Welcome to Training Management & COVID-19: Solutions for the Coronavirus Pandemic - a series of interviews with enterprise training leaders from around the world who are adapting the way they work. They'll share some of the scenarios they're facing, identity best practices, what's working and what's not, and we're hopefully going to laugh a lot along the way as well.
My name is John Peebles, CEO of Administrate, and today I have Julia Rosenthal from TÜV SÜD in Germany on the line. TÜV SÜD runs a growing and global training operation that includes countries like Italy, which has sadly been hit hard by the coronavirus.
We talk about how her and her team have managed significant changes to their training operations in the wake of Europe grappling with the spread of the disease, the steps they took to prepare of the inevitable shutdown of their training centers, and how they are providing their instructors with unique ways to still engage with learners.
Before you pop in your earbuds, be sure to subscribe to our blog to stay connected for future episodes. We’ll be publishing part four of our series next week!
All the best to you and your team as you navigate these rapidly changing times.
CEO of Administrate
[Listen time: 21 minutes]
John Peebles: Welcome, Julia. Really glad to be interviewing and talking to you today. Why don't you introduce yourself and your company and your role and a little bit about what you do?
Julia Rosenthal: Okay. Thank you very much. So my name is Julia Rosenthal. I'm working for the TÜV SÜD Academy. Our main business is the educational business for companies, so for adults and the management and also on the technical area. And I'm working for the business unit and the business development. And the main project I'm working on since one and a half years ago is the Digital Academy, so, basically, to be able to provide digital training to our customers.
John: Great. And this Digital Academy was, fairly, well-timed, wasn't it, for the challenges that we're going through right now today?
Julia: Yes. Absolutely. So, basically, this was a great ground to build up from, because over the last one and a half years, we, basically, created an infrastructure in about ten countries and implemented Administrate to be able to have the platform set up which held a training management system but also learning management system. So that was a very great help at this point.
John: Sure. And how is the COVID-19 crisis been affecting TÜV SÜD? And just for our listeners, if you'd never heard of TÜV SÜD, it's a very large German multi-national that had all kinds of lines of business. But training is a really important one of them, isn't it?
Julia: Yes. If you ask me, working for the Academy, of course, it is. Yes. So, basically, TÜV SÜD is a company with more than 25,000 people. The Academy has round about 500 employees worldwide. Yes. And we are spread all over the countries between Singapore, India, Italy, the US, Germany, and many many countries more.
John: So you mentioned Italy in that list of countries which has, obviously, and, sadly, been really affected earlier than many Western European countries. What's it been like on the ground there? And how has that impacted your training operations? And what are some of the challenges and successes that you've had through this situation?
Julia: Yes. So, basically, Italy were the first ones who really had to shut down their complete business. Basically, they had to close all their training centers. It's the same all over the world, by the way, now, for all of our Academies. But Italy were the first ones. So they stopped the classroom training, approximately two weeks ago. And they needed to get to change our really successful classroom training into digital live online training immediately. So, basically, that's what they were thinking about, to really come up with the solutions to somehow be able to offer something to our customers.
And, yes, as I said, we are very successful. And our customers really know us for classroom training. We do have eLearning available and all these kinds of things. But really, the main part of our training business is still classroom training. So the big challenge for all of us is, now, to really turn those classroom training into, for example, live online sessions. Because for the next, at least four weeks, we definitely, have to shut down our training centers. And we assume that it will be even longer.
And Italy started, basically. And we also have Germany and the US. So we shut down Germany last week and started live online sessions this week. And in the US, the US is a little bit behind. So the US looks to the rest of the world. I estimate that they will be there, at
least, within the next two weeks as well.
So we can, basically, learn from each other what have the Italians done. And we have set up also a task force team in Germany, because the biggest Academy is, definitely, in Germany. We have more than 400 employees. And we do have a lot of knowledge because we have many central services like product management, media management which is really responsible for new, digital variations of training like VR classes or online training, webinars, and all these kind of things. And we, now, try to set up a guideline for everyone who can, basically, participate. And we set up also a big exchange in between all the countries to really learn from each other. And I think that's also a good side of the crisis that we just need to do things and overcome, possibly, certain obstacles. And that we learn very fast and quickly from each other. And everybody's really willing to share to really secure, basically, our jobs as well.
John: Yes. That's interesting you mentioned that. So wonderful things, isn't it? If you're like me and I don't love lots and lots of process. And even though within Administrate, a very much smaller company, all of the process barriers have seemed to melt away over the last couple of weeks as people are like, "We just need to get stuff done." So that's been one positive for us anyway.
Julia: Yes. Yes. I think it's the same everywhere. And that's really what's good in a crisis. You need to overcome those things. And that's what I, actually, really like. So in every crisis, there's also something good.
John: That and you can wear pajamas at home while you're working all day. You know?
Julia: Yes. That's true. That's true. And that's a good thing. At least, in Germany, we have started like a test or a pilot project one and a half years ago which was called a Mobile Day that
every employee was able to work a day from home. And this was, now, also very helpful, because it was easy to send everyone home. So, basically, everyone in the Academy is working now from home.
John: Yes. I really love that. I mean, that's something that we really like to talk about with different modalities of training and different ways of working, because you just never know, right? Yes. Maybe, eLearning isn't your core business. At least, try it out. Try one course or a series of events that are eLearning based. Because you might, one day, have to switch everything. Who knows? Maybe your office floods. It doesn't have to be a global pandemic. And I think that this idea of testing something, so people are less afraid of it when it actually happens, it's a really good one.
Julia: Yes. Yes. That's something where we really learned from and which, now, easy ups our life or, at least, our boss' life that everybody is able to work from home easily or most of them. Yes.
Also, we try to build up the internal relationship to our other legal entities. As I said, we have really really many many businesses, especially technical testing businesses with more than 25,000 people. And they had also to shut down most of their businesses. So now, we came up with a concept of involving all these colleagues who are now sitting at home, basically. They are really subject-matter experts. And now, we try to get them to develop training content and try to enable them how to do these kind of things. Yes. And just work altogether to set up this business in the best way.
John: Well, that's great. So if a couple of weeks ago, I would, normally, show up to a TÜV SÜD training center and deliver a class but, maybe, today, I'm doing it. Are you doing these training from your central campus, still, or the training centers? Or did they--
John: -- they set up a webcam at home? Or how does that work? Walk me through that.
Julia: Yes. So, basically, at the moment, we really ask our trainers to set cameras up at home. So, basically, we used the last days of open media shops to really get them to buy cameras and equipment. And, now, they are really doing this from home. Some of the trainers are already experienced in that kind of training. And that is also very helpful. But we really ask them to do that from home.
We also have a studio built within the Academy in Munich, in our headquarters three years ago. But it's, basically, like a TV studio where we are able to have live sessions, broadcasts, videos, films, and so on. But we can also record there. So if the time is getting a bit better, we also use this studio to have really high-quality stuff on going there. But so far, it's more from home.
John: Yes. Great. And you, effectively, just took your existing class schedule and existing materials and all that, that were within the existing infrastructure, and then just flipped the switch, if you will, to move all that into the live online, correct?
Julia: Yes. So, basically, we scanned what is coming up next, what is planned, and where do we have participants registered on. So, basically, yes, we talk to the customers and ask them, "Are you okay if we change this training into a live online session? Are you willing to test this together with us?"
And, yes. So most of the customers were very open to this. It really depends on the country. So in Italy and in Germany, they are very good in setting this up and taking this, basically, and testing it. And so far, they were happy, because
they were also sitting at home. And they were able to receive the training.
We also learned that not all of the countries are really willing to do that. So there are quite differences in nationalities and cultures, I guess.
John: Yes. It's really interesting, isn't it, because you even see just the different setups that we have with our team working in the Middle East, Europe, and America. And most of our American employees, they have a completely separate home-office room. But the flats and apartments are smaller in Europe and in the Middle East. And so working from home is kind of different, almost, even depending on your living situation geographically. So that's been something we've noticed as well.
Julia: Yes. Yes. Definitely.
John: So once the classes were moved online, and you have the instructors broadcasting from home, has anything changed about the way that you are looking at the data or how you're interacting with your students? Are you interacting a little bit more with them or less? I imagine most of the handouts and course materials are, relatively unchanged. But were there anythings that you noticed didn't translate super well to the live virtual classrooms? Or has it been pretty smooth?
Julia: So far, it has been pretty smooth. But we don't have too many experiences yet. So, in Italy, we know that some already had their training equipment. Or, for example, they are uploading materials to the LMS, for example. And yes, like in Germany, for example, we just started yesterday with the live online courses. So we heard yesterday that most of them are going really good. But we need to wait some more days to really see, "Okay, what are the experiences
from all the students?" But so far, we really use the equipment which we have, the materials, and the concept. And it's really a lot is relying on the trainer. So we, basically, created guidelines for the trainers on how to be a good online trainer, because it's really different to a real classroom trainer. We gave them some tips and so on. And we are also in very close contact to our customers at the moment, so before the training, during the training to really make sure that we don't lose them and to really make sure, yes, to ask them what they need, or if anything is missing about their experience.
John: Do you think that this has made the customer relationship better, because the customer sees that you're kind of going out of the realm of what was normal and meeting them where they are which is, in so many cases, now, locked down?
Julia: Yes. I think so. So I think if we have a look on the German training, I think we just have some of the training going on live at the moment. So I think in those training, the customers are really satisfied and are happy that we do test those kind of things.
We also have, for example, customers where we set up digital meetings which would have been a face-to-face meeting beforehand. So they're really willing. And I have the experience that if you talk very openly with your customers and try to develop things together and to really say, "Look. We are in the beginning of the development. And we are happy to learn from you. You are happy to learn from us. So it's, basically, a win-win situation." And I think this brings us to great collaboration. And I think this model is always very helpful.
John: Yes. I, totally, agree. I'm wondering, too, if there's an opportunity for training companies out there? Maybe not for TÜV SÜD per se, but if you convert your product offering online and all those some of these classes are available live and online. You might have customers who will go through the process and say, "That was really great," perhaps you could even take over some of the internal training that the customer used to do themselves that, maybe, they can't do at this moment, because you have the infrastructure there.
Julia: Probably. Probably.
John: So if I'm sitting at home, probably, at home these days and I'm listening to this, it sounds like TÜV SÜD just made some really smart investments from testing out people working from home and investments in the infrastructure that you have. But, maybe, I don't have these things at my disposal. What's your advice for kind of how to plan and get this infrastructure implemented? What was that like? Was that a difficult, long process? Maybe if you walk us through, because it sounds like everything is super well set up.
Julia: Yes. So I mean we were really lucky that we decided, basically, two years ago when we decided to have a digital academy project set up around the globe that was, now, really helpful. But it's also to really have the colleagues on board all around the world to really distribute the knowledge about how you can, actually, work with the system and also work with digital pods. So for most of the countries, if you would have asked them one and a half years ago, they wouldn't have known about TMS, LMS, WebTraps, and so on in specifics. So that was really helpful now, because the whole infrastructure is, basically, set up.
And we can just, we created, for example, a guideline last week for all the countries on how to change their classroom training, technically, also within TMS and LMS into a live online session. And if you have like a central team which is taking care of things like that as well, it's very helpful for a bigger infrastructure if you have more than one country or more than one city where you have an own instance for example.
John: Yes. And that's something that you've done very well, I think, which is you have a global operation. But you have, specifically, configured instances of your infrastructure in each country or each region that makes sense for your business so that they still have that autonomy while there is a high level of standardization at the same time, right?
Julia: Yes. Yes. That's exactly what our aim was.
John: Well, any other challenges or things that have gone really well that you'd like to share?
Julia: Yes. I think the biggest challenge is just how to do it. And it's really learning from each other, exchanging experiences, and just doing the things, just trying out, trial and error. So that's always a good thing to do.
John: Yes. The faster you can try something out and fail; then you're one step closer to success.
Julia: Yes. I think one of our managers said, "In these times, speed beats perfection." And I think that's really a nice saying, because it's, absolutely, what we need to do to stay relevant on the market.
John: That's somewhat amazing coming from a German, I would assume, because there's this stereotype that you Germans just want perfection at low cost at all time.
Julia: Yes. And that's why I said earlier that we need to, now, we have to overcome some obstacles, because we are brilliant and
putting obstacles in our own way just to be perfect at the end. And that's what we've now need to get rid of.
John: It's great insight, Julia. And I really appreciate you taking a time with us. I know you're super busy. You got a lot going on. And, hopefully, when this is all done, we can share beer together at Munich. Or you can come over and say hi to us in Edinburgh. And make sure you stay safe. Everyone here at Administrate is rooting for you, guys. And we can't wait to see through the end of this whole crisis.
Julia: Yes. Thank you very much also for the opportunity to have this interview. That's also great insight for us. And, yes, all the best for you, guys, for your team. And stay healthy altogether.
Julia: I'm looking forward to the beer.
John: Yes. And wash those hands.
Julia: Yes, of course. Right.
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Listen to more in the series:
Training Management & COVID-19: Solutions for the Coronavirus Pandemic - Part one
Training Management & COVID-19: Solutions for the Coronavirus Pandemic - Part two