Interview with Matthew Stierwalt, Director of Training, Shape Corp.

Editor's Note: This interview was first run on the Human Resources IQ on 8/28/08.

Training and development is critical when onboarding new hires and leveraging the knowledge of existing employees. Organizations may utilize technology-assisted training such as e-Learning, which is designed to reach learners at a distance. At Shape Corp., a Tier One auto supplier in Grand Haven, MI, Matt Stierwalt, director of training and development, talks with e-BIM about how he weaved e-Learning and blended learning (a combination of face-to-face training with technology-assisted learning) into the training strategies, which helped transform the corporate university into a credit-awarding university.

What was your first job and what lessons did you take away from it? How have you applied those to your current role?

Growing up in a small town in Indiana didn’t leave a lot of options for employment; my first job was working as a grocery bagger for a local market. The more you empathized and entertained the customer, the more you were tipped. That job taught me a lot about meeting my customer demands and ensuring that not only the objectives are obtained, but ideally that the consumer had a good experience.

What do you see in the future of the learning and training industry?

As technology catches on and the iPhone paves the way for further media, I see mobile learning (mLearning) shaping the way we train diverse populations required to travel for their employment; mLearning offers the consumer an on-demand learning network available any place at any time. Imagine a sales person downloading the latest training on competitive advantages and how to position a brand new product prior to boarding a three-hour plane trip to Cincinnati and then arriving on the ground with all the knowledge necessary to offer the best opportunity for success.

What frustrates you the most when it comes to training? How do you deal with those frustrations in the office?

I have become more and more frustrated with the number of personnel who work in our profession and present themselves very well but lack knowledge of how they are affecting business objectives and impacting the business in hard, defendable data. A colleague of mine once made the analogy that these people are "a lot of icing and a little cake." In a field where we are constantly battling for respect and to be seen as a business partner we cannot afford to take a single step back. While we deal in intangibles, those intangibles are still assets and can be measured.

The "icing people" are usually very self-conscious and want to be viewed in a favorable light. Once shown the right way, or a better way, these personnel react in one of two manners: either they adopt the new behavior or they become defensive. Addressing the issue is the only way to manage this problem but at the same time this must be done with tact and taste; how do you tell someone that he looks and sounds the part but has no idea what he's doing and he's in over his head?

What are your opinions on blended learning and how have you incorporated it into your learning program?

Blended learning is an excellent solution for training that requires prerequisite knowledge. We utilize blended learning to ensure the incumbent has captured the knowledge prior to moving into demonstration, practice and performance testing. This works especially well for learning, which must meet regulatory requirements of knowledge and performance, like Powered Industrial Truck training, which must meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements.

What did you find to be the most difficult task when implementing e-Learning into your organization and why?

Like every other important business decision, cost was a barrier that had to be overcome through hard data. Stating that training would be more accessible and travel would be limited to maximize time on the job was not enough, and for good reason. How do we know that they are spending more time on the job and not taking equally as long to take Web-based training (WBT)? How do we know that if they are getting done earlier they are doing value added work with their extra time? How can we determine if actual productivity increased and the labor efficiency has improved? These were all questions that had to be answered with data to prove a return on investment (ROI) and cost savings to the CEO prior to investing in a learning management system (LMS) and learning content management system (LCMS).

How do you spend your free time?

As the organization I work for continues to launch international endeavors and open plants overseas that require skilled labor with a way to train that labor in-house, free time is becoming more and more of a commodity. When I’m not at my desk at work I like to keep active and can be found at the gym, hiking, camping or picking out a remote location for the greatest of all American experiences, a road trip.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years both professionally and personally?

Professionally, I see me making the shift from employee and organizational development into a role that is more focused toward leveraging human capital for business initiatives, like human resources. Personally, I like to think in 10 years I’ll still be fighting the good fight and proving the value of human capital development in my organization, at conferences and through published works.

Interview by Katherine Mehr