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Protolabs brings innovative mindset to compliance and competency training

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Protolabs is a Minnesota-based digital manufacturing company servicing product developers, engineers and supply chain teams across the globe. Their approach to production weds automation to innovation, and it’s helped them stay at the forefront of changes in their industry for over two decades. While Protolabs prizes the ability to get a job done fast, they strive never to trade speed for quality. When they were training new employees and powering other aspects of online learning, they sought a partner who could balance efficiency and effectiveness as they do. Cornerstone fits their bill, and they’re already using Cornerstone Learning to innovate their way into the future yet again. That’s just what Protolabs does.

  • Main Challenge: Streamlining the learning process
  • Solution: Cornerstone Learning
  • Results: High compliance rates, leadership development, and DEI engagement

Building a foundation for employee education

Larry Lukis founded Protolabs in 1999 on a straightforward premise: There had to be a better way to get manufacturing up to the speed required by the fast-approaching twenty-first century. Over the next two decades, the company streamlined prototype and production manufacturing for clients across the globe — injection molding, CNC machining, 3D printing and sheet metal fabrication.

The company currently manages a staff of 2,800 employees around the world. They knew they needed a learning management system (LMS) capable of embodying the Protolabs ethos of efficiency. Getting new staff up to speed on compliance and molding the competencies of current employees as fast and effectively as possible were both concerns for the organization.

Streamlining the learning process

Amanda Kreuter, learning technology specialist at Protolabs, began her time with Protolabs as a strategic sales representative before taking the mantle of updating the company's learning management and delivery systems.

“We are working on just getting people at the organization into learning,” she says, “And that's where I get to come in and strategize the system and really find out what doesn't work so that we can remove some of those barriers for our employees.”

After shopping around for various new LMS options, she chose Cornerstone and quickly reaped positive rewards with the software. Soon after implementation, the company boosted its basic compliance training rate from 23% to 90%.

After this initial boon, Protolabs decided to use Cornerstone’s offerings to expand beyond its primary educational initiatives. They wanted to allow their staff to take voluntary courses they could use to improve both hard and soft skills on the job. These courses included everything from manufacturing innovation courses, conflict management resources, “A Day in the Life” material about specific Protolabs roles, and tips for working remotely during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reskilling workers in real-time

Kreuter soon realized she could go even deeper with Cornerstone’s modules when it came to upskilling workers. In a changing industry and economy, she knew it was imperative for staff to stay updated on new ways to improve and round out their competencies.

“We started creating competency playlists,” she says. “So in the organization, if you are a leader, these are the competencies that we expect you to have or need to have. And we created competency playlists for leadership and management, for manufacturing team leads, for all of these different buckets, so that our employees could go in and say, ‘Hey, I'm interested in leadership. This is a competency I need to work on a little bit more.’”

She believes the predictability and reliability of these offerings were instrumental in getting employees up to speed on new aspirations and goals the company has for them. Rather than relying on scattershot training or rapid-fire reskilling sessions, employees had the time and headspace necessary to absorb everything possible from these courses.

According to Kreuter, “People started realizing that, ‘Hey, there's some content out that we can really look at.’ It was really nice to see our employees embrace that change.”

Expanding out to DEI education

Protolabs also wanted to rise to meet today’s moment of racial reconciliation. They found an ideal partner in Cornerstone to build a thorough and far-reaching DEI curriculum, helping each team member become cognizant of how they could do their part to nurture a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.

“The bigger thing for us, I'd say beyond compliance, is our DEI initiatives,” Kreuter mentions. “We are focused so much on that at this point. We have seen our organization go from never talking about DEI to really embracing it and including everybody in the organization. It's been a neat change to see.”

In addition to these mandatory trainings, Protolabs also offered additional voluntary courses celebrating various cultures and identity groups for their employees to continue their growth. These have included educational series on topics from Chinese New Year to International Women’s Day. Ultimately, Kreuter is hopeful these offerings will help staff learn from and listen to each other on an even more meaningful level than they do now, something she’s made a conscious effort to do herself too.

“I love to listen to people and figure out what's going on so that I can understand what they're asking for,” she says.

Customizing the employee experience

Protolabs is all about customization for its customers. They can have a specialized quote ready in hours and an entire set of parts out the door in days. It goes without saying that they were keen to find an LMS that would let them plug and play in the same way. With Cornerstone Learning, they could tweak every aspect of the template to meet their employees’ specific needs.

They rebranded Cornerstone LMS as Learning by Cornerstone before settling on just using the name Learn on its own. They then changed the colors of the basic layout provided by Cornerstone to reflect their company’s palette. Soon, employees were more enthused with their learning opportunities than ever before. The rebrand had gone so well that some even thought they were using an entirely new LMS.

“One quote we heard was, ‘Learn is so much better than Cornerstone!’” Kreuter laughed. But the secret was, it was Cornerstone the whole time.

Since reimagining the Cornerstone LMS two years ago, there’s been a 118% increase in course registration and a 641% increase in courses completed. With nearly 33,000 hours logged in 2021, participants rated the curriculum at 4.21/5. Unique logins per month went from 23% of users in December 2019 to 65% in December 2021.

In other words, Cornerstone may have helped set the tone, but it was Protolabs taking advantage of all the customization capabilities available to them that really made their use of the platform soar.

Keeping their people posted

Protolabs uses Cornerstone to communicate better with their staff in real time. They’ve hosted office hours and live demos through the platform and used the system to audit and update emails. Employees use it to connect with training specialists and managers as needed.

“I like how everything works together, and I love how robust the system is,” says Kreuter. “If I want to be able to just pull into a certain group, I can so easily do that.”

She’s also training the training specialists themselves on how to use Cornerstone Learn for their specific teams. Together, they’re all working on ways to improve the system’s functionality in their unique corners of the business. It’s proven intuitive, and there’s always support available from Cornerstone staff if they need help.

Molding the next phase of the future

Protolabs is a company that’s always looking for what makes something extraordinary. Kreuter thinks that “looks like progress [and] development.” And she asks, “Can we move forward? How do we just keep asking more questions? And how do we continue to improve?” Protolabs is always looking for ways to streamline processes and set aspirational goals.

Protolabs’ partnership with Cornerstone is just beginning, and Kreuter is eager to keep exploring new ways to take advantage of all the offerings available. For a company that’s built its brand on continuous innovation, why would it ever settle for less?

Recently, they’ve been customizing the platform even more to make it as clickable as possible for learners as they explore different educational pathways. Protolabs is experimenting with carousel and banner displays to see which attract more attention from users. And it feels like they’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible when optimizing learning playlist capabilities.

They hit the ground running each day on the lookout for more and more ways to put their unique stamp on the endlessly customizable Cornerstone platform. With the help of Cornerstone Learn, they’re excited to mold the next phase of their company’s future.

“Cornerstone is providing opportunities for us to work together,” Kreuter says, “To learn together, to figure it out together, and to provide solutions. I'm excited to see that growth.”

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