Photo from left to right, Pamela Ortiz, Proofreader, Judith Garza, Coordinator Alsuper U, Ángel Aguayo, Improvement Manager, David Pérez, Assistant, Perla Irigoyen, Instructor

How to Achieve Large Scale Online Training for Staff

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Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Feb 22, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version

Alsuper is a traditional supermarket chain in Northern Mexico looking to provide its staff members with efficient online training opportunities. This poses a great challenge as there are currently over 11,000 Alsuper employees. In early 2017, the company started an employee training program with 500 Blackboard Open LMS licenses. By the end of 2018, it aims to close off the year with nearly 6,000 licenses.

Alsuper’s first supermarket store opened its doors in January 1954 and was named Súper del Real Lerdo and Súper del Real Urueta. Several other store openings followed, as well as a discount store chain called Futurama in the 60s and 70s. The first store with the Alsuper concept was inaugurated in 1993, and by 2010, the group had grown considerably all-over Northern Mexico, becoming a multi-regional brand. Nowadays, Alsuper runs 67 stores in 3 states (Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila) with plans to expand into other Mexican states.

Alsuper U

Judith Garza is the coordinator of Alsuper U, a program that was created four years ago to facilitate training courses for company staff, and which has grown substantially in the past few years. Judith and the rest of the Alsuper U team were tasked with implementing virtual courses to cover the needs of personnel, as the previous program was no longer providing satisfactory results. The online training model was launched in April 2017, with pilot tests designed to follow up on users’ platform and content adoption. Employee training activities are developed within the development area, and it was here that the idea to train all of Alsuper’s staff by providing information and certifications via an online platform – in this case, Blackboard Open LMS – was born.

Starting Point: Pilot Tests

The team at Alsuper U is currently developing a study program based on university curricula but applied to retail stores. The project started in April 2017 with a certificate program in managerial skills, originally aimed for 161 employees comprising of regional managers, store managers and corporate managers. The online platform was designed to develop management skills through a six-module learning program, developing a weekly subject for a total of nine months. The certificate program was created to assess the platform’s operational and adaptability capacity, as well as to follow up on the employee experience of those taking the course. The final goal is to offer comprehensive training to every user – from store clerks to regional managers – to develop the company’s human capital. The platform also solves distance issues, as Alsuper has a presence (and staff) across three Mexican states, with distribution centers from Mexico City to El Paso, Texas. Hence, having efficient and effective training programs is paramount.

Defining a Study Program: Relevance and Applicability

Course topics are built around the skills and capabilities that employees in every area must have, which, if properly honed, can have a positive impact on the company’s overall operations. Thus, courses on topics such as leadership, time management, persuasion or goal-setting, among others including useful skills for managers, have a great potential to help all employees grow within the company.

According to Judith, most of Alsuper’s growth is in stores, which is why it is essential to train operational staff as they represent the majority of the company’s personnel. It is also worth noting that Alsuper’s training program is in no way intended to replace a formal higher education but is aimed to give employees a chance to improve their skills. This can benefit them both personally and professionally, while increasing the quality and effectiveness of Alsuper’s general operations.

The study program was created in such a way that each area within the stores (fruit, vegetables, groceries, meats, personal care, etc.) has their own specific certification module. To this end, the first task is to define the needs of each area or department, and develop the modules according to relevance and employee position. For example, the Pharmacy Certification Module has been accessed by around 170 Alsuper clerks. Such specialized courses cover topics on sales, customer service, diverse specialized regulatory processes and personal and leadership skills.

Implementing Blackboard Open LMS

The simplicity in design and content maintenance that the tools offer has allowed Alsuper U’s team to achieve the necessary scope and reach many employees at once. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, Blackboard Open LMS tools allow individuals to manage their own time and complete the courses at their own pace without interfering with their work, all while adapting to new learning and technology usage models. For example, through the questionnaires, learners can assess their knowledge at the end of each module. In some cases, employees are asked to write a short essay in order to share how they would apply their knowledge in their work environment. Lastly, through the discussion forums, which were the most challenging to implement initially as staff were not used to the type of interaction these require, employees now interact more. As more activities take place, staff members begin to get familiarized with the tool and begin having discussions with other employees in different locations, generally participating and sharing their thoughts within a new working environment.

Tips for Online and Mass Training Courses

It’s important to run pilot tests from the outset in order to assess your current status and your available resources and move forward accordingly. For example, the first pilot test conducted by Judith’s team consisted of 15 managers who provided valuable feedback about the content, the interface, and the general implementation of the modules. This way, the feedback loop can grow and become stronger, as new versions of any given module can provide useful insights that can prove extremely beneficial down the line.

Nevertheless, it is very common to find resistance to implementation, particularly in a company like Alsuper with thousands of employees. Thus, it is essential to showcase the benefits that the contents and methodologies can bring to employees within the company. Once the benefits become apparent to them, processes become more fluid and courses can have a stronger impact on each individual’s professional development. To reach this goal and to provide employees with a more personalized experience along the way, a mentorship system was created. This system consists of having more experienced staff members help those who are still studying a course or certificate program. Each mentor is instructed with following up on 20 individuals and must prepare weekly reports detailing if anyone is falling behind and come up with possible solutions to any problems that may arise.

Looking Ahead

Alongside the certificate program, Alsuper is developing an infrastructure project within all stores that will allow employees to access courses from their workplace, as many don’t have internet access or computers at home. “There’s no point in purchasing the licenses if our staff can’t make the best use of them,” says Judith. According to Alsuper U’s team, this also means that as people learn to use certain tools, these skills are transferred to their daily lives, giving rise to a completely new range of possibilities.

Due to the success of the program in such a short period of time, Alsuper U’s team intends to acquire 5,725 more licenses by the end of 2018 in order to offer their courses, guaranteeing that half of their workforce will be able to enroll before the end of next year. This is a very ambitious goal, but one that can be validated by Judith and her team’s achievement with the success of the pilot tests, hence why senior management has supported the project so confidently. By 2019, growth is expected to continue, allowing more company employees timely access to training and quality content.

Photos by: AFP – Herika Martinez