E-learning solutions need not be expensive or sophisticated to be effective. HR Leader looks at how The Laminex Group took a thrifty but successful approach to e-learning
The Laminex Group is a leading manufacturer
and distributor in the decorative surfaces and
wood panels industry. With six production
facilities in Australia and three in New Zealand, the
group has about 60 sales branches and employs a
total of 2300 people across the two countries.
To assist in meeting business needs and com
pliance requirements, The Laminex Group
designed and developed an engaging e-learning
program called SkillsPlus, which consists of more
than 100 specific learning programs. While some
courses are mandatory, most are voluntary and
more than 400 courses per month are completed
on average, according to the company’s national
human resources manager, Mark Walter.
Courses include a number of workplace projects
as well as opportunities to gain exposure to other
parts of the business, and he says employees can
also achieve nationally recognised qualifications
through a number of courses. “They have to com
plete a number of online units as well as five work-
based projects such as working safely, managing
their own time or working as part of a team – all
very practical projects. So employees can get a Cer
tificate 3 or Certificate 4, depending upon what
job they work in and which state,” he explains.
Walter and his HR team have focused strongly
on using internal expertise and customising the
program, which is based on Lectora’s e-learning
platform, to meet the needs of the business. “A lot
of businesses use flashy hi-tech expensive online
learning, but we don’t. We use our own videos and
our own photos, we keep the language really sim
ple, take out all the educational jargon and really
focus on trying to connect and engage with people.
Off the shelf, you simply can’t find that and it does
n’t matter what a consultant tells you – they just
don’t know your people and business,” he asserts.
E-learning in action
The most popular e-learning module within The
Laminex Group is the manual handling program,
and Walter says this is a good example of the com
pany’s unorthodox but highly effective approach
to e-learning. “We use pictures and videos to
engage people and their emotions,” he explains.
“One of the videos is called ‘child’s play’, which
shows a couple of little kids in a foundry, dressed
in all the right gear. They’re perfectly safe, and they
look like they’re working here, lifting and bending
and twisting – all the key things people should be
doing correctly when it comes to safe manual han
dling. Everybody loves this video and it makes the
point very firmly that if kids can do things right,
why don’t we?”
Walter and his HR team work closely with other
parts of the business to help inform and engage
employees with the business and its initiatives
through the SkillsPlus program. In addition to the
safety manager, Walter often works with market
ing in using the e-learning solution to communicate
internally with staff. “They might give us a Pow
erPoint presentation with 10 points of informa
tion; we’ll take eight of those out and boil it down
to the basics,” he says.
“We simplify the language, use lots of photos
and include a simple 30-second video of the prod
uct manager saying: ‘This is me, this is what I do,
would you please do this, and this is why it’s
important for the business’ and end with ‘thanks
very much, any questions give me a call’. So we
focus on simplicity, understanding and connecting
More than half of the company’s employees have
achieved a nationally recognised qualification in
the past five years as a result of the SkillsPlus pro
gram, according to Walter. Given that the large
majority of courses are voluntary, Walter says the
“most important thing for me is that the anecdotal
feedback is very, very strong”.
In terms of the return on investment, he says it
is worth millions to the business: “We’ve done the
costings, so if you send 100 people to a three-hour
face-to-face course, taking into account travel,
course costs and time out, and compare that with
the same 100 people doing a 20-minute online
course, there’s a massive difference. We’ve saved
something like $4 million over the past 12 to 18
months,” he affirms.
The Laminex Group’s parent company, Fletcher
Building, is also looking at taking up the Skill
sPlus program. “We’re talking with our HR coun
terparts across the business, and they’re certainly
very interested in the possibility of adopting it.
We’ve refined the program, they get access to
nationally recognised qualifications and there’s
no charge, so there’s a lot of positives in it for
them,” Walter says.
Lessons in e-learning
Walter says the main learning lesson for him in
developing and refining SkillsPlus is that it takes
time. “I would have thought we’d have many more
units up by now and I thought it was much easier
to get good content,” he says.
“But it takes time to put things in simple terms.
It’s very different when you’ve got a whole-day
course where you can take time to pace yourself,
expand and explain the concepts and get your audi
ence to understand the content and get them
involved in it.
“When it comes to e-learning you’ve got to
be very, very disciplined and really ask your
self about every page: ‘Do I really need that?’
That’s probably been the key learning for us.
Online learning is not about text on screen, it
is about getting emotion as a result of what’s
on the screen.”
Walter’s advice for HR professionals consider
ing an e-learning solution is to avoid the bells and
whistles, and go for simple and effective. Getting
close to the audience and understanding what they
want is also important, because he says they will
voluntarily take the learning up if the content and
presentation are of interest to them.
“Put yourself in the audience’s shoes. There is
nothing worse than having to do compliance
training that is dead dull boring,” he says.
Top ten tips for e-learning success
1. Have a formal project kick-off
2. Start with the end in mind
3. Keep it simple
4. Take an "it's either done or it's not done" approach
5. Manage risks
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
7. Manage the subject matter experts
8. Don't forget prototypes and pilots
9. Don't be shackled by the plan
10. Watch your optimism