Product Manufacturer

Decades of Change for the A/E Practice: Is professional development leading or reacting?

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Everyone realizes that professional practices have changed drastically and in unimaginable ways during the past two decades. So my questions are: has professional continuing development (CPD) kept up? Have the education providers, design associations, and firms acted as leaders or followers in their efforts to shaping education in the design industry?

When I attended my first American Institute of Architects (AIA) convention twenty years ago, I observed that the education session attracting the highest attendance was Presentation Skills by Joanne Linowes. The remaining top ten sessions were related to "€œhot" practice topics such as project management and leadership. The irony of these topics, presenters submitted their proposals one year ahead of the next convention. Local chapter executives overwhelmingly responded that they selected their monthly meeting topics using a committee, better known as the "who do you know?" approach. Firms basically granted any product manufacturer supplying lunch "€œpitch" time. This was commonly referred to as the €œLunch-N-Learn approach. The better the lunch, to more time allowed.

Ten years later (2005) a lot had changed, in the practice and education. The AIA had implemented their Continuing Education System (CES). The AIA/CES provider program vetted 2700 education providers and began monitoring their courses. Health, Safety and/or Welfare (HSW) became the driving force of professional education. A majority of state licensing boards required 8-12 hours of mandatory continuing education (MCE) all related to HSW. Tracking MCE became critical to maintaining a professional license. Sustainability had become the hot topic everywhere, or at least the title of those€“ dominating the top 10 courses at the AIA convention. Presentation skills, project management, and leadership development courses were still simmering, but other practice related courses became more difficult to find.

By 2005, most A/E firms still relied upon product manufacturer for much of their in-house education, and they were still expected lunch. The big difference at this point, many firms insisted that the product manufacturer and their 1 hour courses be AIA/CES approved. Some of the larger firms had even hired training and organization development specialists with experience from professions outside the A/E industry to head their internal programs. Smaller firms would develop an education specialist from among their own staff. Firms still struggled to obtain presentation skills, project management, and leadership training.

Web based learning was making its influence felt by 2005. According to the American Society of Training and Development (recently renamed Association for Talent Management), by the end of 2010 technology based learning passed traditional classroom training in new courses offered. For the A/E/C Design industry that meant mostly 1 hour or 1.5 hour webinars. Today, technology based learning is making everyone evaluate their approach to sharing knowledge and delivering education. Today you can now find nearly any type of free, short introductory topics on YouTube. More traditional education is offered through programs like the Open University that includes schools like Harvard, MIT and Stanford offering free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).

So where are we after 20 years? Today most associations are struggling to find their education niche. Some associations have turned to offering certifications but there are legal education concerns and restrictions but these programs are usually based upon a core curriculum of study. The process for selecting convention and conference presentations continues as before. However, many associations include a virtual component or have expanded their webinar series to complement their conference education programming.

Today, firms are beginning to fill the talent management and organization development positions that were eliminated during the economic downturn. They are returning with a more strategic approach, matching internal education to the firm’s goals and staff skill needs. Some firms are looking at developing their own core curriculum that include development of emerging professionals, practice skills training, project management, client facing skills, advanced presentation skills, and leadership development. Firms are using a blend of knowledge sharing technology tools for the introductory and awareness level skills. For their practitioners, they are using a blend of in-house trainers with vendors and consultants to address gaps that meet their strategic goals. And yes, many still rely upon the product manufacturer with registered AIA courses on, and still expect lunch be provided. Keeping track of all this activity has become strategic and complex.

Architectural Research Associates

The Emerging Blend of the Degree, the Certification, and Professional Development: The overview

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We often hear that change is constant. In yesterday’s issue of the Washington Post was an article on education, “An alternative to high-cost college?" A major focus of the article was about how start-up companies are providing free or low priced programs are designed to compete against the expense of a college degree program. This article is yet another statement about the current assault on the expense of obtaining a degree in higher education and the perceived value of that degree. While the Post article focused mainly on higher education, this is just the tip of the transition. There is a related larger issue that needs our attention, the emerging blend of college degrees, certificate and certification programs, and continuing professional development.

In their book, Nine Shift that was published in 2004, the authors William Draves and Julie Coates introduced to us the changes that were beginning to occur in our society because of the acceptance and use of the internet. They described changes that were just beginning to occur in our approach to work, in our life styles, and in our approach to education. As the Washington Post article describes the situation, we are now well into the middle of the transition described in Nine Shift. So, where are we now? What'€™s the current landscape?

Related to formal education MIT, Harvard and others have used the internet to design a new education landscape. The Washington Post article sited MITalong with other universities as pioneers for offering open courseware. To date there are more than 15,000 online open courses provided by more than 250 institutions. Suddenly, what had been the exclusive domain of courses for the purpose of receiving college degrees become part of anyone'€™s opportunity for continuing professional development (CPD). In their association'€™s official publication, Training + Development, the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) indicated that in 2010 more new online courses were being developed by companies than traditional classroom courses. Online companies such as Ron Blank, RedVector, AECDaily, Saylor.com, P2PU are using college faculty to develop and on offer online CPD. And don'€™t forget McDonald'€™s Hamburger University or the Disney Institute.

Throw into the mix a few online certificate or certification programs offered by associations, community colleges and technical schools. Suddenly the lines between degrees, certifications, and professional development begin to blur. You now have a real conundrum. How do you sort through what I refer to the "€œterrible T's" - Turf, Trust and Tradition. Who is supposed to offer what to whom? Who can you trust? And, who are these people – have they ever offered education before?

So, what’s next? What can we expect? In the upcoming series of the “emerging blend of college degrees, certificate and certification programs, and continuing professional development” we will offer papers specific to the impact on higher education, associations, firms, product manufacturers and the workforce.

Evaluation and Improvement – The 7th key to quality continuing education for product manufacturers

For the product manufacturer the 7th key towards providing quality continuing education is to evaluate each course upon completion and use the results to continually improve the course. Michael D. Perry, Hon. AIA,is the Vice President Government Sales and STAMP and is currently with Simon Roofing/SR Products. Michael has been a long time advocate of holding the product manufacturer accountable to the highest standards of developing and providing continuing professional education to design professionals. In an effort to improve continuing education quality standards for the design industry Michael was the first to support the AIA Continuing Education System Award for Excellence. He was also responsible for launching the AIA/CES Firm Symposium which assisted firm leaders in the establishment of industry standards for internal professional development programs that relied heavily on support from product manufactures. According to Michael, “professional development and continuing education is all about constant improvement. The only way to measure the impact of the message you are delivering is to conduct an evaluation at the end of a program. This process is essential not only for the content of your message but also for the quality of the presentation. Without good feedback from the course attendees you will never know if the information is beneficial and if your methodology of delivering the information is leaving the audience at the altar.”

David deBear, CTC, CSI, is the National Construction Service Manager and works for Custom Building Products a product manufacturer and a long time registered continuing education provider. Under David’s leadership Custom Building Products was a multi – time winner of the AIA/CES Award for Excellence. When I recently asked David to reflect back on contributing factors to winning the award he share this story with me related to what he called a more technical related course. David stated that he received one evaluation where the participant thought the topic was relevant but that the course was confusing. David indicated that the course had been receiving mixed reviews and not consistently delivering the intended message. This one evaluation was more critical and more specific. In summary the participant stated that they could not follow the story the topic was covering and that it was confusing. With the specifics provided by this particular participant as well as comparing statements from previous evaluations, David realized that the company needed to bring in a curriculum specialist to restructure the story line. The curriculum specialist reorganized the content and to follow the story line so that it was not confusing. The curriculum specialist added a summary of key points so regardless of the knowledge level of the participant, information was received. David said that after the adjustment, participant satisfaction with the course increased dramatically.
A Product manufacturer that offers continuing education in any industry needs to build a system that continually evaluates all of their courses. Catch the evaluations immediately on-site, do not rely on the internet for feedback for on-site courses. Focus on items such as content, instructor delivery and methodology. Use the information you collect to continually improve your program and courses and to build upon your reputation as a product manufacturer that offers reliable quality education.

Evaluation and Improvement – An association’s 7th key to quality continuing education

Does your association have participants evaluate each of courses upon completion? Does your association provide evaluations because it is expected? Does your association require course evaluations from each participant before certificates or credit is awarded? Does your association have a systematic approach to annual or semi-annual review of the overall education program? In order to establish a quality education program you should have answered either yes, or working on it to all of these questions. And, if your answer is yes to any of these questions, what do you do with all of that information once it is collected?

I am amazed at how many associations go through all the time and effort to provide some type of evaluation form for participants at the end of the session then do little to even collect the results. At a minimum, the collected information should be used to improve the course content, format, instruction, delivery, and promotion. It should not be used just to determine if participants liked the food, liked the instructor, and that the temperature of the room was OK.

Your association should build a system that continually evaluates all of the courses upon completion. At a minimum you should share all of the information in a detailed summary with your education advisory committee, your faculty, and your staff. Use the information you collect to continually improve your program and courses and to build upon your reputation as an association that offers reliable quality education.

The 6th Key for a Product Manufacturer: Implementation and delivery of continuing education

For the product manufacturer, the first rule of implementation and delivery –keep it simple and follow your action plan. One strength of the product manufacturer is their product research department. The big question is how do they use that information when delivering education? Add to their research, the product manufacturers are in a prime position to develop project studies or case studies about actual application. Where so many product manufacturers slip up, they run their client continuing education programs from their marketing department using their sales force as the trainers. It is difficult to be an effective trainer if your income is based entirely on what you sell. An answer to this problem –rule number two is to have your technical staff deliver the education to your clients. Team them with a sales staff if you must but then structure their salary to reflect that some of their time is spent in education marketing and not direct sales.

Here is an example of one company that has learned to design and deliver product education correctly,Pella Windows, Commercial Division. In 1989 Pella hired an architect, Terry Zeimetz, AIA, CSI, CCPR to design and teach architects and engineers about their products. Based upon adult education principals and clear learning objectives Terry incorporated Pella’s research and developed courses slowly over time that were based upon projects related to the architects and engineers needs. These education courses were not sales pitches. Pella was patient and gave their plan time to develop and unfold. They built their program around their research and ongoing need assessments. Because of a solid foundation, by the time they reached the implementation and delivery phase the process went reasonably smooth, it grew and continues today. Terry was not afraid to try the new and the different, something that connected to Pella’s strategic education plans. Pella’s on-site education and product tour has become the standard for offering site tours for the industry.

A Key 5 ROI: Unifying Marketing and Promotion thru Social Media

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Last February one of our staff, Jacob Robinson convinced me and several others that we should join him and several marketing and sales folks from FedEx Services for dinner at a local Georgetown restaurant. As it turned out, not only was it a great dinner but perhaps one of the more significant business learning experiences that I have been exposed to in a long time. The social conversation turned from advertisements during the Super Bowl to exposure to the type of information and education that many senior executives would pay handsome sums to experience. Our host for the evening was William Margaritis, Senior VP Global Communication & Investor Relations, FedEx. FedEx has been regularly ranked in the top 10 on the FORTUNE magazine “World’s Most Admired Companies” and “Best Places to Work.” Under his leadership, the FedEx communications program has been recognized as “best-of class” in the discipline of reputation management.

Blog contribution by Jacob Robinson, Curriculum Development Manager at the Green Education Foundation.

Social media has become a buzz term that we hear talked about in our offices and see written about in news and blogs nearly every day for the past couple of years. “How to Maximize Social Media in Your Firm” or association or something similar is a common title for blogs and articles that seek to provide strategies on embracing social media in a holistic and meaningful way. Yes, social media is in. It’s hip. Everyone is talking about it and everyone is doing it. In other words, “If you’re not there; you’re noticeably absent,” as a 2010 study by FedEx Corporation stated. Companies and organizations everywhere on the planet are participating in social media in one way or another, with many continually increasing their annual budgets for such programs in both external and internal communications.

However, be wary of the rewarding temptation to only use social media as a promotional tool; while you may see an ROI of views, retweets, and hits, this limiting output could put your company at risk of relying too much on brand. As companies like FedEx and Southwest Airlines are successfully showing best results come from fully integrating social media into your promotions and your marketing business plan. Even for smaller organizations, it is paramount to understand that social media is a two-way street, whether B2C or B2B, your level of engagement (including follow-ups to posts and tweets) is a key factor to successful implementation. With social media, you have at your hands a powerful set of tools to show the world the culture of your business, not just what products and services your business provides, but who you are as an organization. Through these means, you can effectively promote your education program and build brand reputation leading to customer loyalty and business strength.

I want to end by first thanking Mr. Margaritis for a wonderful evening, both entertaining and educational. You have an excellent sales and marketing staff in the DC area. And next, I would like to thank Jacob Robinson for writing this blog and convincing me that the business dinner would be much more valuable than just food and wine. Best of luck Jacob on your new position!

The Fifth Key for the Product Manufacturer to Offer Successful Education Courses: Marketing and Promotion

You will find that most successful product manufacturers have some form of internal professional development for their own staff. For this article I want to focus on the product manufacturers who provide education courses to their clients as part of a strategic marketing approach. Within the design, medical and financial fields the marketing department of a product manufacturer will arrange to offer education courses in a firm’s office, at the professional association local chapter office, and occasionally in a local hotel.

Those businesses that rely on their brand reputation alone will likely fail in their education efforts. When it comes to education, adequate promotion and advertisement is essential. Marketing and promotion of education programs has changed dramatically in just the past 2 - 3 years. Mark Johnson FAIA, CKD, AIBD was a primary force behind two winners of the AIA/CES Award for Education Excellence in the product manufacturer category. Mark led the team at CertainTeed, when they first won the award twice in the late 1990’s. Mark then lead the Whirlpool Corporation architecture education program in 2009 when they won the same award. Mark indicated that with CertainTeed they originally did all the traditional types of promotion of their education courses, trade shows, printed materials, and direct mail. At Whirlpool Mark began to alter his promotion approach by cutting back some of the traditional methods, in large part due to the economy. As a replacement he added online advertisements and online sponsorship. Today Mark has gone high tech, with emphasis on social media. For Mark there are now fewer trade shows, fewer printed brochures, and fewer online advertisements. Several times a day Mark tweets online to build brand awareness with the design community and consumers. Mark lists as the big three social sites for the design industry, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Mark states that social media is like an overlay on top of all of the traditional promotional methods What once took weeks or months to plan and execute now takes hours and minutes, and he can reach both a broader audience and a highly targeted audience. Through Twitter he can promote thought leadership, industry events, and products, real time throughout the day.

To bring marketing and promotion into the present I would point you to the blog of an interactive marketing and online media expert, Elizabeth Grenier. As the Strategic Accounts Manager at Percipio, Media Elizabeth writes that there are 3 eCommerce Phrases You Should Know Using Social Media. she lists E-auction: A tool used in industrial business-to-business procurement; Web 2.0: A second generation of web-based communities such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies, which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing among users; and Virtual communities/Community of Practice: A group of people that primarily interact via communication media such as letters, telephone, email or Usenet rather than face to face.

What Content?€- The missing fourth key for product manufacturers.

The missing fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program for the product manufacturers and service providers includes external assistance. Product manufacturers can be effective in the developing a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Product manufacturers are rarely effective in the design and development of the actual course that they offer. If a product manufacturer was to ask, €œWhat do I want the participant of this education program to be able to do upon completion of this class? The answer would be? If your first thought was to either buy or use our product you would be among the vast majority.

I have reviewed thousands of product manufacturer course evaluations. I have listened to hundreds of professionals talk about manufacturer'€™s courses. And I have sat in on hundreds of these courses myself over a period of more than 20 years. I have just one piece of advice for the product manufacturers who are thinking of develop these courses, get out side professional help.

What the product manufacturer often does have is a reliable source of new content and potential material that could be used to offer a steady new supply of continuing education courses offerings. Instead they often teach the same one, two or three courses over and over. There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which a product manufacturer can choose. Unfortunately they are so often locked into the mainstream sales and marketing approach that requires they stand in front of their customer. While this may still be the most effective for them the rest of the world is moving on without them. And then you must ask: "Where are the learning objectives?" Remember that we are talking about education courses and they are not supposed to be direct sales pitches.

Over the years I have seen many very good product manufacturer courses. CertainTeed offers some excellent examples. They were ever a multiple winner of the AIA/CES Award for Education Excellence. And as you can guess, they used education consultants to assist in the development and design of their courses. I only ask of most product manufacturers, please do not try to do development and design education courses on your own.

The third key to a quality education program for product manufacturers

A great opportunity for product manufacturers in the architect/engineer/construction (A/E/C) and design industry is to provide product and service education to the professionals in the industry. This opportunity is most frequently offered on site at the professional’s office. Less often the product manufacturer will offer their education courses on site at a local chapter of the professional such as the American Society for Interior Design (ASID), or Construction Specification Institute (CSI), or the American Institute of Architects (AIA). And like the associations, the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program: planning and performance projection. If the product manufacturer offers education to professionals they are likely to have commitment and support of senior management. Based upon how the product manufacturer do an education needs assessment and analysis, that results will greatly determine the actual education product that they deliver.

The product manufacturer should plan their short term education goals at a minimum of two to three years. Creating, changing or adjusting education programs in today’s economy will take at least 2 – 3 years before you begin to see the serious results programmatically or financially. Since the product manufacturer will incorporate sales projections into their goals, they should include additional time to what would be considered short term return on investment (ROI). Product manufacturers such as CertainTeed, USG, and Custom Building Products offer excellent examples of how developing comprehensive quality education programs built around the needs of the professionals they serve also helped the companies achieve sales objectives. These three companies designed courses based upon needs assessments that helped professionals understand the right product to use and under the right conditions to reach the maximum results. Better installation of products equated to more satisfied customers. Each of these companies created multiple interrelated courses which evolved into a comprehensive, award winning education program. These companies built in a continuing process and a system that provided them with the flexibility and ability to make course adjustments over the years.

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