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Blended training takes off in Des Moines


High-tech training techniques augment classroom learning, boost performance

Managers are turning to supplemental high-tech multimedia instruction to help train employees, boost performance and shore up their companies’ bottom lines, says the leader of one local employee search and recruitment firm.

“In the past, companies would lock new or current employees in a conference room for days or send them off for a two-week session at a university or corporate campus,” said Mike Vermillion, president of The Vermillion Group, a Des Moines affiliate of Management Recruiters International Inc., the world’s largest search and recruitment organization.

“Now many businesses are implementing a ‘learn-by-doing’ approach in the office that incorporates hard-copy text and classroom training with online content, PowerPoint simulations and e-mail mentoring.”

Two of the most popular tools used at The Vermillion Group are blended training and integrated training programs. Vermillion said blended training, a cost-effective combination of classroom instruction and multimedia training that includes online courses and teacher e-mail correspondence, allows employees to work at their own speed. Integrated training programs, which revolve around seven weeks of video conferencing education, were introduced to the firm by MRI earlier this year. Vermillion said the state-of-the-art training method tested well in a pilot program in which participants who graduated from the training generated 40 percent more revenue for their companies than their untrained peers.

“Instead of being a burden on a staff’s workload, it is becoming a linchpin of corporate continuity,” Vermillion said.

The Vermillion Group, founded in 1992, has implemented these and other techniques for companies such as Principal Financial Group Inc., Allied Insurance, Mediacom, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Wells Fargo Co. Vermillion said as companies identify blended and integrated training programs with improved performance, they continue to invest in such training for their employees. National estimates, he said, show corporate America’s training budget for this year is up 5 percent from 2000, totaling approximately $50 billion, with15 percent of that total will be spent on multimedia techniques, as the popularity of online training increases.

Vermillion said blended training, for example, saves money, reduces training time by up to 60 percent, and provides remote and off-hours access to materials, traceable learning and updateable courses. A typical blended training program begins with online reading assignments, interactive CD-ROM tests and PowerPoint displays that give employees problems to solve before they attend a class. The homework serves as a primer for classroom learning, Vermillion said, making the latter more productive.

“Companies can personalize the training to fit their culture and the personalities of their employees,” Vermillion said.

Vermillion said people with an outside sales background and those who work as counselors or as teachers are the most common users of the training. He said salespeople tired of traveling who want to spend more time at home and those who enjoy helping each other are typical clients. Blended training, he said, has evolved from similar courses in medical and business schools.

Vermillion said two people are enrolled in his company’s first program of integrated training. He said the company plans to hold six classes each year with as many as six people enrolled in the class. Vermillion said he hopes to expand his activity in Central Iowa in the near future. To date, he said, business is up 25 percent from the same time last year.

“We don’t do much business in Des Moines or in Iowa, but we hope to focus on the local area in the years to come,” he said.

Whether he’s recruiting an executive or helping a company train an employee, Vermillion said, his profession is rewarding.

“It’s the best job,” he said. “We literally change the lives of our clients.”

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