effort on their part. Their use of the online platform can be considered an achievement in itself, but we are also seeing that the results are very good. Additionally, employees are often reluctant to change from face-to-face to virtual, and that reluctance has to be overcome; however, in this case, the levels of satisfaction and enthusiasm among the staff are very high. And it is when a language training program is aligned with a talent management program that important achievements can be made.
V.A.: I think we have met the objectives we set at the beginning, which boiled down to three: including the whole company, gradually meeting their professional needs, and seeing the results in their performance. Apart from this, we have achieved other important goals, such as following up on each employee’s learning process, lowering the drop-out rate, measuring the investment, and increasing efficiency and flexibility. All of this is adding value to the training programs that we offer and, from the perspective of the Corporate University, spurs us on to work harder and outdo ourselves every day..
How would you describe the relationship between your two companies?
V.A.: Very fruitful. We have worked as a team toward a common goal. Even though we had worked together before on smaller projects, the truth is that it’s not the same as collaborating on something as big as this, with a significant investment and large teams involved. That’s why I’d like to highlight the role played by Training Express in the launch of this new language training strategy, as well as that of Antonia Fernandez and Alfonso Campos – who work with me in the Corporate University – in the definition, implementation and coordination of the model.
B.J.: Working with Gas Natural Fenosa has been a very rewarding experience for us. We are a very technologically-minded company, always promoting pioneering solutions, and we often encounter resistance in the Spanish market. But Gas Natural Fenosa completely embraced our technological approach, with cloud-based training and new ways of measuring KPIs to learn more about performance. They’ve given us a chance to do what we do best, and we’ve learned a lot from the way they’ve gotten all the members of the organization involved, employees and managers alike.
Lastly, how do you see the model evolving from here on out?
V.A.: We are committed to continuous improvement. The company is going to be present in more and more countries, and the number of employees will grow. This training model will need to add more languages and new options to meet everyone’s needs. We will need to adapt to these new processes. Apart from that, we will integrate new learning methodologies and new content, adapted to mobile devices and, in general, there will be the typical improvements based on changes both in the work setting and in the training method itself. The evolution will be ongoing, more than disruptive.
B.J.: I’d like to highlight one of the most innovative aspects of this program, which was the introduction of interactive online content designed specifically for Gas Natural Fenosa. But there are still further challenges ahead of us. We are currently working hard on making the online part more dynamic, to increase use: our goal is to keep encouraging and motivating employees to reach complete digital immersion, as mentioned before.