Focus on Workplace Training
Beyond Basic Training
As Fox Valley Technical College’s relationship with the Miles Kimball Company illustrates, creativity and a joint problem-solving approach are key elements of a successful training program.
Corporate training is not all flip charts and trays of donuts—just ask Barbara Uecker, a quality and training team leader at the call center of the Miles Kimball Company, an Oshkosh-based specialty catalog retailer. Without question, conveying information is important, says Uecker, who trains up to 350 new employees each fall for the company’s rush season. She adds, however, that you can’t forget humor and finding ways for employees to learn through activities. Uecker expanded her training skills over the past year in part due to train-the-trainer courses offered at Miles Kimball through Fox Valley Technical College.
“During one training, we had a snowball fight,” Uecker recalls. “We took all the issues we were having with preparing for our new computer system, wrote them on pieces of paper, and threw them at each other. After that, we said, ‘OK, now we’re going to address all these issues.’”
In short, releasing steam helped the employees learn more later. While snowball fights aren’t always the norm, finding creative ways to improve work skills and reinforce a company’s goals and objectives is an approach that guides FVTC’s custom training programs. Each year the College conducts hundreds of training sessions for companies ranging in size from small, local businesses to multinational organizations such as DuPont and IBM.
The relationship with Miles Kimball is long-standing and deep. “Miles Kimball has been a great friend to the college,” says Mary Frozena, FVTC’s associate director of business and industry services. Frozena notes that during 2007-08, more than 400 Miles Kimball employees will have received training through FVTC, in classes ranging from leadership skills to computing skills to courses on continuous process improvement and navigating change.
“Our programs align training with company needs,” she says. “Employees can use new or enhanced skills in their current jobs and down the line.”
The courses help Miles Kimball and its employees stay up to date on business processes, says Margie Harvey, the company’s vice president of human resources. “The entire leadership of Miles Kimball has a firm belief that life-long learning is a competitive advantage for us,” she notes. “FVTC works with so many different businesses that it helps us benchmark our performance and find best practices in other organizations.”
Sandy Szesterniak, a warehouse team leader at Miles Kimball, agrees. “Having a third party come in pulls the group together and provides a different perspective,” says Szesterniak, whose 15-person department handles returns and repacking of the 23,000 different Miles Kimball products. She has also taken several FVTC courses related to lean operations and improvement, a process designed to increase capacity, eliminate waste, shorten lead times, and improve quality.
Sandra Cortez, a quality assurance specialist in the Miles Kimball call center, has used the training sessions to build skills that have helped advance her career. She started at Miles Kimball five years ago as a call center representative, and recently has served as a backup trainer. “The advanced train-the-trainer course was a big eye-opener,” says Cortez. “It helped put me at ease when I have to step into the role of trainer.”
Because Miles Kimball’s workforce doubles each fall from about 700 workers to 1,500, workforce training is a “well-oiled machine around here,” says Harvey.
In addition to working with FVTC on training, Miles Kimball has partnered with the College to improve employment skills throughout northeastern Wisconsin. This spring, FVTC launched a contact center certificate program to train workers for that industry. Miles Kimball employees and executives also have shared their expertise with FVTC students through classroom speaking engagements and career fairs.
To learn how FVTC's Business & Industry Services can help your business work, call 920-735-2525.