Distributors Training Programs Crucial for Advancement

" At Graybar, training is required, not optional," says the company`s director of training, John A. Teipen. And well it should be, since the St. Louis, MO-based national distributor specializes in the highly technical and rapidly changing telecommunications and data-communications marketplaces.

Jun 1st, 1999

" At Graybar, training is required, not optional," says the company`s director of training, John A. Teipen. And well it should be, since the St. Louis, MO-based national distributor specializes in the highly technical and rapidly changing telecommunications and data-communications marketplaces.

To keep employees at its 200 locations around the United States up to speed on the latest products, technologies, and standards, Graybar offers more than 400 training courses at its World Wide Web-based `virtual campus,` Graybar Training.

The virtual campus is maintained by an outside vendor, University Online (at www.uol.com), and can be reached through the Internet, Graybar`s intranet, and a dial-up 800 number. The courses are highly graphic and interactive, each ending with a quiz serving as a final exam.

A course transcript, including courses taken, the time spent on each, and the final grade, is maintained by the company`s virtual campus and can be accessed by the individual student through a password. In addition, the training program is described in a course catalog where employees can plan their training activities and record the results.

"All employees are required to complete a basic core curriculum," says Teipen. The courses cover personal skills such as listening, telephone skills, problem-solving, team-building, and even defensive driving, as well as marketplace and technical subjects. The virtual campus also provides an opportunity to train all employees in company-wide topics like safety procedures, the company`s e-mail and phone systems, and the history and capabilities of Graybar.

"The safety training is important for our osha and department of transportation safety-compliance programs," adds Teipen.

Once the basic curriculum has been completed, employees can go on to job-specific courses. Among the areas covered are accounting, administration, counter service, customer service, financial practices, management and supervision, purchasing, quotations, selling, and warehousing.

Some of the courses can be completed quickly--within one or two hours--while others are more lengthy. "bicsi has certified many of our courses," Teipen says, pointing out that they may have extensive technical content. "And we use experts, many on staff, to develop their content." The voice and data marketplace overview, for instance, was written by national market manager Karl Griffith.

"The courses aren`t all given online," Teipen says. "Our sales training, for instance, involves an online component, which is then followed up by face-to-face training in small groups with an instructor." Since the online training must be completed by all attendees before the group convenes, the instructor can be sure that participants have completed their prerequisites before scheduling travel. The sales skills learned and practiced in class are then applied on the job. The basic training is complete when sales representatives report their practical experiences online for instructors to grade and a final mastery test is passed. Other courses may involve reading or call for familiarity with the Graybar Encyclopedia, a regularly updated glossary of technical and business terms, accompanied by a corporate organizational directory. The encyclopedia is available on Graybar`s intranet and given out to employees on three 31/2-inch computer disks.

This kind of training setup offers obvious advantages in a widely dispersed company, according to Teipen. Employees can see clearly what they need to know to help succeed in their jobs. Also, if employees want to advance, they can take training for the job aspired to, showing the kind of initiative Graybar is looking for.

Where is Graybar training headed in the future? "We may pass some of our training courses onto our larger customers this year," Teipen says. "Also, courses can be licensed back to uol [University Online] Publishing." So, it would appear that a company`s in-house training program may become an additional avenue for customer service and perhaps even for added revenues.

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