1006 HR Magazine: Certified Success

By Drew Robb Oct 1, 2006

HR Magazine, October 2006

Technology can help employers track and manage employee certification and certification-related training.

Organizations that rely on a specialized workforce must recruit and retain individuals with licenses and certifications. Keeping and training these high-skilled, professionally certified employees can give these organizations a competitive advantage. But knowing which employees hold a required certification or license, and who needs what training to keep those credentials, can be a logistical headache.

"One of the key challenges is being able to warehouse the certification in one main repository so the organization has one common place to go to produce reporting against certification," says Liviu Dedes, senior director of organization and leadership development at Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., whose 240,000 employees provide food and beverage services at sports arenas, convention centers, colleges and businesses. "This includes the criteria and all the components that make up the certification as well as the final certification itself."

To make the job easier, a growing number of software tools are now available to automate the certification tracking and reporting process and to provide training courses needed to maintain or upgrade certification.

Certifications are important in many fields because they demonstrate that an employee meets minimum standards, giving businesses the benefits of a better-skilled workforce and leveraging the value of the employee's qualifications.

Industry and vendor certifications cover professions ranging from accountants to vocational therapists to security guards. In addition, some professions, such as nurses and teachers, require their own specialty training that affects the duties they can perform. Licenses for specific skills, such as driving a truck or carrying a concealed weapon, also may be required for certain types of jobs.

To be effective, businesses need to centrally track and monitor all these data.

Avoiding Penalties, Boosting Profits

The reasons an organization would need to track certifications generally fall into two broad categories. The first reason is that certification records can come into play in a wide variety of legal and compliance areas. In some cases, demonstrating that its employees have necessary certifications can reduce a company's insurance costs.

"If certification is tied to insurance or regulations, it will cost an organization money if it is not in compliance," explains Robert Gadd, president of learning and performance management firm OnPoint Digital in Savannah, Ga.

"Because we are a beer distributor, we have many things that we have to track to maintain compliance with government regulations," says Michelle Stokes, PHR, human resources coordinator for Del Papa Distributing Co. in Galveston, Texas. Before automating its certification tracking process in January 2005, the company maintained training records in manual spreadsheets and in Microsoft Access databases. "This caused inefficiencies in data entry. Plus, keeping track of things when they were about to expire was difficult."

In his current position at Aramark, Dedes monitors certification related to handling liquids for the company's food and beverage services. "Many states require that servers undergo a certain level of training before being allowed to serve our customers alcohol," Dedes continues. "That is also audited by the state, and we have to prove our employees have been trained."

In his former job as director of training and development for Pep Boys, a Philadelphia-based automotive parts retailer and service chain, Dedes tracked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification of all the employees who handled air-conditioning refrigerant gases. "That would be periodically audited by the EPA, and we would have to produce the licenses," he explains.

The second reason for tracking and managing employee certifications is to drive business productivity and profitability. Companies that use sophisticated technology to manage the certification process often gain a business advantage.

For example, TSE Industries Inc., a custom rubber and plastics manufacturer in Clearwater, Fla., deploys technology to monitor its own International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification, track course completion and produce management reports.

"Supervisors appreciate being able to run reports of completed training and training due," says Michelle Hintz-Prange, PHR, TSE's human resource manager. "Quality Assurance appreciates being able to run reports of completed training during an internal or ISO audit, rather than sorting through paper files."

Similarly, automotive retailer Lithia Motors Inc., with 6,000 employees at 100 stores in 13 states, uses OnPoint's software to monitor employees' certification status and track training requirements. The company is currently developing a new training program for its automotive technicians.

"We are expanding to a five-tier program for certifying technicians and using it in conjunction with online training from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence," says Jennifer Higgins, PHR, systems development manager at the company's Medford, Ore., headquarters. The company is also working to tie its certification software into its compensation process to develop different pay scales based on the certification levels.

Choosing the Right Solution

While larger enterprises have long had the capacity to track employees' certification status, new tools are bringing these resources to smaller companies. "The Fortune 500 companies have already figured out how to do this," says Gadd. "We primarily service middle-market customers, helping them replace their manual-based systems with automated ones for the first time."

Generally, the tracking is not done with stand-alone software but as part of a function of an enterprise resource planning (ERP), human resource management system (HRMS), human resource information system (HRIS) or learning management system (LMS) package. The decision on what to use for tracking depends on a business's broader management considerations.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution," says Gadd. "We help customers integrate the software with other systems."

Some solutions are set up for specific types of workers. The medical profession, for example, has several niche products designed for tracking different types of health care workers. One is CETrac software, from Professional Data Services of Hutchinson, Kan., which is geared toward physician certification and includes information on how many hours of continuing education the physician needs, what hospitals and managed care plans the individual is affiliated with, and the individual's liability insurance history.

While a hospital might use CETrac to keep tabs on the certification status of its physicians, it would need something like the Nightingale system from Annapolis, Md.-based Visual Advance Systems Technology Inc. for its nurses. Nightingale tracks employees' licenses and matches specialty certification in areas such as critical care with the hospital's scheduling needs by bringing relevant data into a common database.

Automating And Information Sharing

Some systems that track certification also provide employee access to training modules and testing as well as management access to information about the level of an employee's competencies.

For instance, Pep Boys conducts certification-related training and testing of employees via its LMS, which allows employees to log in and take online training on their own schedule. Once employees have passed an online test, the data are transferred to a data warehouse, which then feeds into the HRMS. Managers can access the data in the HR system through the manager self-service portal.

"Supervisors have immediate access to the level of training or certification within their team and are able to quickly create an action plan to bring that level to whatever the norm is," says Dedes.

Gloria Hoffman, a certified payroll professional, manager of HRIS/payroll and HR business partner for Medica Health Plans, Minnesota's largest preferred provider organization with 1.3 million members, tracks employee certifications in Wayland, Mass.-based Softscape Inc.'s Apex Human Capital Management system.

"We have online job profiles that allow us to identify what skills, licenses, certifications, etc., are needed for the job," says Hoffman. This is tied into the performance management and succession planning modules, she adds, to improve efficiency.

"Employees can update their skills in their talent profile when it is convenient for them," she says. The software allows managers to view the talent profile in a resume-style format.

Centralizing training and certification data gives companies a way to analyze costs related to employee certification and provides HR with a basis for strategic workforce planning.

For instance, at Del Papa, HR tracks various employee certifications, including certification for forklift and pallet jack operation, first aid, and computer training. "We are able to determine things like how much money we have spent in training, how many hours an employee has trained that year, and how much they need to do before they can be promoted to the next-level position," says Stokes. "We are able to share these reports with the employee so he or she knows what is expected of them, and also share them with the employee's team builder."

Stokes also has set up automatic alerts that notify supervisors when a required license or certification is about to expire. Employees get reminders about requirements such as physicals being due or beer agents' licenses expiring.

"HR now has so much information at its fingertips, we're able to do our jobs better and help our internal customers faster and easier," she says. "In the end, the employees and supervisors are happier because we are able to give them information immediately instead of having to get back with them later in the day or even the next day."

Drew Robb is a California-based writer who specializes in technology, engineering and business.


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