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Caterpillar: Measuring Learning for Process Improvement
With some 80,000 employees around the world, and nearly half of its workforce outside of the United States, Caterpillar Inc. has a hand in construction, mining, energy and forestry industries. The company spends a significant portion of its annual learning budget working to ensure that the learning it provides is relevant and appropriate.
“We’re doing this to improve performance,” said David Vance, president, Caterpillar University. “It’s about the difference we can make in bottom-line results. That’s why one of our focuses has been getting the strategic alignment to business needs and our critical success factors. Rather than doing learning for learning’s sake or learning for personal development, we want to ensure that the roughly $100 million dollars we spend as an enterprise on learning each year is really helping us achieve our most critical business results.”
Until Caterpillar University’s inception in January 2001, virtually all learning was delivered in the classroom. “Starting three years ago, we began moving toward e-learning where that was appropriate,” Vance said. “There is a lot of learning that we need to do for compliance and knowledge-sharing through a one- or two-hour online e-learning course that people can take not only from work, but from home or the hotel when they’re traveling. People have less and less time available for learning these days even when it is the right learning. If you can take what might have otherwise been a three-day instructor-led class and get it down to two days by taking a lot of that material, which was really just going to be a download, and put that in e-learning and have them do it as a prerequisite up front, people are appreciative of that.”
Caterpillar also has an expansive knowledge-sharing system to aid learning via virtual collaboration, with more than 2,500 communities of practice that people around the world with shared interests can tap into. “People go there and post a question like, ‘I’m a new engineer in a location. I’ve never encountered this problem. Can anyone help me?’ Within 24 hours, they will usually have responses from around the world from people who suggest a solution or someone to talk to, and that saves us an incredible amount of time.”
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