Inter-Tel, the business communications provider, recently won recognition within its industry for achieving "Best Training Operation" at the Comms Channel Awards 2005. Stuart Clark, General Manager of the Inter-Tel Academy offers this insight into how he came to head up this award-winning division.
How did you come to work in training?
Pure chance. Initially, I was selected by the managing director of a previous company to carry out the role - I had no idea why. However, in hindsight I think it could well have been my methodical approach to business and natural aptitude when dealing with customers. Also, I have always been the type of person who feels obliged to give a comprehensive answer to even the smallest question. I think experience has a lot to do with it. I’ve been in the Telecommunications industry for 20 years and have always been hands on. That speaks volumes in a training situation and I find people are more likely to listen and respect what you are teaching them.
Describe your role.
I am in charge of "all things training" for Inter-Tel Europe. Inter-Tel manufactures business phone systems and we distribute them through a reseller network. As the general manager of the Academy at Inter-Tel it is my ultimate role to ensure that people who come on our training courses leave with the knowledge and expertise to not only successfully sell, install and maintain our products but also have a wider understanding of products and technology in the marketplace. My role also oversees the training we deliver to our own team of engineers.
What activities do you spend most of your time on?
That changes day-to-day, which is an aspect of the job that I love. With Inter-Tel's product range it is essential to keep ourselves up to date and constantly refresh our skills in line with the rapidly evolving nature of the technology. A typical two-week period could include six or seven days training from 9am until 6pm with two or three days spent preparing for a new course or indeed training my team on new technology. This obviously is not set in stone and can vary immensely from week to week.
Is training in your organisation mainly organised according to a strategic plan, or mainly arranged when a need has become evident?
It's both. The strategic plan is always answerable to Inter-Tel's product and this is the core day-to-day training that occurs at the Academy. However, as a result of the close relationship we have with our channel partners we are often required to tailor bespoke training, be it on a customer site or at the partner’s premises, to meet their specific requirements. This flexibility, I believe, sets us apart from other training providers.
Is any of your training accredited by external bodies?
Indeed. In fact we recently won an industry recognition award for implementing the Convergence Technology Professional (CTP) certification, for some of our more complex solutions. This type of approach to training standards not only affiliates Inter-Tel with one of the leading accreditations in the industry but also demonstrates our commitment to having the best-trained channel partners around. It means a lot to the end user customer if a reseller is able to demonstrate advanced skills and knowledge that go above and beyond that which is offered by other resellers. It’s a win-win situation.
Do you feel that training has a high enough profile in your organisation?
Yes I do. One of the phrases you will often hear our managing director Chris Harris say is "education, education, education". A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and that’s why we try to ensure anyone who passes through the Academy leaves with all they need. By giving the best training in the industry we help ourselves immensely, which everyone in the Inter-Tel Europe team acknowledges.
How do you demonstrate the value of your department to your organisation?
The value of the Academy is demonstrated in a number of ways. But the most telling indicator is the number of calls the customer service desk receives each day – as this reduces we know we are delivering thorough training. Somebody who is well trained is less likely to come back with problems and issues when installing complicated solutions.
That's why we strictly test at the end of each course to ensure quality.
What influences do you think have had the greatest impact on the training sector in recent years?
In my industry, telecommunications, it has to be the move away from simple voice telephony to the more sophisticated, applications led world of voice over Internet protocol and convergence technologies. Traditionally in the world of ICT, voice and data have been managed as two separate entities. But as these technologies have converged both data and voice people require more comprehensive skill sets.
How do you see your work changing or developing in the next few years?
Training is largely relative to changes in the market. And given the speed with which the telecommunications market is advancing I can only see the Academy getting busier as it supports new technology and new protocols. I can also see a greater role for us in supporting businesses make the most of technology advances to help them fall in line with regulation such as flexible working directives.