Cable Training Faces Radical Change

Cable operators are working hard to keep up with the monumental changes that the industry is facing and, at the same time, position itself to take advantage of the new opportunities that present themselves on an almost daily basis. What it also is doing - albeit a bit more behind the scenes - is working hard to keep its workforce trained and educated.

The folks in charge of keeping the industry up to speed understand - perhaps better than most people - what they do and how they do it is shifting on a continual basis. "In this industry, things change faster than lightening," said Chris Whitaker, a group vice president and chief learning officer for Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC). "It is important to provide the most relevant content to front-line employees."

It is important to understand that the very trends that are making cable education more important are responsible for the great changes in how that teaching is conducted. These changes - described by Whitaker, SCTE CTO Daniel Howard, and Jones/NCTI Chief Product Officer Wayne Applehans - are all-encompassing.

They say training must be presented in a wider variety of formats that resonate with both millennials entering the workforce and older employees raised in a different era. It must be granular and modular so that it can be more easily mixed and matched with other content to present a customized learning experience. Content must be updated far more frequently as product cycles shrink. And of course, it must include far more video, be self-paced and mobile.

In short, the keys and best practices for training are being re-thought. Indeed, even the goals are different. Giving so much control to employees over their training provides them a far greater ability to influence something else: Where that training ultimately leads. Whitaker said the great expansion of the services that cable operators offer - from smart home to advanced commercial services and everything in between - combined with far more choice in training gives personnel far more control over the career path they take and how quickly they reach their goals.

There were two bits of news last week on the training front. Jones/NCTI introduced five broadband training and certification courses, and the SCTE unveiled its Corporate Alliance Program. The charter members of the program, which is geared toward training and education, are Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable and Suddenlink.

The new Jones/NCTI courses cover: competitive services; delivering video; delivering voice; delivering data; and retaining customers, the company says. Applehans said very close attention must be paid to how the courses are put together. Those intended for younger workers, for instance, may reduce the classroom element in favor of work in the field. The social element - discussing best practices and the real ins-and-outs of the job also are key. More senior executives may take on an organized mentoring role, Applehans said.

The granular nature of the courses that the company has put together enables fast creation of new learning materials, Applehans said. "For instance, if OSHA issues new regulations on ladder safety during icy conditions in the northeast, we can go in and modify the individual building blocks," he said. "We don't have to redo the entire course."

The SCTE's Corporate Alliance Program is an attempt to update the organization's chapter training. In the past, Howard said, these events featured presentations by vendors. While useful, there could be a mismatch with the precise needs of the workers. There also was a tendency for the sessions to devolve into product pitches. The new program, Howard said, "is a vehicle to align training in the chapters with the needs and desires of the major cable operators."

The Corporate Alliance makes the distinction between the largest operators that have their own "cable universities" and the smaller companies that do not and works to be relevant to both groups. It also features advanced content that is difficult, if not impossible, for even the big operators to teach.

Few people doubt the importance of training - and few people doubt that it is changing. The way in which training materials are put together, the best ways to approach employees and the content itself all are in transition. "It's the pace of change that has the biggest impact on training," Howard said. "When we deployed analog set-tops with a 7- to 10-year lifespan, you didn't have to update training that fast. With home automation, WiFi hotspots [and other developments], things are changing with exponential speed, and product cycles are 12 to 18 months. The training has to develop in a manner that is accelerated and agile."

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