Anton Cabral
Staff training is required in every company, for every job function, whether at store level or in the office environment at Head Office. This fact rings even truer in a retail environment.


Anton Cabral, managing executive at LRMG, says retail environments have unique training needs. “In most companies, a customer’s first point of contact is a receptionist or possibly a salesperson. However, when it comes to a retail environment, the customer’s first point of contact could be any number of staff in the store. And then there are those ‘less traditional’ customers who deal with your Head Office environment, whether from a distribution or merchandising aspect, or simply a store customer who contacts your Head Office to lodge a complaint. Another complicating factor in the retail environment is that staff turnover is high, meaning the number of learners who need to be trained is high as well.”

Cabral says the challenge is ensuring that customers have the same high-quality experience when dealing with any staff member. Mr Price Group understands this challenge possibly better than most. Cabral says while many retail organisations in South Africa still use the facilitator-led approach, selecting the right methodology is highly dependent on what you are trying to teach. “In the case of Mr Price Group, there was a need to teach a relatively large amount of information to a large number of people, and this made the cost of facilitator-led classroom interventions almost prohibitive.” One of the biggest challenges the Group faced with their existing training methodology was the capacity constraints to train learners en masse.

Other typical challenges included low staff motivation, a rapidly changing environment, little or no time available to spend in full-day training sessions, learners being geographically dispersed and difficulties with managing the reporting information.

Mr Price Group teamed up with LRMG in 2007 to revolutionise the Group’s training strategy. Cabral says over and above using traditional methods, for example, classroom sessions with paper-based learner and facilitator guides, a project was envisaged by Karen Wells from Mr Price Group, who opted to supplement their training strategy to include a more blended learning approach with e-learning being a core component.

The move towards more technology-based methodologies is typically introduced in various phases with each phase comprising an integral step towards moving to the next phase. “The move to include a self-directed e-learning methodology not only provides a higher reach but also cost benefits through economies of scale,” says Cabral. According to Rosenburg “it can take anywhere from 25 to 60 percent less time to convey the same amount of instruction or information as in a classroom.”

This reduced time leads to lower implementation costs as learners do not need to travel to central locations to participate or pay for venues, catering and time out of work; faster learning time as learners can learn at their own pace without social interaction time associated with traditional classroom interventions and improved engagement through interactive learning technology.

But what exactly is e-learning? Cabral says e-learning comprises all forms of electronically supported training. It offers a relatively affordable, vibrant and interactive learning platform that seeks to keep learners engaged throughout the learning intervention. Assessments and tests are built into e-learning programmes in order to assess how well learners are faring. These programmes are usually very user-friendly and most users, no matter their level of end-user computing, should be able to complete them with ease. Once the e-learning programmes have been built, they can be rolled out immediately and training can be easily prioritised. Users are given a sense of anonymity and there is uniformity in the overall training message.

One of the reasons programmes can effectively be taught through e-learning is their high theoretical nature. “In fact,” says Cabral, “when subjects of a highly theoretical nature are taught, e-learning can be even more effective than classroom training.” E-learning brings the promise of keeping the learner’s hands busy (mouse clicks and assessments) and keeping their eyes busy because theoretical concepts are presented with interesting and animated screens. Because of its anytime-anywhere convenience, learning can be paused and then picked up again later at the learner’s or manager’s discretion, and programmes are designed to be delivered in bite-sized chunks ensuring that learners do not become bored with the volume of work presented.

Cabral adds that it was also important to blend the e-learning with conventional face-to-face strategies in order to ensure that learning is applied and practised. Through the system, learners are requested to print an observation sheet that the managers complete and electronically sign off on the system. The supporting system also tracks information like completion time and status, assessment results for modular and programme assessments and the electronic sign off of observation. The system is front-ended by an electronic learner contract that allows managers to assign courses to learners in a contractual environment as this is a compliance requirement to maximise scorecard recognition.

According to Paulo Goelzer, chief learning officer and executive vice president of IGA International, research shows that adding an e-learning component to a store’s job training, mentoring or facilitator-led classroom intervention can significantly improve the store’s experiential training and employee performance. Cabral agrees, having seen the benefits with Mr Price Group.

“On an emotional level, e-learning meets adult learners at their own level particularly if you take into account how many retail employees are of school leaving age or at least in their early twenties,” says Cabral. “They are young adults who are excited to have entered the workplace. The last thing they want is to attend hour after hour of classroom lectures! This learning audience of Generation Y’ers – who have grown up embracing technology as a way of life – appreciate the modern, creative and succinct format in which e-learning can be delivered.”

Over the last four years, Mr Price Group’s learning methodology has moved from an extremely expensive effort into a modernised, up-to-date and more measurable e-learning effort. Focussing on specific successes, Cabral points out that from March 2008 to February 2011 over 40 000 programmes were completed with numerous hours spent on learning. Other successes included an increase in average cognitive gain, i.e. the difference between the pre- and post-assessment, high programme satisfaction ratings, rand savings when comparing money spent on traditional classroom to money spent on development. Lastly, Mr Price Group can claim against category D for the skills development dimension on its Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) scorecard.

“The mere nature of e-learning has enabled Mr Price Group to cast their training net ever wider, ensuring more and more staff members are brought on board and trained quickly,” he concludes.