Some of the nation’s best and brightest go to the University of Georgia (UGA) to learn. That counts just as much for the people working there as it does for the students in attendance.
Nestled in the heart of Athens, UGA has long been revered for its unwavering dedication to fostering growth for everyone walking its hallways. This steadfast commitment to nurturing all their people — both students and staff — led the institution to embark on a journey to elevate its internal training initiatives. To do so, they knew they needed an LMS capable of streamlining skill acquisition, compliance training and more — especially for their chemical lab safety programs.
That’s why they decided to enroll with Cornerstone Learn, a platform that not only met their basic employee learning needs but also proved to be a versatile ally in very unexpected ways.
UGA had their eyes set on victory. By combining Cornerstone’s technological solutions with the Georgia Bulldog spirit of tenacity, they achieved results worthy of all the touchdown dances they could muster.
Setting their eyes on the prize
When the university first purchased Cornerstone Learn in 2018, the primary initiative was to bring continuity and accountability to its chemical lab safety program. With employees in nearly 2,000 chemical lab spaces, the institution needed a consistent training program across UGA’s many campuses.
In his 2020 State of the University address, university president Jere Morehead committed to providing more expansive online Professional Education Programming (PEP). The university is set to work centralizing this PEP system via Cornerstone Learn. Morehead brought on Lisa Kelly to oversee its implementation of PEP.
“50% of my job is with UGA HR, where I run what we’re doing with Cornerstone Learn for PEP,” she says, “and then the other 40% is working for the Office of Research as a support services director.”
To get employees using PEP initially, UGA created a Pioneer Badge — awarded to anyone who took a professional development course. In those first few months, close to 1000 learners earned their badges. But Kelly and her cohorts realized quickly that this was only the beginning.
Building a dream team
Kelly’s team began to enhance PEP to expand professional development and skill acquisition offerings to all their people, not just those in the research sector. They realized the platform could meet needs far beyond compliance training as well, even extremely particular ones.
“We assigned curricula for some services (such as respiratory protection) that require chronological information, additional training and procurement of services,” she recalls. “During the pandemic, when we needed to upscale our COVID testing laboratory quickly, we were able to use a HIPAA course from Cornerstone Content Anytime to quickly train laboratorians.”
This complete overhaul of PEP allowed the team to make it a centralized resource for professional development across the entire university. Employees in every department have embraced the opportunity to pursue personal growth.
Running the right plays
UGA also created learning playlists to promote self-driven learning, packaging relevant courses together to make them easier to consume. Beyond compliance, they also provided their people with additional hard and soft skills training.
Supervisors were a priority use of the new-and-improved PEP. UGA created original courses and playlists to improve their management skills and leadership abilities, like giving feedback and coaching. They also empowered their supervisors to do the same for their own direct reports. Managers can access a PEP dashboard to assign and track what their teams are working on.
“There’s a lot of value for our faculty in taking some of the professional development training that is available on PEP,” Kelly says. “I think it’s important for anyone in a position of authority. It can certainly help them be better leaders.”
The organization has gone all in on PEP. Kelly’s team even holds “PEP rallies” to familiarize people with how they can utilize the Cornerstone Learn-powered platform.
“When we first got the product, there was a lot of hesitation,” she admits. “‘Oh, this is just another solution. This is just another platform. This is something else for me to learn. Some other box to check.’ And I think showing people that it was more than that has been a win. I see more and more people in the organization not just doing it because they have to, but because they’re excited about learning.”
Coaching their team to success
While the formal relaunch wasn’t complete until the end of 2020, PEP allowed UGA to respond to needs created by COVID-19 quickly, launching new courses to educate staff about safety and protocol. In the future, UGA plans to expand the use of PEP to areas like onboarding.
“It's really intuitive for the end user,” says Kelly. “I don't spend a lot of my time or a lot of my day teaching people how to use Cornerstone, and I don’t think you could say the same of a lot of other similar software products.”
The university is also in the process of adding competencies and certification modules to its platform offerings. By aligning these skills, employees will have greater visibility into how they can advance in their careers and create greater internal job mobility.
Kelly and her team also hope to get their entire employee training pipeline set up through PEP as soon as possible. They plan to use the platform for everything from orientation to quarterly check-ins. On top of that, they also hope to tailor learning experiences even more specifically to each individual staff member.
A new way to keep score
UGA also saw firsthand just how flexible Cornerstone Learn can be. An unconventional use of PEP allowed Kelly’s Research Occupational Health Program to meet the challenges of rapid growth and expansion in a very unorthodox way.
“We had an occupational health and safety program that was just not working for the institution,” she remembers. “We had contracted out our occupational health and safety program to an outside vendor. We just overwhelmed them because of growth.”
Through the innovative use of learning system functions, the institution established a robust system that could handle both appointments and administration of employee health records.
“We were able to use the functionality of Cornerstone Learn to meet the rather unconventional needs that we had for a healthcare tracking system,” she recalls. “It’s important to note that employee health records are different from medical records and are not subject to the same HIPAA requirements. We wanted a system that was secure but did not need an actual medical records system.”
This program increased their capacity for services, enhanced the service quality and dramatically improved customer satisfaction, all without additional fiscal resources. The difference between this in-house health tracker — versus utilizing contracted services — will save UGA at least $60K annually.
Getting down the field in record time
Cost savings aren’t the only benefit of using Cornerstone Learn in such a unique way. The time savings have been even more impressive.
Communication was streamlined, which has noticeably improved the reputation of the critical research service. As more individuals enroll in the program and the acceptance rate expands, the university research enterprise can do a better job of protecting its most precious resource: the research community itself.
“When researchers are safe and protected by the best of preventative occupational health services,” Kelly says, “they can concentrate on doing the amazing work of improving our world.”
By expanding the traditional learning paradigm and creating the health record tracker, UGA decreased onboarding days from an average of two and a half months to two weeks. By creating more autonomous employee access, there was a significant decrease in administrative burden and a noticeable increase in compliance. Familiarity with PEP for other aspects of training and tracking made adoption even easier.
“On average, we’re saving the institution about 61,000 working days per year,” Kelly says. “At minimum, we expect that at least 1000 people will need services per year. Providing 61 additional workdays per year, per person is a massive salary savings that also dramatically increases the productivity of the research enterprise.”
Reaching the end zone
UGA has always been a safe and exciting place to learn and grow. Thanks to their partnership with Cornerstone, it’s even more so now than it was before. PEP is just one more proof of how much the university cares about helping their people learn what they need to succeed.
“People are able to get the learning that they actually need for their job, when they need it, in a way that keeps them excited about the work they're doing,” says Kelly. “They’re able to learn differently. PEP meets them where they are, whether through skills or some of the other options Cornerstone offers. Maybe even more importantly, it makes them see possibilities in the work that they may be able to do in the future.”
The university has fostered PEP’s growth as if it were one of its own students. It just shows you that at the University of Georgia — whether you’re a student, a staff member or an LMS system — they’ll always help you graduate to the next level.
No matter what the circumstances, you can never count the Georgia Bulldogs out. From their football to their HR team — and from research chemists to running backs — everyone at UGA always gets the job done.
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