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Rise of the middle men

first_imgE-commerceis changing the way people buy training. Online one-stop shops now offerinformation on a wide range of courses and materials. What are the benefits ofbuying training this way? By Sally O’ReillyAtleast four major new training brokers have been launched in the UK in the lastyear, each claiming to make sourcing and purchasing training faster and moreefficient. Butis this development really such good news for hard pressed training managers?Does the reality match the hype – and what differentiates these new companiesfrom one another?Atfirst sight, it seems that all are promising a very similar service. They actas brokers for training companies, record feedback from staff who have attendedcourses, enable companies to keep track of both spending and the trainingprogrammes of employees, and allow individuals to keep their own trainingrecords.Sofar, so good. But Paul Buckley, managing director of TrainingNet UK, says thatsourcing training on the Internet can only work to the customer’s advantage ifthe broker has a sufficiently comprehensive database. Hiscompany has an established record in the UK as the Graduate Group, set up 30years ago when a number of companies set up a database of management courses. Thisbecame the National Training Index, which has 2,000 UK training providers onits books, is used by more than 1,000 major employers including BritishAerospace, Ernst and Young and British AirwaysHardworkBuckleypoints out that maintaining this level of service is hard work, no matter what methodof access you are offering. “Updatingthe database is very time consuming,” he stresses. “Training organisationswon’t list their courses on your web site – you have to do the work yourself.We have a team of people who do nothing but collate literature, edit it anddownload it on to the system.”TrainingNet– which already has the largest selection of courses available in the US – isnow keen to dominate the UK online training market. Thecompany has raised more than $46m to do this, and has so far acquired both theGraduate Group and Trainers Village, a web site designed to give IT trainingproviders access to freelance staff. Buckley is expecting to offer UK customersan equivalent service to that available to US customers of TrainingNet by June.IfTrainingNet’s selling point is its established track record in the UK, newcomerbookacourse.com is trading on its specialist IT credentials.Managingdirector Aasim Khalid says he saw the need for such a service when he wasworking as a technical trainer himself.“Ifound that sourcing the right training at the right price was reallydifficult,” he says. “The solution was a new kind of middle man, playing on theside of the consumer.”Thecompany was launched in May, and spent around 18 months preparing the ground.Currently,bookacourse.com is working with some 85 partners and offering only IT training,but Khalid says it will shortly be diversifying into soft skills and otherareas. He shares Buckley’s view that taking short cuts won’t work.“Ittook time to get the technology right, and get the partnerships together,” hesays. “The idea is that consumers can find and compare courses. And we alsogive training managers the chance to set their own rate.”Customerscan specify the course they want, and price they want to pay – and see ifproviders can match their request.CredentialsMeanwhile,Anita Monteith, vertical markets director with worldoftraining.com, which waslaunched late last year, is keen to stress her firm’s solid trainingcredentials. Sheand her colleagues saw a gap in the UK market in which there are 30,000providers of training courses, but no simple way to make the right choice,particularly for people looking for courses not obviously linked to their job.ButMonteith believes that on-line brokers shouldn’t promise too much and thatdirect communication between companies and providers will still be necessary.“Iftraining providers are developing highly complex packages for companies, therehas to be a lot of discussion between the two sides,” she says.“Forinstance, I did some training for a bank which meant I had to spend two daysthere, looking at their accounting system. You can’t buy that off the Internet.In cases like that, we will offer an introduction service.”Sofar, worldoftraining.com has 100 providers who are either active or about to beincluded, and is in contact with a further 800.Trainingand development materials include courses, books, CDs, distance learningprogrammes and psychometric tests.“Weare very careful who we use,” says Monteith. “We have a company charter and weexpect people to abide by these terms. Anyone who puts their details on oursite has to give two references, and it is up to the training manager to checkthese out.”StringentTrainingintermediary Skillvest.com, which launched in January, takes an even morestringent approach. Thecompany won’t say how many providers are signed up to it, but stresses that itsaim is to offer a service to major companies which includes detailed courseinformation on carefully chosen providers, on-line learning and feedback andpost training follow up.“Ourtarget customers are large companies which don’t just want to go to a web siteto purchase training – they want a system which manages training for them,”says Barbara Jamison, European director of marketing and PR with Skillvest.comThecompany offers access to courses covering a broad range of skills, includingleadership, the law and languages.“Wehave concentrated on training companies who have done leading edge work,” saysJamison. “It is not helpful to training managers if they input a request forparticular type of course and get 50 different alternatives and then have to gothrough that themselves.”Jamison’sadvice is to find out as much as possible about these new players before takinga decision. Oncethat is accomplished, she believes that intermediaries like Skillvest can makeit easier for companies to build relationships with the right providers.“HRdepartments are functioning with fewer staff, and have less time to spend onlooking at a whole range of proposals,” she says. “Buttechnology like ours can help them focus their contact with providers, so theyknow they are speaking to the right people.” Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Rise of the middle menOn 1 Jun 2000 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more