Formed in 1856, the County of San Mateo, California, provides for the health and welfare of more than 750,000 residents in the 20 towns and cities under its jurisdiction.
With over 5,500 employees, the County of San Mateo provides a broad range of services to its residents — both in incorporated and unincorporated areas — including social services, public health protection, housing programs, public safety, and elections.
The County’s recent addition of diverse, curated learning content offerings from Cornerstone was driven primarily by two key needs. First, the changing face of today’s workforce — specifically the increase in millennials and gen Z — with their affinity for online consumption, technology usage, and on-demand access forced the organization to update its content offerings. Second, a projected wave of manager retirements over the next five years is driving the need for effective succession planning. Clearly, an active learning culture within its employee base was essential to addressing these factors.
In late February 2020, both Cornerstone Content Anytime (CCA) subscriptions — Professional Skills and Leadership & Management — were unveiled on Learner Home by Cornerstone, the County’s new, dynamic LMS (Learning and Management System) home page. These content subscriptions expanded the County’s ability to upand re-skill their people while increasing employee engagement with internal promotions and unique delivery methods.
Curiosity is the Cornerstone of innovation
Located in the nexus of innovation in Northern California, the County of San Mateo is home to leading software, gaming, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies. The County also strives to innovate in providing services to its employees, and part of that is promoting a culture of continuous learning. “Curiosity is the cornerstone of innovation,” declared Theresa Rabe, Deputy Director of Human Resources, sharing their vision to enable and empower employees at every level with learning opportunities tailored to their needs.
Realizing the need to revamp training due to a changing workforce with different expectations, the L&D team of the County of San Mateo started evaluating and then piloting Cornerstone Content Anytime (CCA) with its power users in Fall 2019. Pleased with employee feedback, the team went live with CCA Professional Skills subscription with availability to all County employees in late February 2020.
One month later, COVID-19 drastically changed the workflow and work environment for the thousands of County employees required to work from home. CCA courses became a part of the solution to get employees adapted and trained with new tools and methodologies to effectively continue to perform their jobs and provide critical services to County residents.
Piloting through power user
Before jointly launching Learner Home and CCA broadly to all 5,500 County employees, the L&D team did a pilot of the new LMS home page. They generated CCA course playlists, customized course carousels, and chose courses for recommended spotlights. They also incorporated feedback from a survey of power users to refine the pilot design. Everything was implemented first during the pilot and tested with these users across all County departments to ensure that a strong foundation was set for go-live time to all County employees.
Marrying Learner Home and CCA
The County chose to roll out Cornerstone’s Learner Home product along with CCA. Gabe Aponte, the County’s L&D Program Manager, shared how CCA enabled them to populate a user’s individualized Learner Home with new and relevant content, making the rollout synergistic and helping to drive user interest in taking courses. “We went live with Learner Home the same day we rolled out Content Anytime…that was big for us because that is changing a home page employees are used to in a transformational way,” Aponte stated.
Facing a wave of management retirements over the next five years, the County needed to update and strengthen its succession planning. One part of the solution was a subscription to CCA Leadership & Management. This provided highly curated content specific to leadership and management skills and challenges. The training also dovetailed with the County’s transition to a learning organization with specific annual training goals and requirements for each employee.
Implementation and updating time savings
Before they implemented CCA, the County had previously sourced content from another external vendor. The team found out that they had to download content, configure courses, set-up an evaluation process, and repeat the steps whenever there was an update.
With CCA, the overall solution was high quality, competitively priced, and eliminated a lot of the manual work sourcing and making content available to employees used to require. “The time savings was huge. That probably would go at the top of the list for me,” Aponte remarked.
Moreover, the continued growth of courses always gave the team additional content to push out to users. Even small details like artwork for each class offering made a difference in making an employee’s Learner Home more attractive and dynamic, driving higher engagement with course offerings.
As a public agency with detailed and specific procurement processes, the County is very deliberate in acquiring tools and ensuring the longevity of IT solutions. Additionally, it also considers slightly different metrics when determining the ROI of a solution, focusing more on longer-term measurements. License utilization over time is important to ensure funds are well-spent and allocated. Feedback is particularly important including if people can utilize course content in their current roles and if they recommend courses to other employees. Feedback during the initial launch of CCA has employees giving strong, positive marks (over 90 percent) on both metrics.
Up-skilling and re-skilling during COVID-19
As with other public and private entities, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a rapid and unexpected change in the working environment for thousands of County employees. Demand for training on IT tools soared, and CCA became a critical part of providing that training.
In fact, during the first week of working-at-home due to COVID-19, CCA course completions rose more than 450 percent over the launch week as employees refreshed, updated, and expanded their software skills to adapt to the new work environment.
The spike in demand for courses has gradually subsided, but the need for anywhere, anytime content delivery is here to stay according to the L&D team who foresee training being exclusively online at least through the end of the year.
Bingeing in the time of Coronavirus
An interesting trend that County L&D team member Erica ZunigaLumidao has observed is that users are gravitating toward short-form content, such as Grovo bite-sized, adaptive micro-learning courses that users can access on their mobile phones as well as TED Talks that impart lessons on topics such as life skills and leadership.
Another trend that Zuniga-Lumidao shared is content “bingeing,” where users consume entire playlists of 10–12 courses in one day. The L&D team also plays a critical role in making employees aware of new content, recently moving to a monthly cadence for sending out a county-wide L&D newsletter, “Learning Compass.”
Banner ads on internal web pages also drive course sign-ups as the team has observed a course being filled with twenty additional employees within a half-day solely due to promotion on a banner ad.
A library that is always evolving
Zuniga-Lumidao noted that CCA, with its constantly updated course and content offerings, enables the team to declare, “You name it, we got it.” The team has been pleasantly surprised to see the amount of additional content being released even in mid-cycle updates. Once they catch up cataloging and promoting new content to users, they will receive an email alerting them to another content push which she thinks is great, providing something for every target audience.
Sharing with other counties
Rabe opined that the timing could not have been more perfect in launching CCA one month before the COVID-19 crisis.
CCA’s enhanced learning opportunities and offerings became part of the solution in helping County employees adapt and transition to a virtual working environment. The team also combined CCA offerings such as TED Talks with internal programs such as Virtual Cafes to promote increased employee virtual engagement while also taking advantage of additional CCA capabilities such as Zoom integration.
And like any good leader, Aponte has been communicating constantly with his L&D peers in adjacent counties such as San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Clara as they all navigate providing learning solutions virtually during COVID-19. As part of that, he shared with them his experience setting up and utilizing CCA.
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