Management & Operations

BART’s virtual university meets real needs of employees

Posted on April 1, 2003 by Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher

Computer-based training is reaching out and touching the lives of thousands of employees at San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART). Anti-terrorism training, for example, has been quickly and efficiently deployed to 3,000 BART employees through a training program available on the agency’s intranet. “We got it done in six weeks,” says Karen Arhontes, supervisor of technology-based training. “That’s because it was accessible and you didn’t have to coordinate a lot of schedules.” These terrorism primers are not for the faint-hearted. They include descriptions of biological agents, nerve gases and decontamination techniques, as well as graphic photos of the physical effects of biological weapons such as small pox. “Right now the safety issues outweigh other issues,” Arhontes says. Diverse topics addressed
But the computer-based training — with some courses available through the intranet and some available only on CD-ROM — goes well beyond terrorism topics. Arhontes says more than 20 training courses are available online, including topics such as sexual harassment, diversity training and district rules and procedures. Training also includes site-specific topics such as yard operations. For example, coupling/uncoupling cars, push/pull moves and shop deliveries are part of the general yard operations lesson menu. Although the computer training program is still in its infancy, signs are positive that it will develop into a key component of BART’s overall training system. “So far, online training has been very successful,” Arhontes says. “The biggest benefit is that we’re able to touch enormous numbers of employees at the same time.” Not having to gather employees in classrooms at specific times certainly simplifies the training process, but computer-based training does have its drawbacks. “When we rolled this out to the rank and file, especially the front-line workers, a lot of them looked at the mouse and said, ‘What’s that?’” Arhontes says. ÒI call it a comfort complaint.” Employees’ lack of familiarity with computers has created challenges. Arhontes says the key is to move them slowly into the computer age. “We allow them to play with the computers and get comfortable before they attempt the training,” she says. Resistance to online or computer-based training is not futile. “It’s not a requirement yet,” says Arhontes. “At some point, however, we probably will require some chunk of everyone’s mandatory training to be handled online.” Short development cycle
The online training program is part of BART’s learning management system (LMS), which was launched about three years ago. Initially, the LMS was used only as an administrative tool, but now includes computer-based training through what’s called the Student Center. “It’s part of our plan to allow people to learn at their own pace and to give them other options beside the classroom for all of their training,” Arhontes says. Pathlore, a software developer in Columbus, Ohio, delivers and tracks BART’s corporate training program, including the Student Center. “Pathlore’s system allows us to ensure employee skills training is up to date and increases the speed with which we provide that training,” Arhontes says. Arhontes says the training program could be used for cross-training purposes, allowing employees to move from classification to classification. “We’re trying to direct our efforts at personnel improvement and to offer employees training in areas that they can move into if their jobs are eliminated.” With transit budgets squeezed nearly dry, online training could reduce overhead on a long-term basis. “Once the training’s up on our intranet, there’s not a whole lot of cost required to maintain it,” Arhontes says.

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