Alsuper is a traditional supermarket chain in Northern Mexico, looking to provide its staff with efficient online training opportunities. This poses a great challenge, as there are currently over 11,000 Alsuper employees. In early 2017, it started an employee training program with 500 Blackboard Open LMS licenses. By the end of 2018, Alsuper aims to close off the year with nearly 6,000 licenses.
The first Alsuper supermarket opened its doors in January 1954 and was named Súper del Real Lerdo and Súper del Real Urueta. Several other store openings followed, as well as a discount store chain called Futurama in the 60s and 70s. The first store with the Alsuper concept was inaugurated in 1993 and, by 2010, the group had grown considerably all over Northern Mexico, becoming a multi-regional brand. Nowadays, Alsuper runs 67 stores in 3 states (Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila) with plans to expand into other Mexican states.
Judith Garza is the coordinator of Alsuper U, a program that was created four years ago to facilitate training courses for company staff, and which has grown substantially in the past few years. Judith and the rest of the Alsuper U team were tasked with implementing virtual courses to cover the needs of personnel, as the previous program was no longer providing satisfactory results. The online training model was launched in April 2017, with pilot tests designed to follow up on users’ platform and content adoption. Employee training activities are developed within the development area, and it was here that the idea to train all of Alsuper’s staff by providing information and certifications via an online platform – in this case, Blackboard Open LMS – was born.
Starting Point: Pilot Tests
The team at Alsuper U is currently developing a study program based on university curricula, but applied to retail stores. The project started in April 2017 with a certificate program in managerial skills, originally aimed for 161 employees comprising of regional managers, store managers and corporate managers. The online platform was designed to develop management skills through a six-module learning program, developing a weekly subject for a total of nine months. The certificate program was created in order to assess the platform’s operational and adaptability capacity, as well as to follow up on the employee experience of those taking the course. The final goal is to offer comprehensive training to every user – from store clerks to regional managers – in order to develop the company’s human capital. The platform also solves the issue of distance as Alsuper has a presence (and staff) across three Mexican states, with distribution centers from Mexico City to El Paso, Texas. Thus, it is paramount to have efficient and effective training programs.
Defining a Study Program: Relevance and Applicability
Course topics are built around the skills and capabilities that employees in every area must have, which, if properly honed, can have a positive impact on the company’s overall operations. Thus, courses on topics such as leadership, time management, persuasion or goal-setting, among many others including useful skills for managers, have a great potential to help all employees grow within the company.
Nonetheless, according to Judith most of Alsuper’s growth is in stores, which is why it is essential to train operational staff, as they represent the majority of the company’s personnel. It is also worth noting that Alsuper’s training program is in no way intended to replace a formal higher education, but to give employees a chance to improve their skills. This can benefit them both personally and professionally, while increasing the quality and effectiveness of Alsuper’s general operations.
The study program is created in such a way that each area within the stores (fruit, vegetables, groceries, meats, personal care, etc.) has their own specific certification module. To this end, the first task is to define each area or department needs and develop the modules according to relevance and employee position. For example, the Pharmacy Certification Module has been accessed by around 170 Alsuper clerks. Such specialized courses cover topics on sales, customer service, diverse specialized regulatory processes, and personal and leadership skills.
Implementing Blackboard Open LMS
The simplicity that the tools offer in design and content maintenance has allowed Alsuper U’s team to achieve the necessary scope and can reach many employees. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, Blackboard Open LMS tools allow individuals to manage their own time and complete the courses at their own pace without interfering with their work, all while adapting to new learning and technology usage models. For example, with the questionnaires, it is possible to assess one’s knowledge at the end of each module. In some cases, employees are asked to write a short essay to share how they apply their knowledge in their work environment. Lastly the discussion forums, which were the most challenging to implement initially as staff were not used to the type of interaction these require, now interact more. As more activities take place, staff members begin to get familiarized with the tool and begin having discussions with employees in different locations, generally participating and sharing their thoughts within a new working environment.
Tips for Online and Mass Training Courses
It is important to run pilot tests from the beginning, to assess your current status and your available resources and move forward accordingly. For example, the first pilot test conducted by Judith’s team consisted of 15 managers who provided valuable feedback about the content, the interface
and the general implementation of the modules. Thus, the feedback loop can grow and become stronger, as new versions of any given module can provide useful insights that can prove extremely beneficial down the line.
Nevertheless, it is very common to find resistance to implementation, particularly in a company like Alsuper with thousands of employees. Thus, it is essential to showcase the benefits that the contents and methodologies can bring to employees within the company. Once the benefits become apparent to them, processes become more fluid and courses can have a stronger impact on each individual’s professional development. In order to reach this goal and to provide employees with a more personalized experience along the way, a mentorship system was created. This system consists of more experienced staff members who can help those who are still studying a course or certificate program. Each mentor is instructed to follow up on 20 individuals and they must prepare weekly reports detailing if anyone is falling behind and come up with possible solutions to any problems that may arise.
What Lies Ahead?
Alongside the certificate program, Alsuper is developing an infrastructure project in all stores that will allow employees to access courses from their workplace, as many do not have Internet or computers at home. “There’s no point in purchasing the licenses if our staff can’t make the best use of them,” says Judith. According to Alsuper U’s team, this also means that as people learn to use certain tools, these skills are transferred to their daily lives, bringing up a completely new range of possibilities.
Thanks to the success of the program in such a short time, Alsuper U’s team intends to acquire 5,725 licenses by the end of 2018 to offer their courses, thus guaranteeing that half of their workforce will be able to enroll before the end of next year. This is a very ambitious leap, but one that can be validated by Judith and her team’s achievement with the successful pilot tests, hence why the senior management has supported the project so confidently. By 2019, growth is expected to continue, allowing more company employees timely access to training and quality content.
Judith Garza, Coordinator of Alsuper U
AFP Herika Martinez