Training day

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With the imminent release of AutodeskÝs 2009 AutoCAD and Revit platforms, what options are available to engineering and architecture firms to keep on top of educating staff to use new features? Stephen Holmes looks at the approaches being taken to make training both effective and justifiable in the modern workplace.

Often considered an expensive luxury, training for CAD users is becoming an annual dilemma for architects and engineers across the country. With 67 per cent of firms stating a lack of time and resources as a reason for not sending staff out to CAD training courses, online and self learning materials are becoming more popular due to their ability to be used anytime, anyplace. But is this the end of traditional classroom training? We approached two of the biggest CAD training companies in the country and found that things havenÝt moved on quite as quickly as perceived.

ýIn the last couple of years weÝve seen a general move for clients very concerned about releasing a lot of people at a time, across a number of days because of the downtime that they get,¯ says Claire Bass, CADline. ýWeÝre doing a lot more training at clientÝs sites ± so weÝve got a lot more mobile training kit that we take around the country with us.¯

Training in excess of 3,000 people each year, the majority of CADLineÝs methods centre on variations of the classroom format, the majority being six people to a room, each with a PC. The company offers a training skills analysis upfront which is designed to find the areas that delegates arenÝt up to speed on, then get them to sit on only those modules. ýWhat you tend to find when you go on a two-day course is that thereÝs usually some of it that you know. What weÝre trying to do is stop people having to repeat training just for the convenience of sitting on a scheduled training course,¯ maintains Claire. ýIt is still very intensive, focused training that gets the better results. I think that the very large corporations that have got hundreds and hundreds of people to train will be more imaginative on how to get some training for all, rather than very intensive training for a few. Some of thatÝs about E-training as well.¯

The boom in E-training has yet to materialise. Most architectural practises are still as sceptical of internet and DVD courses as they were nearly a decade ago. In a survey from the Business Advantage Group published in 2001, 57 per cent stated that they would not be interested in web-based training in the future. Only 19 per cent expressed a positive reaction. Currently, training firms are seeing increasing competition from online tutorials and suppliers of training DVDs and are busy promoting their own E-learning capabilities. However they remain adamant that the best returns on investment are still to be found in traditional training.

ýI think these new methods are really exciting, but a formula doesnÝt yet exist which is better than classroom training,¯ says Susanne Hayward, Excitech. ýWhether weÝre delivering courses in our training centres or on a customers premises this is still the best form of training. ItÝs all very well sitting down and watching a video but itÝs very much a one-way dialogue. Training is very much a two-way dialogue and being able to ask questions and learn from a skilled professional is beneficial. Most of our trainers have spent a significant amount of time training CAD users so as well as understanding the products inside out, they understand what the person actually receiving the training needs and how best to deliver it to suit that individual requirement. You just canÝt get that from sitting in front of on online tutorial or DVD.

That said, Excitech, is looking at ways of expanding its methods in the near future to incorporate new training methods, as the delivery of these becomes more viable. ýI think there is still a perception that training is a luxury, because some companies still struggle to make the cost justification,¯ explains Susanne. ýBut with the likes of Revit and some of the vertical AutoCAD applications there is a need to receive significant training to ensure that you gain the maximum return on the software investment made. Making that investment up front means that companies can reap the productivity benefits in a much shorter timescale. I think itÝs fair to say that there are an increasing number of progressive companies in the UK who are doing just that and really starting to see the benefits from using the likes of Revit.

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ýI think the biggest challenge at the moment is trying to increase the adoption of these products more widely in the UK. Almost all of the companies weÝre working closely with see the benefits of using the likes of Revit over traditional 2D draughting tools but the biggest barrier to adoption is the current skills shortage. Because these products are still relatively new, the skillbase is small and right now the only way this can be addressed is by progressive companies utilising the likes of Excitech who have the skills and expertise to assist in imparting the knowledge and understanding of these products on to existing employees.

Training for staff seems to prove as much of an investment as taking up new software. Claire Bass views the return on this investment as ÙImmenseÝ.

ýYouÝre taking very laborious tasks and automating them, so the return on investment there is quite straightforward. The truth is that there are very few companies that are choosing to put the staff through upgrade training every year. What they tend to do is AutoCAD training, they do it every two or three years to refresh more than anything else, because a new version ± unless you get a very significant update ± doesnÝt stop you working. ýBut what it does do is damage your efficiency and productivity gains because youÝre not taking advantage of all the latest and greatest.¯

Susanne Hayward agrees, explaining that the utilisation of training can have an extremely positive effect on a workforce. ýCompanies who very much see themselves as learning organisations and embrace training tend to have a significantly increased staff retention and create a motivated, empowered and more productive team as staff see the investment the company is making in them.¯

www.excitech.co.uk
www.cadline.co.uk

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