When a company develops a training program that is successful, it's not unusual for members of the training department to form a separate group to market and sell the program to other companies. It's unusual, however, when a company markets the program externally without forming a separate group, the way Florida Power Corp. has.
After developing an extensive, competency-based training program in the early 1980s, Florida Power, a utility based in St. Petersburg, Florida, came into prominence after winning two national training awards. What followed were calls from companies all over the U.S. and countries as far away as Australia and South Africa, wanting to know more about the program.
Walt Thurn, manager of employee development for Florida Power, would usually repond to these calls by sending out background information on the program or copies of the various magazine articles that had been written about it. Sometimes he would follow up with a phone call to answer any other questions the companies might have.
The calls continued, but now a new question was being asked: Would Florida Power be interested in selling its training services? It had never occurred to Thurn to do this, but when Freeport Power, a utility based in the Bahamas, was so serious about this proposition that it sent representives to Florida to look at its training facilities, he began to give this concept some serious thought.
Thurn was interested but knew his biggest obstacle would be presenting such an idea to upper management. How could he convince them to sell the competency-based training that Florida Power had spent thousands of dollars developing and implementing? Even more difficult was how would he convince them that it wouldn't interfere in the training of its own employees.
There was a time when Thurn wouldn't have even thought of approaching upper mangement with this sort of question, but a cultural change that had been taking place in the utility made it possible.
As a company, Florida Power was making an effort to become more efficient with its resources and set out to become one of the most cost-effective companies in the state. Thurn takes pride in proving that this was accomplished by comparing Florida Power to another major utility in the state. Both have about 1.4 million customers, but Florida Power has only 5,500 employees, whereas the other utility has 19,000.
After telling upper management about the proposition from Freeport Power, he pointed out that the summer months are typically slow for the training department because of the number of employees out on vacation and because of summer storms. Thurn had figured out that on average, each employee in the training department (there are 28) had a minimum of two weeks of downtime. To make the department more efficient, why not schedule these employees during this time to do outside training?
It's been more than five years since upper management gave Thurn the go-ahead. During that time, Florida Power has worked with about 20 companies ranging from Walt Disney Co. and Washington Water Power Co. in Spokane to the U.S. Air Force and Salt River Project in Phoenix. There are others that want to be taken on as clients, but Florida Power has had to turn many of them away because there is no room in its training schedule for them.
Perhaps the biggest sign of the program's success is that it has brought in more than half a million dollars in revenue, which has been funneled back into the employee development department. It has also brought the department respect and recognition within the company. In a recent staff meeting, Dave Miller, the company's senior vice president of administrative services, announced that he thought Florida Power had the best technical training in the country.
According to Thurn, the easiest part of getting this program going was having something to sell. Florida Power's competency-based training program, which was deyeloped to train the utility's ground and line workers, is comprehensive. …