Taking training online

By Sarah Stowe | 06 Nov 2015 View comments

In the highly competitive Australian franchise marketplace, often the deciding factor for potential franchisees, after system affordability and suitability, is the manner in which the franchisor provides initial and ongoing training.

Traditionally, franchise organisations offer new franchises a one to four week on-site, face-to-face and on-the-job training program. Depending on distances required to travel and living away from home expenses, this initial training cost can represent a major chunk of the franchise fee.

MindAtlas director Adam Wiser says that in the highly systemised franchise industry, training is essential, however there are more cost-effective and time efficient options available.

“By their very nature, franchises are systemised businesses and therefore consistency is key, from the way franchisees present themselves, their staff and their workplace, to the way they run every facet of the business. In an industry that’s so systemised, if training doesn’t follow suit then the system may not achieve the desired results.”

MindAtlas offers eLearning solutions, designed specifically to deliver measurable results to the franchise industry. The company’s franchise clients include brand names such as Clark Rubber, La Porchetta, Hairhouse Warehouse and Tyrepower.

It’s possible to combine eLearning with traditional training methods to provide a blended approach to training, as Wiser explains.

“We recognise that eLearning can’t replicate everything, but by assisting our client through a blended offering where a combination of training methods are delivered, we can ensure that all competencies within the training area are able to be demonstrated and applied in their job role, and that the results are measurable.

“For example a trainee may get 10 out of 10 online, but they need to be able to demonstrate that competency, so part of the module would involve the trainee completing a practical demonstration of the competency in a real, on-the-job environment.”

Serving up online training

Online learning is now an essential tool for both franchisee and franchisor, as highlighted by Natalie Brennan, national service and support manager, at FoodCo, the franchisor for Muffin Break, Dreamy Donuts and Jamaica Blue. For both partners in a franchise relationship, franchisee and franchisor, convenience and consistency are the overwhelming benefits to adopting e-learning as an integral part of the business.

If you consider the day to day demands of a franchisee in a retail food environment, fitting in traditional training (either for the franchisee or their staff) can get overlooked. So providing a learning facility that can be accessed at a time that suits the individual releases the pressure.

And for the franchisor, employing online communication for training improves efficiency, maintains consistency across the network and is easier to manage.

Says Brennan, “Instead of a million bits of paper, we can come online and it will all be there. Everything from banking, scheduling to cash sheets. It’s about being self-reliant. We’ve found it’s better and there’s more consistency.”

To achieve a nearly paperless world the FoodCo group uses an online system called World Manager and this provides the network of stores and management team with a way to communicate across the country.

How does it work in practice?

When a franchisee starts up in the FoodCo business, training is about learning immediate skills and business aptitude, profit and loss, cashflow and recruitment. The new franchisee has up to one week training in a store, then spends about 10 days in their own store with a field trainer on hand to guide them through the initial challenges of business ownership.

The intranet becomes a significant tool in keeping up to date with skills and information as the business grows.

Franchisees can access the World Manager from any web tool, ensuring all franchisees can stay well informed even if they don’t maintain their own web address, which, Brennan says, does happen. Once they have read a training session or communication they just tick a box; management teams monitor this and can follow up with a phone call to those franchisees who haven’t seen an essential communication. Some courses are compulsory to maintain minimum standards, otherwise franchisees are in default of their agreement.

The training elements are set up for specific roles and these are reflected in the program access levels. When a new member of staff joins a franchise, they have access to the appropriate information online. Some interactive elements replace an induction booklet for staff, and the franchisee can maintain a record of in-store training. For instance, competitions are run regularly to ensure staff are fully up to date with developments in the coffee side of the business.

Brennan believes it’s a great tool for working in a food retail environment that employs a lot of Gen Y staff because it acts as an easier and funkier notice board. “Franchisees now use it for rosters, messages and do all their reports online and can use it to check if staff haven’t checked the roster.”

Each brand has specialised information, whether that’s regarding product launches, promotions or in-store processes and performance. “Before this we wanted to launch products and found staff wouldn’t know about it. The biggest advantage now is direct access to franchisees’ staff. When we launch or communicate now we go to this 4,000 strong membership who can log in when they like. We’re finding we’re communicating more.”

Communication travels across the network too, not just from head office outwards. The program also includes a forum function for franchisees.

“It’s like their own Facebook and staff have their own too. We don’t have to intervene so much, they sort out their own problems,” Brennan explains. What’s good is the extensive reach of the support network that’s achieved by online communication. “It stops franchisees feeling isolated,” she adds.

Moving so much communication online does not, however, replace the phone, insists Brennan. Franchisees still call the support team for help. World Manager doesn’t replace physical trainers either but it allows for collation and organisation of material online. It stops endless emails too.

Right now the training is being mapped to accreditation, so franchisees and staff can do relevant level certificates of small business and hospitality.

There are higher level modules for franchisees and the company can keep adding to them.

So is it worth the investment and time to get installed? “It’s a direct link to all staff and it helps maintain the minimum standards,” says Brennan, who goes on to cite another indication of its efficacy: coffee sales have increased over the three years of its implementation.