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School's out: how investing in teaching tech can boost both profits and franchisees' skills

Written by Eric Johansson on Wednesday, 10 August 2016. Posted in Technology

With e-learning, franchisors can ensure great service without employees ever having to step into a class room

School's out: how investing in teaching tech can boost both profits and franchisees' skills

Successful franchisors are no stranger to rapid expansion. Yet training franchisees and employees to deliver consistently high levels of service throughout a network becomes trickier as they get further away from the head office. Fortunately technology can supply the ideal solution: e-learning. “Digital learning enables you to support a dispersed workforce much more easily than traditional methods,” says Andy Lancaster, head of learning and development content at the CIPD, the professional association for HR management professionals.

But franchises are not the only companies turning to tech to enhance employees’ knowledge; according to the CIPD, 88% of public companies have invested in e-learning. “More companies want to enable staff to learn what they need exactly when they need it,” comments Lancaster.

However, don’t slash your offline learning sessions just yet. According to Lancaster, some subjects are much more suitable for e-learning than others. “You must ensure digital learning is the most appropriate way of teaching,” he says. “For instance, things like cultural change, behaviours and attitude training are better supported with face-to-face interactions.”

Additionally, there are some serious security issues surrounding e-learning. Restricting access solely to the office means employees cannot study during commutes or at home and because of this many organisations require staff to circumvent their firewalls to access the courses, opening the business up to hack attacks. “So you got to consider the security issues if you are enabling that,” says Lancaster.

So, in light of these perks and pitfalls, how are franchises getting the most out of their teaching tech?

Setting the standard

Puddle Ducks, the national children’s swimming lesson franchise, has certainly made a splash in recent years. In the decade since Jo Stone and Tracy Townend launched the company, Puddle Ducks has acquired 33 franchisees and now employs over 250 swimming teachers across the UK. However, like any business presiding over that kind of expansion they faced the dilemma of how to maintain a consistently high standard. “Obviously, it is very hard to train every franchisee at the head office because they’re based all over the country,” says Stone.

The franchise’s solution was to call on iflourish, the e-learning developer, for assistance. It created a platform with over 300 hours of training, offering franchisees detailed lessons on how to recruit and retain staff and providing teachers resources like video walkthroughs on how to perform different exercises. Additionally, new recruits can also access information like Puddle Ducks’ history, values and mission statement through the platform, which communicates something that is usually far more intangible. “It helps keep our culture alive,” says Stone.

However, enlisting a developer like iflourish is not cheap: running the platform costs Puddle Ducks between £3,000 and £5,000 a year. “But overall it actually reduces costs as people don’t have to travel to the head office as much,” says Stone. And with the overwhelmingly positive response it has received from both franchisees and teachers, the debate over whether or not the investment was worth it is no contest. “They think it is absolutely amazing,” concludes Stone.

At arm’s length

With about 300 franchisees, ServiceMaster is undoubtedly a leading British franchisor. However, managing a portfolio of franchise brands that includes ServiceMaster Clean, Merry Maids, TruGreen and Furniture Medic doesn’t come without challenges. Upskilling employees has become trickier as the company has grown, in part because staff aren’t always immediately on hand. “We have a lot of remote staff, guys who are on the road all of the time,” says David Burton, the franchise’s PR and communications executive.

For this reason, ServiceMaster has invested in a new e-learning platform developed by Croner, the HR solutions experts, that holds courses in anti-bribery, data protection and health and safety. “They can do it wherever they are, whether that’s in South Hampton or Leicester,” says Burton.

App it up

Bluebird Care, the homecare franchise, is no stranger to using technology to improve employees’ working experience and e-learning definitely forms a part of this. In fact, Bluebird Care’s teaching tech has previously won the Skillsoft Inspire Award. Now the franchise is taking the concept one step further by developing a handbook app offering staff continuous e-learning. “We wanted something our staff would really appreciate, enjoy and use more than the paper-based handbook everyone gets at the beginning but that just ends up gathering dust,” says Fiona Williams, the company’s director of operations.

Once the app goes live in October, carers will be able to instantly look up procedures and policies both in the field and when studying at home. “If they are looking at hand-washing techniques, they can use the app to find short, sharp information,” she explains. Those handy pointers will be accessible in a variety of forms, ranging from text to short video clips. “We recognise that our staff all have different learning skills,” says Williams. “Some of us learn best from visual materials, others from audio and some from reading. So it’s important to have that blended approach to learning and self-development.”

To ensure Bluebird Care’s employees will chirp the praises of the app, it has involved them in its development. Ultimately, for any franchisor to successfully implement e-learning, it has to be relevant to the employees. “You have to embrace your employees’ views,” concludes Williams.

About the Author

Eric Johansson

As feature writer and resident Viking, Eric ensures EF is filled with engaging and eclectic entrepreneurial stories. While one of our freshest faces, he has sharpened his editorial teeth by writing about business, entertainment and fitness.

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