Associated Engineering has served as one of Canada's leading multidiscipline consulting engineering firms for more than 70 years. Founded in Edmonton, the organization has grown to employ more than 1,000 staff members at 21 locations across the country.
Associated offers clients in Canada and worldwide a range of consulting services, including planning, project management, asset management, engineering, environmental science, and landscape architecture. Associated has been recognized as one of Canada's Best Managed Companies, and regularly receives awards for its work on planning, studies, assessments, design, construction, training, and operational assistance for both public and private sector clients.
While building a network of nearly two dozen offices across the country is a lofty achievement, it does not come without growing pains. Associated Engineering's staff is distributed across Canada, spanning four time zones and with its two farthest offices set nearly 3,300 miles (5,310 km) apart.
Even more varied than employee work locations are the skill sets they possess.
For Bill Moore, Technical Services Production Manager for Associated, the primary obstacle facing the organization - and the challenge that spurred them to investigate e-learning solutions - was aligning the skill sets of its drawing production, or CAD team.
"What we wanted to do was start to establish a benchmark skill set for our various design solutions, so that we can have confidence in knowing what we're delivering, regardless of which office is producing it, we're getting consistent results,” explained Moore.
Another driver toward e-learning was a desire to help employees understand Associated's corporate standards, governance, and best practices, and eliminate the siloed learning approach between the firm's locations.
Some employees had previously sought out training from local resources or training centers, which failed to provide in-context learning and left the firm with employee skill sets that varied by location.
"People were going and taking courses through local services providers, and from region to region, there was a variety in what was being taught," said Moore. "It was just very inconsistent, all over the place."
When Associated Engineering set out to find an e-learning system, the leadership team created a list of requirements that would make or break a prospective solution.
Among these was the ability for employees to access the system from anywhere without a VPN. Associated was also interested in a solution that came pre-loaded with content to support its drawing production needs.
Other items on Associated's wish list were the ability to gauge usage and other reporting statistics from the platform, host its own content, and appeal to more than 1,000 employees, each with a unique preferred learning style.
Team members’ willingness to adopt a new technology also played into Associated's search for an e-learning solution.
"Obviously, different people have different learning styles… so we weren't really sure how the adoption rate was going to be moving to a virtual, visual learning platform," said Moore. "That was our big concern – if we build it, will they come and use it?"
Associated considered developing its platform in-house, but ultimately found a solution that checked all the boxes: Pinnacle Series e-learning system from Eagle Point Software.
With Pinnacle Series, Associated Engineering introduced e-learning across its offices quickly - and without the additional burden of sourcing or developing training materials that would've been necessary had they created their own platform.
"If we hadn't gone with Pinnacle, I think we would've been faced with a significant investment in effort and development requirements to achieve what we were able to achieve quickly through the Pinnacle platform," said Moore. "Those were really the big advantages – that it was professional content, it was readily available to anyone from anywhere, and we were able to get it up and running very quickly."
Associated implemented Pinnacle Series along with KnowledgeSmart, a program that allows employees to take assessments and then receive training materials in Pinnacle related to topics where their skills could use some improvement.
"These two platforms, in cooperation with one another, have allowed us to develop a really robust skills evaluation program for our organization," Moore added.
Since first implementing Pinnacle Series, Associated Engineering has expanded its use of the platform beyond its initial drawing production needs to align employee skill sets across various disciplines. Pinnacle is now an integral part of the firm's daily operations and its hiring and onboarding process.
Onboarding new employees used to take nearly half the day and remove another employee from production to show the new hire where to find the firm's process and procedure resources. With Pinnacle Series, onboarding is as easy as logging in the new employee.
"Through Pinnacle, we're able to point them to these learning paths, and they can work through it without taking somebody out of production to sit with and orient them," said Moore. "Instead of being half a day, it's a few minutes of follow up after a new hire goes through the learning orientation."
As for Associated's initial concern about employee buy-in, Pinnacle has won over even the most skeptical staff members with it's easy-to-find, on-demand content.
"To be able to find a two-minute video on specifically what you're looking for has been really beneficial," said Moore. "The fact that Eagle Point has invested quite a bit of effort into optimizing the search has really proven to be a valuable asset for those staff who weren't sure at first, but have now come around and started to use Pinnacle more and more."
Pinnacle Series' business intelligence tools have also allowed Moore and his team to track how their employees use their training resources, no matter where they work.
Moore concluded, "That's valuable insight knowing that the material was made available and was actually consumed by the staff, which helps us develop robust programs with the confidence that it's going to be used and leveraged."