States have consistently struggled to provide efficient and cost-effective training for their employees. Caught between the need to keep employee skills up-to-date and an obligation to hold travel and other associated costs to a minimum, they've often failed to provide the training their workers need to keep up with their private-sector counterparts. However, that may be changing.

Using Internet technology, Florida and Oregon are providing higher-quality training to their employees while reducing expenses and the need for travel. What they've discovered is that, with the right tools, they can bring training straight to their employees' desktops.

Training Direct

"We're trying to be a connection between providers of training and users of training," said Bill Lindner, secretary for the Florida Department of Management Services. Lindner heads a program called Training Direct, which acts as a virtual clearinghouse of training services and information for state employees.

Using the Web, Training Direct links government users to various organizations that provide top-quality training, such as colleges and other training facilities or top consulting firms, such as EDS and Andersen Consulting.

While the majority of the classes are still held at a physical location, employees can enroll for most programs using the Internet. "Ultimately, the classes will all be distance learning, online courses," said Lindner, "but, at this point in time, we don't have nearly as much of that as we'd like. What we do have is a huge cost savings."

Prior to Training Direct, Florida spent approximately $20 million a year to train 140,000 to 150,000 employees, according to Lindner. At that time, nine employees staffed a training office to handle coordination and any questions related to employee training. By using the Web, the state is now able to provide the same high-quality training at a fraction of the cost. "The Training Direct application cost $50,000 to develop and only $10,000 to $15,000 year to maintain. The return on investment came in only one month," Lindner said.

In addition, the people who previously ran the training office spent a substantial amount of time explaining to employees why the printed catalog of training schedules was always wrong. "The catalog was printed twice a year, but by the time the ink hit the paper, schedules had already changed. Using the Web, we can keep everything current. That saves a lot of phone calls," said Lindner.

More Benefits

Another benefit to Training Direct is its ability to track an employee's training history. Since everything is done online, the Department of Management Services is now able to track what each employee has done, how much time they've spent training, how many dollars have been spent to train them, etc. "From an accountability point of view and from a training-justification point of view, this sort of information is invaluable," said Lindner.

The Florida Department of Management Services is currently working on a strategy to take Training Direct one step further by integrating it with another online program called Jobs Direct, which lists nearly 4,000 vacant state jobs and allows residents to apply for them electronically. Lindner plans to combine these two programs as part of an effort to better prepare workers for jobs they might aspire to but for which they might not be qualified. The idea is to allow workers to fill out a form indicating what job they'd like to pursue. From that form, the system will recognize their shortcomings, if there are any, and suggest the person link to the appropriate training programs prior to applying. "I think merging all that together is going to be a really powerful strategy," said Lindner.

With Training Direct, the only barrier to high-quality, affordable training for Florida state employees is a connection to the Internet. Currently, Lindner said approximately 35 percent of state employees have the connections needed to use Training Direct, and that number