Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas Shopping-nightmare on the high street or a breeze online?

Claudia fell through her front door and dropped all her bags on the floor, immediately feeling the relief in her aching shoulders and hands. Her shoes are kicked off and she curses herself for the hundredth time that day for wearing heels to go Christmas shopping. A glance at her watch tells her that shes already late for meeting her sister Sarah for lunch and groans at the thought of going back out in the traffic.

5 minutes later the shopping bags are still taking up room in the middle of the hallway, Claudia has managed a change of clothes but a quick look in the mirror reveals her hair is in need of a brush and her cheeks are red from the after effects of tackling the high street, but as shes already late there's no time to sort herself out and she hurries out of the door.

When Claudia finally reaches the restaurant her sister is sat looking relaxed drinking a coffee and watching with mild amusement at the madness of the Christmas shopping going on around her.

Claudia apologises for being late and launches into a story about getting elbowed in the chest in a clothes shop, having trolleys rammed into her ankles in the supermarket and being hit on the head by an unidentified flying object in a toy store!

Sarah says that she too has done all her Christmas shopping that day. Claudia looks at her with disbelief and asks how she can look so relaxed whereas she looks and feels as though she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards! Sarah smiles and says simply ‘I did all my shopping online, no queues, no crowds or traffic jams, just me in the comfort of my own home, plus you can get fantastic bargains online, I read an article last week that said a YouGov survey estimated that 71% of Britain's will shop online this Christmas’

After lunch Claudia begins to think about what her sister said, and her own small business selling handmade cards and gifts, which were currently being sold in various tanning salons and hairdressers in her village. Her mind again flashes back to the chaos and misery she experienced on the high street and thought about the other shoppers she saw huffing and puffing their way through the shops. If so many people were deciding that online shopping was a better alternative then there was a whole world of opportunity for her to sell her products to.

Excited by this prospect she picks up the phone to discuss it with Sarah, who agrees it’s a fantastic idea. ‘The only problem Ive got is that I just don’t know where on earth to start!’ Claudia moans. ‘Ah’ says Sarah, ‘that’s where I can help, I know of someone who delivers a training course designed specifically to help people like you….’

See what happens next month after Claudia has attended the course and started to put into practice the things that shes learnt

Friday, 19 December 2008

December 2008 New e-Learning Courses just added

Clear Learning have just added 8 new courses to their e-Learning repertoire. Though most of the courses are aimed at small business skills, there are some new Microsoft courses as well.
The new courses are as follows:

  • Emailing your Way to the Top
  • Lotus Notes 8.5
  • Innovation in the Workplace
  • Problem Solving through Productive Thinking
  • Time Management for Maximum Productivity
  • Windows Server 2008 Active Directory MCTS 70-640
  • Windows Server 2008 Applications MCTS 70-643
  • Windows Server 2008 Networking MCTS 70-642

Please visit the Clear Learning website for further information.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Accessible LEARNing

Clear Learning is launching a new way to purchase online courses.  We now have packages available through selected retailers throughout the United Kingdom.

Our LEARN series is made up of five unique packages, that encorporate both business and personal training courses.

The packages available are:

  • Microsoft Technical – includes Microsoft courses such as MCSA, MCSD, and MCSE.
  • Business Skills – including Business Ethics, Customer Service, Fundamentals of Business Management, Negotiating, and Stress Management.
  • ECDL – The European Computer Driving Licence has 7 modules, including: IT Concepts, Word Processing, Spreadsheets and Databases.
  • Desktop Computing – this features Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word, along with Lotus Notes and Quickbooks.
  • Web Development – with DreamWeaver, Flash, Java, Photoshop, PHP, and XML.

We want our courses to be accessible to everyone, including the High Street shopper and LEARN is the perfect way to do this.  Visit Clear Learning for more info. 

Monday, 27 October 2008

A Whole New World

Your online alter-ego or Avatar attends an in-world educational seminar where the setup is just like a real lecture theatre, with an actual lecturer (or Avatar) standing at the font of the room, peers sitting around you writing notes on their in-world virtual notepads, and conversations going on between students and yourself regarding the lecture content.

Does this sound like some bizarre dream reminiscent of misused college years or just the next inevitable step in your learning schedule?

After reading an article in the latest Learning Magazine called “It’s Learning Jim but not as we know it,” where David Wortley talks about the effectiveness of games and virtual worlds in learning environments, I got into a discussion about it with some of my colleagues , with mixed reactions.

It became apparent very quickly that there were two very different ideas on how learning should work; those who adhere to the “I need a real teacher” mentality and those who feel comfortable with online alternatives.

Myself, being an avid supporter of e-Learning, have always found interactive methods of learning far more stimulating than the traditional classroom atmosphere and with the introduction of online in-world learning to the mainstream, the likelihood of me appearing as an Avatar in the near future is almost a definite. I have already started searching around for the most popular virtual worlds in search of some online content that interests me. Due to the amazing amount of response to sites like Second Life for the inclusion of academic content, it looks like I’m not the only one who sees a future in virtual learning.

The main reasons that I can see this type of training working are:
- Virtual learning opens up a classroom arena to all students, not just the most outspoken ones. With an Avatar as your voice, anonymity is secure and inhibitions go out the door.
- Opportunities arise for users who may not have access to classroom-based training, due to geographical or physical restrictions.
- The variety of training available online will cater to everyone’s taste.
- Chances are that you will be able to record the content to replay at a later time for future clarification.
- Online environments work on the premise that users will be from all over the world and therefore content will be available variable times, to cater to average working hours.

I am interested in hearing your thought on this? Are you currently a member of a virtual site with an online alter-ego? Do you participate in any form of online training? Would you attend an online seminar?

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

What can you do?

Today is Blog Action Day, the one day of the year that bloggers get together to unite for a worthwhile cause – Poverty.
At Clear Learning we wanted to get behind the cause by letting our readers know some poverty facts they may not be aware of. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 (U.S Dollars) a day.
2. Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
3. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
4. Number of children in the world = 2.2 billion
Number in poverty = 1 billion (every second child)
5. Approximately half the world’s population now live in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions.
6. 1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity
7. A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World.
8. Around the world, some 26,500 children die every day.

Please help wherever you can by donating to a worthwhile cause. Heal our world by doing your bit.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Time To Get Online

When was the last time you used the Yellow Pages to find a restaurant?

...or trekked down to your local tour operator to book a flight?

Most likely you searched online for these by using Yell.com or another online directory. It didn’t cost you any money, it was easy and most importantly, the results were immediate! Last year 53% of UK adults said they used the internet at some time in their lives to buy goods or services, with 78% of these purchasing online in the previous 3 months (National Statistics Omnibus Survey 2007).

If your business does not yet have a web presence, it’s time to get online…the web is more than 20 years old now! According to the Computer Industry Almanac, the worldwide internet has now reached more than 1 billion users, with the UK now ranking Number 6 for internet usage with over 35 million users. No matter how small your business is, the web has levelled the playing field. As long as you have the business support and processes in place, the potential is enormous.

Consider these benefits:

- A web presence will give your business visibility and exposure to potential customers
whenever it’s convenient for them
- Customers expect to find you online; it is seen as a sign of professionalism
- You can demonstrate your products and services online through photos and testimonials
- Promoting your site online will give you 24/7 marketing, all year round
- Retaining your customers is made easier through online marketing: informing them of
discounts, special offers and new products / services

Still not convinced? Think about it...by lowering your costs and making workflows more efficient, the web could actually save you money! Lots of businesses use the internet to source new suppliers, order materials. Others use their websites to take bookings and raise awareness, saving on staff and marketing costs.

Visit us next week for some tips to help you determine the best way for your company to establish their web presence!

Get Paid, On Time

We are noticing an increase in the amount of small business owners attending our Getting Paid workshops recently and it doesn’t really come as a surprise considering current financial trends in the UK.

All businesses are feeling the effects of the credit crunch and want to make sure that any credit they decide to offer is going to be honoured, in the time specified.
This goes for suppliers to; how do they know that your company is going to pay them on time?

There are a few simple things that companies can do to increase your status as a reliable customer, including:

-Making sure you file your accounts on time at Companies House (if you are a limited company)
-Maintaining a good payment performance by paying invoices on time, especially those owed to large utility companies.

A company’s credit score is greatly influenced by the two variables above and credit scores are one of the most common methods of selection used by businesses when deciding credit limits for customers.

Companies such as leading provider Experian calculate credit scores by using sophisticated scoring methodologies to derive a single score and there are many different factors taken into account (as many as fifty factors in some cases), such as:

-Size and age of a business
-Legal status
-Business sector and location
-CCJs’ and bankruptcies
-Companies House filings
-Track record of proprietors
-Payment performance.

For start-up companies, getting paid by customers will be the difference between success or failure in the first couple of years for business.

To learn more about our workshops, please visit our website or call us on 0845 880 9500.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The King of Cash - part 2

Gemma rolled her eyes and walked backwards out of Nick’s office as he answered his ridiculous red telephone. She still hadn’t got an answer out of him, and she could hear her own phone ringing ominously again, no doubt another fretting debtor on the line.

Her holiday had been more than needed; it had been recommended by her doctor. She had been getting worse over the past few months, and had only managed a strained ‘Hello’ before bursting into tears on the poor young GP once again. And she couldn’t blame her family life- they had been really supportive as things deteriorated at work. But she knew how much the company needed her, how much they relied on her to sort out difficult customers. Having two weeks off, she saw now, was only half a solution, as no one had been covering her essential work properly while she was away. How could they? There was no standard policy to follow, though she had tried to instigate it many times. If she was honest with herself, she didn’t know where to start.

She struggled round the desks and reached for her phone, cringing all the while because she had a strong feeling about who was at the end of it.
‘Good morning, please could I speak to the person in charge of the accounts? I believe it is a Mrs Gemma Dodds?’
Gemma was slightly taken aback by the cool voice, the almost pleasant manner of the lady. ‘Speaking’ she squeaked.
‘My name is Helen Ross, and I am calling with regards to invoice number 44521, dated 1st July 2008?’ Gemma closed her eyes, knowing all too well what was coming next – that invoice number had been competing for brain space all holiday. ‘Would you be able to have that invoice to hand just now?’ the voice soothed.
She had expected a launch into a rant, had expected the voice to raise her hackles and start a row, but found herself sitting down and pulling the invoice from the bottom of her ‘to do’ tray. ‘Yes, I have it here. See, we’ve just been having a few problems, I’ve only just got back today to start sorting through the pile…’
‘That’s fine, I do understand. You see, we are having similar problems, it’s always tough to pay your suppliers when your customers are struggling isn’t it?’ Gemma felt a pang of guilt- she realised she wasn’t the only one in this situation. She used to talk to her suppliers and her customers – they used to have a great relationship. When did all that get lost?
‘Could you tell me, were there any problems with the products and the service you received from us?’ She couldn’t honestly say that there had been. The usual faultless service, and though her customers might claim otherwise to get out of paying their bills, the products had been of excellent quality too. ‘No,’ she murmured, ‘no, they were fine. Sorry, I know we should have paid this a while ago…’
‘Don’t worry, that’s why I’m calling you today- to work out a solution that is best for all of us’. Gemma could have wept. A solution? This was the call she had been praying for!
‘Could you tell me what is standing in your way at the moment?’ Helen queried, gently and persuasively. Gemma blinked – she honestly wasn’t sure. She had seen the figures, there was enough money in the bank to pay this bill, though she wasn’t convinced that there would be enough for all the bills… she realised in a flash that this was what Nick was most afraid of – running out of cash. Perhaps if she had been a little gentler with her own customers, like Helen was being to her now, they might be more willing to boost Nick’s coffers. Her shoulders sagged. ‘We are just a bit behind I’m afraid. I need to find out, well, I should really know, if we are able to pay you right now. I know it’s overdue, but I’m the only one who deals with this kind of thing, so it’s not been done as I’ve been away on holiday. I am sorry about this.’
‘Sounds like you need some support from within your own team,’ Helen mused. ‘Have you tried teaching others what you know? Sharing a bit of the responsibility?’ Gemma had certainly thought about it, but again, where should she start? She didn’t feel confident enough herself, let alone teaching others.
‘Don’t worry about this bill anyway. Could you give me a date you think you could get it paid to us by? Don’t worry if it’s a week or so, I’d just like you to give us a time so you’re not struggling, but also so we know when to realistically expect the money’. Helen sounded so reasonable, it was hard to resist replying ‘Well, actually, seeing as it’s right here infront of me, I can get the boss to sign the cheque today, if that’s ok with you?’ It made perfect sense to start getting rid of the problem, and as Helen had said, start finding solutions.
‘That would be fantastic, Gemma, thanks ever so much for prioritising us, and we’re really glad there were no problems with our service. So could I just confirm – if you pop it in the post today, it should get to us by the end of this week?’
‘Yes, the end of this week, and I’ll definitely get it sent today’ Gemma said, with far more conviction than she had felt five minutes ago.
‘Brilliant,’ Gemma could almost feel Helen smiling down the phone – and not a raised voice in the place. ‘I’ll drop you a line just to let you know we’ve received it, if that’s ok with you? Speak to you soon then.’
‘Ok, speak to you then.’ Gemma replied, trying to remember how Helen had got her to agree to this so gently and calmly.
‘Oh, and just one more thing’ said Helen, in a conspiratorial fashion, ‘if you’d be interested, I went on a fantastic course recently that really helped me with my credit management calls……’

Gemma’s situation shows why planning is so important. An old Chinese proverb states ‘only when the water is still can you see through it clearly’. Too many businesses find themselves in a web of difficult customers, late payments, demanding suppliers and emotional turmoil as their dream life seems to be edging away. It is almost impossible to drag yourself up when there is so much pressure on. By planning ahead for difficult times while things are stable, (while the water is clear) you are almost reaching out to a troubled ‘future you’ and providing them with a set of rules and processes to obey. It’s not just a rope, but a ladder: specific steps you can take to climb out of the difficulties.

Visit us next week to find out how Gemma’s course affects the rest of the business, and helps make Nick the King of Cash!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The King of Cash

Nick’s secretary Gemma has finally come back from her two week holiday, and bursts into his office just when he was beginning his second, much needed cup of coffee, brandishing red bills from suppliers. ‘These bills are due ages ago! They need paying or I’ll get them yelling at me down the phone. How come my cover didn’t organise this?’ she whines. Nick can feel his lips tightening slightly – surely the suppliers can wait another few days? He thinks to himself - ‘It’s not like we haven’t spent enough money with them recently. Though a cheque does take 5 days to clear, so perhaps it’ll be ok. That big customer who wasn’t in last time I called is supposed to be paying us tomorrow’.

He open his now rather parched mouth to placate her and tell her he’ll sign some cheques today, could she please just go and find the chequebook? But the telephone rings. Nick’s long suffering wife bought him a telephone in pillarbox red, which flashes when it rings. At the time he found it hilarious, and she had just smiled knowingly. Unfortunately these days it is worryingly appropriate, and he has a better idea of what that smile meant.

‘Good morning mate!’ says the voice on the other end of the line. Nick relaxes and leans back in his chair – it’s Vic, his long-term business pal, who has been a great customer for over ten years. After the morning he’s had so far, it’ll be great to have a moan about the industry for a bit. Nick pick up a pen and starts twirling it around his fingers absent-mindedly.

‘Sorry I’ve not been in touch for ages- you know how things are at the moment- busy running around in circles after my creditors!’ Nick nods and agrees, rolling his chair from side to side, pleased that he is warming up to what must be a good bit of gossip to make him feel a little better, perhaps something juicy on how badly the competiton is doing?

‘Tell me about it mate’ he enthuses, ‘Chasing customers eh? I’ve had two weeks of trying to get hold of people, and everyone seems to be on holiday, including my Gemma who normally does the calling. She’s so much better on the phone than I am. I can’t do the tough-guy act on my customers – it’d ruin the image I’m trying to build!’

‘Too true’ Vic commiserates. ‘you’re too nice to some of them. Has anything happened with that big contract that made up that ridiculous dispute to get out of paying you?’

Nick’s pen-twirling hits a knuckle and flips onto the floor and skids to a halt in the dust underneath the filing cabinet. The business mobile phone starts ringing, setting off a ringtone of his children laughing and singing their favourite TV tune. ‘Er, er, hang on a minute,’ he stutters, ‘good to hear from you mate – can I call you back?’

Vic suddenly has a tone of urgency in his voice, and begins talking uncharacteristically fast. ‘Well actually I was just really quickly phoning to ask a little favour…. You know how I’ve been chasing my customers, well, I’m having a bit of a cash flow struggle at the moment… would it be ok to put off our payment for another week or so?’

Nick blinks as the mobile phone stops ringing, but there is shouting in the office – Gemma’s probably on the phone to the suppliers again to sort out the bills. She doesn’t half give them some. He cringes slightly, imagining their faces the next time he places an order – he wishes sometimes she wasn’t quite so assertive!

‘Mate, I’ll have to get back to you, that was the bank. I’ll check out my figures and let you know- you know I’ll do whatever I can, but things are getting a bit tight here too’.

‘No probs mate, I’ll call you later then’ and Vic hangs up, before Nick can tell him he’ll be in meetings all afternoon.

A timid knock on the door brings Nick back to the moment, and the new lad pokes his head round the door. What was his name again? ‘Two people have just come into the showroom, boss. They want to talk to you about setting up credit terms? They’re going on about a big contract. Are there any forms I can give them until you’re ready to speak to them?’ Knowing that he meant to create those forms ages ago – it certainly would have made things simpler!- Nick hurriedly leaves his comfy chair and still steaming coffee and grabs his suit jacket. ‘Nope, don’t worry, thanks for the tip off, I’ll go and talk to them now’. He sweeps out of his office in an entirely contrived air of authority, leaving the new boy still proffering a notepad and pen in his wake, wondering what the bank wanted and if he can afford extending credit to any more customers……

Ever felt like events are out of your control? Be they economic factors or finding how much your business partner has spent on the company credit card, money matters often take on a life of their own. So much so that over a third of small- to medium- sized businesses claim problems with cash flow are the main reason for their business failing in the first 3 years.

All too often, a business story can end up more like a Lewis Carroll story: "No, no!" said the Queen. "Sentence first - verdict afterwards!". (Alice in Wonderland). So many businesses look back and can see exactly where they went wrong, but had no idea at the time. By the time it has become clear they are already paying their penance, be it bad debt, huge loans, or even a failed business.

If any of this sounds familiar, the constant pressures, worries and confidence around managing your customers and cash flow, log in to the next instalment to see how Nick gets himself out of it!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Jenny needs a holiday

Jenny has been running her business for the last 5 years. In those first years of trading her business has significantly grown, she is now providing a wide range goods and services to her customers, increased her staff force and most importantly made a great profit.

However with the success there has been some set backs. Due to public demand Jenny extended her opening hours which has meant that she is now working even harder, her manual bookkeeping and administration is behind, she is working late into the evenings and feels that she is unable to take a holiday.

Jenny is making great profits however feels that she has no work life balance.

In fact Jenny is not alone. The Bank of Scotland completed a survey of 1000 entrepreneurs and found that on average they are working 50 hour weeks.

The survey found a number of small business owners are neglecting holiday and a further 26% think they will work even longer because of the economic climate.

The survey found that 71% of small business owners claim to be stressed, up from 54% last year. The main reason for working 50 hour weeks was down to dealing with administration and regulations.

Jenny knows that it is not productive to be working that amount of hours. Therefore she changes her bookkeeping and administration from paper to computer, examines her existing workforces and identifies members of staff that she could train and delegate additional duties too.

Jenny now feels that she can take a holiday.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Jenny Does Business Part 4: How to Retain Valuable Staff

Previously Jenny offered Nicholas a new role within her business. Nicholas was recruited to replace Larry. Previously Larry had been poached by one of Jenny’s local competitors. Her existing staff did not have the right skills and experience to replace Larry at this time.

Before Nicholas joins her business, Jenny completes a number of employment checks to ensure that Nicholas is eligible to work in the UK and that the information he has provided is correct. Jenny is aware that there can be potential larges fines if she does not carry this out successfully.

On Nicholas’s first day, Jenny ensures that the existing staff give him a warm welcome. Jenny then completes a full induction and personal development plan with Nicholas to make sure that he is aware of his training plan and objectives.

When Larry advised that he was leaving, Jenny looked at her existing staff to see whether any of them could replace him. At that time they did not have the right skills and experience.

Jenny therefore needs to ask herself the following questions

1) What training does her existing staff require?
2) When should this training be completed?
3) What effect will this training have on her business?

The Leitch Review set out a number of goals for employers training their existing work force. Many employers need to increase their existing staff skill levels while also ensuring their career aspirations and goals are achieved. By employeers completing this, they can then be expected to improve and retain existing staff.

Therefore Jenny completes full appraisals with her existing staff to evaluate the progress they are making and also provide a framework to guide her existing staff to where they need to be.

Three months on, Jenny has a successful and happy work force. Nicholas is settled into his new role and has already improved her business performance. Danny, who only started six months ago, has completed his training plan and is now taking on new and exciting responsibilities.

Jenny is happy with her business and continues to support and train her staff. The last six months have been challenging for Jenny, however she now understands how crucial the planning behind recruiting, training and retaining her staff is to the success of her business.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Jenny Does Business Part 3: How to Identify Valuable Staff

Previously, Jenny has advertised Larry’s role in the local paper and also on a number of online websites. Two weeks ago Larry was poached by one of Jenny’s local competitors. Her existing staff did not have the right skills and experience to replace Larry. Therefore Jenny is looking outside of her workforce to find a suitable replacement for him.

Since Jenny has advertised Larry’s role, a total of 10 individuals applied for the job. Due to time and cost Jenny decided that it would not be wise to interview all 10 individuals. Therefore she used her Job description and Person specification to shortlist her candidates from 10 to 4.

Jenny then had to make the decision of what interview format she would use to identify which of the candidates would be best suited for the role. Jenny looked at the various interview methods, ranging from standard questioning to presentations and even a
practical exercise.

Once Jenny had decided what interview method to use, she then needs to ask herself the following questions;

1) What information do I need to find out from my interview candidates?
2) Which questions should I prepare before the interview?
3) Are any of my questions illegal under discrimination laws?

Which? Consumer group advised in their CV and interview handbook which was published in 2008 that many businesses are still confused about what interview questions they can and cannot ask.

Many businesses are still asking inappropriate questions in job interviews. As a result their companies risk being taken to employment tribunals where they can face unlimited fines.

Potential employees are protected by legislation including the Age and Sex discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act, the Employment Equality Regulations and the Disability Discrimination Act.
As a result, employers are not allowed to discriminate against job candidates on the grounds of race, beliefs, gender, religion, sexuality or disability.
Therefore the following questions are not allowed to be asked
How old are you?
Are you married?
Are you gay?
Are you planning to start a family soon?
What political party do you support?

So what does Jenny do?

Jenny puts together a detailed interview script with pre-prepared questions that do not break any discrimination laws. She interviews the four candidates and based on their interviews offers the role to Nicholas. Nicholas is highly qualified and experienced and would be a great asset to Jenny’s team.

Find out soon how Nicholas settles into his new role….

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Jenny does Business Part 2: How to Replace Valuable Staff

Since last week, Jenny has decided to look for suitable replacements for Larry. Larry who was her most senior and experienced member of staff was unexpectedly poached by her main competitor. Therefore Jenny only has four remaining members of staff, they range in various ability and include her new recruit Danny.

Jenny is concerned that she is unable to train and develop the existing staff in time for when Larry leaves. Therefore she has made the decision to look outside her current workforce and find a suitable individual to replace Larry.

Before Jenny looks for suitable replacements for Larry she needs to ask herself the following questions.

1) What skills and qualifications do I need my new member of staff to have?
2) Where and how will I advertise my Job?
3) How will I decide which candidates I need to interview?

In a recent survey by
CIPD (Recruitment, Retention and Turnover 2008), it was found that the average direct cost of recruiting a replacement member of staff is £4667. This can rise to £5800 if recruiting, inducting and training is taken into account.

There are many hidden costs in association with recruiting a new employee. Therefore Jenny needs to accurately plan exactly how she will recruit her member of staff.

So what is Jenny to do?

Jenny decides that to find her new member of staff, she puts together a detailed job description and person specification to help her identify what skills and experience her new member of staff needs to have. She puts together a job advert which she advertises in the local newspaper and online job web sites.

Find out soon how many individuals apply for Larry’s job and how the interviews go….

Friday, 8 August 2008

Jenny does Business: Replacing Valuable Staff

Jenny runs a small business with five fulltime employees. Her most senior and seemingly happy, staff member Larry, has just been poached by your largest competitor, conveniently located across the street. Jenny’s four remaining staff members have various levels of ability with the newest recruit Danny showing the most promise within the business. She starts to panic because the likelihood of having someone trained to the same standard as Larry by the time he leaves, seems impossible.

Here are some questions Jenny needs to ask herself:

1. Do I have the talent available in-house to replace Larry?
If so, what training needs to be completed before Larry leaves?
If no, how am I going to go about employing a suitable candidate?
2. What happens if this situation arises again?
3. Do I have a suitable training plan in place to avoid a skill gap?

Jenny has a problem that needs to be resolved quickly. She is not on her own though, these are the problems faced by small businesses on a day to day basis.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s study, Aligned at the Top: Technology, Media & Telelecommunications Sector, shows that retaining critical talent is ranked the most important when dealing with the scope of management. Deloitte’s study also suggests that companies are most likely to find their most valuable employees from developing and training existing ones.

As seen with the scenario above and the views of the polled companies in the study, skill gaps in training and recruitment are the greatest challenges faced.

So what is Jenny to do?
Jenny decides that, in this situation, she is going to recruit someone new to replace Larry but is determined to not be placed in the same position again.
Jenny wants to make sure that all her existing and newly recruited staff members are adequately trained for

Jenny now just needs to find her new staff member and have a training plan in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Stay tuned to see how she gets on……

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Perfect Sitemap

I wanted to add a brief comment about a training course I went to last week hosted by Mark P. Summers of Monkey Design House. The course was on how to optimise small business websites and he was great at explaining the ins and outs of getting the most out of small scale websites. I don't want to go into detail and give away all of his trade secrets but a great point he made was that every site should have a Sitemap, so I researched this and found a great site on Adding A Google Sitemap To Your Blog, for Blogger sites. The steps are very straightforward and will ensure that you create a great sitemap for your site.
Feel free to comment if you have any questions.

ECDL - A Case Study

The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) is an internationally recognised qualification, available in over 125 countries. ECDL is designed to give anyone a chance to improve competency and confidence across a range of IT skills.

ECDL is motivational, flexible, and fun, and is suitable for any learning level - you could be a computer novice and still be able to build neccessary skills and gain a qualification. ECDL works as a stepping stone towards your career path by improving computer speed and efficiency and by providing vital IT skills.

Case Study
A study by the Trinity College ECDL Foundation in an article called “The Costs for Europe of the Lack of Recognition of Certification” by Dudley Dolan, of Manchester NHS Agency with 18,500 staff of different literacy levels, using a blended learning solution including ECDL, showed the following results:

  • Staff morale increased from 65% to 83% after ECDL.
  • The average time saved by staff was 38 minutes a day, equalling 3 hours per week.
  • The Agency had a return on investment of 162%, based on the time saved by employees with an average annual salary of £15,000.
  • Before using ECDL, 44% of staff asked for help several times a week - after, less than 10% asked for help at all.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

How Young is too Young?

With the level of internet usage ever-increasing and with the age frame beginning as early as preschool, it begs the question – are we letting our children loose in cyberspace too early? Is our want to embrace early childhood development going a step too far?

The reason I ask is this – I stumbled upon a website through Technorati for a new craze in children’s toys called Webkinz. The way the site works is that a soft toy is purchased from a local retailer which has a unique product code that is registered online, unlocking a virtual world designed for kids.
This site is one of the most popular sites online at the moment, getting millions of hits a day, creating a buzz throughout networking sites, and having every teenage blogger scouring the internet for up-to-date cheats and tips – hence the reason why I found it. It’s everywhere!

The Webkinz site is a plethora of colour and stimulus, allowing children to build a virtual world for their online pet. This site does everything from creating your pet’s home (through winning Kinzcash – the Webkinz currency) to socialising with other Webkinz, and attending virtual events.

Straight away a thought pops into my head; this is a website designed for children aged 5 and above – how safe is it really?
I decided to investigate as much as possible without actually purchasing my own pet, and to be honest, I was very pleased with the results:

1. The only personal information they ask for is First name, Age, and Gender.
2. You register a screen name which it is suggested should be different from your real name.
3. If you engage in any online interaction with another pet (person), there are only specific phrases and words you are allowed to use and no personal information is ever shared.

This goes to show that designers who are creating these websites are finally thinking about what it is like to be a child and how to experience the internet - safely.

Childhood is a time for learning and the amount of information we retain from an early age helps us form a basis for what we know as an adult. Take for example, a 7 year old and a 57 year old; who is going to master computer basics first?
The child.

Therefore, the earlier we start our children using computers and the internet, the more proficient they will be in the future, and with the development of safe online environments, such as Webkinz, we will feel a lot more comfortable doing this.

Friday, 6 June 2008

UK universities embrace iTunes U – Will you?

Whilst scanning through the Education section of The Guardian this morning, I found an article detailing how UCL now offers Lecture downloads (and soon to be Course and Lecture notes) through a new portal on iTunes called iTunes U.

UCL are the first mainstream UK University to do this and we think it’s about time. The way that students embrace technology these days, it seems only natural that course content be available on their favourite companion – the iPod.

The benefits to having content available online are endless but first and foremost, it makes life so much easier for everyone. Lecturers can provide their lectures to a new international audience by allowing iTunes users to upload lectures to their iPod or download them to their PCs, and students can keep up-to-date with coursework, if they happen to miss an important lecture (which happens a lot in hectic student life).

Lectures are available with audio and video and are easily viewed through iTunes or an iPod, therefore can be accessed anytime and with an iPod – anywhere. Think of the possibilities. You could be learning about Astrology on the train to work, or cramming for an exam at the family dinner. We could be learning about Nanotechnology, instead of reading about the latest from the Big Brother house. Now which sounds more appealing to you?

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Can You Keep A Secret?

There are many trade secrets that I’ve picked up in my 6 years as a trainer and if you promise not to tell, I’ll share some with you.

Secret number one is that there is more to training then standing in front of people and speaking!

To maximise peoples learning there are many things that a trainer needs to take into consideration, even down to dress code. One trainer I know told me of a time when she accidentally put odd shoes on, as expected this was quickly picked up by her delegates. Her argument was that they were both black and she was in a rush

This brings me on to secret number two. Preparation and planning. The training process starts long before the delegates walk through the training room door, with everything from the computers being set up, to having workbooks, refreshments and even checking the lighting and temperature in the room. Not to mention the research that will have happened to enable the trainer to run the course in the first place.

The reason I became a trainer was so I could help and support people gain new knowledge, skills and confidence in something that will benefit them, and there’s nothing better than watching the look on people’s faces as things suddenly click into place. No two days are the same even if it is the same course being delivered as the day before, and there is always an air of anticipation on what the day will bring.

Secret number three is that trainers have a ‘tool kit’ of experience, knowledge and ideas to help enhance the learning experience. You have to quickly read peoples body language and establish everyone’s learning styles so that they get the most from the session. Accelerated Learning techniques are also used-this doesn’t mean talking at twice the speed and rushing through things! It’s about how people learn and how the brain processes information. Smells, sweets, group exercises, toys and a variety of learning methods are all used to optimise the learning.

Secret number four is that training is not about teaching but about a fun, informative, supportive learning environment, the focus being on the learners and how they can get the best out of the day.

Truth be told training is pretty fun and in addition to the learning and support material that you get to take away you just may also find out the difference between a koosh ball and a tangle but Ssh that really is a secret.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Is your Business Socially Responsible?

The 7th Annual Responsible Business Summit gets underway today at The Park Plaza Hotel in London, with attendees from companies such as: Cancer Research UK, CIPD, HSBC, IBM, ITV, Levi Strauss, Masterfoods UK, Nokia Corporation, Oxfam, PepsiCo, Save the Children, and Starbucks.

As with previous years, there will many informative speeches made on topics including “Corporate Responsibility as a driver for innovation and opportunities,” and “Engaging your employees in CR: How to make it work,” with the aim to inform and excite executives from medium and large corporations, non-profit and government agencies on the need for Corporate Social Responsibilty.
While these type of conferences are geared mostly towards large corporations due to the cost involved in attending, the ideas and ethics behind it need to be passed down to companies of all sizes.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) may seem like something only large corporate companies such as Microsoft and O2 can build into their company ethos, as they have the resources to do so but it should be an important part of every businesses strategy.

So what is CSR?
CSR is the blend between business and society, where businesses voluntarily take on their ethical responsibility to contribute to community and society at large. This can be anything from quality of life in the workforce and employee rights, environmental issues, work within the community and job creation.

So what do you do?

It seems hard to think of ways that small businesses can support CSR when there is little expendable cash available but here are some ideas that with improve your company and your immediate community, without sacrificing company profits:

  1. Give a student a chance by offering work experience through a local Secondary school.
  2. Hire someone local to do jobs such as office cleaning, window cleaning, gardening, or deliveries.
  3. Recycle – contact your Borough and make sure that you are doing all you can to minimise waste in your area. This includes paper as well. If possible, don’t print it.
  4. Turn off lights when possible. No one should be working all night!
  5. Work business-to-business with other companies in your local area; this will support growth in the community.

It is apparent that most of the companies that are leaders in their fields (whether small, medium, or large) are also leaders in Corporate Social Responsibility. The two go hand-in-hand, just like Business and Society.

Get involved in your community and you’ll be surprised at the impact it will have on other areas of your business. It is up to you to socially aware- it’s what any innovative business would do!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Don’t Want to Learn Anymore? You May as Well Retire.

When I left university 5 years ago I was under the impression, along with the majority of my peers, that my life in education was over for good. The next step in my life was going to be putting everything I had learnt in my 3 years into practice in the real world. Of course, anyone who has spent any time in the real world will know this is a complete fantasy, and anyone in IT will realise that they need to actively study for the rest of their working lives.

Never before has there been an industry that has moved along at such a fantastic pace; on a daily basis I receive newsletters and RSS feeds detailing the advancements in technologies which will be considered commonplace within the next few years. In my short working life I have seen operating systems develop from Windows 98 through to Vista, I have also seen the standard chip speeds quadruple and memory capacity increase tenfold. If you have the money you can now have a tetra byte of memory in a laptop!

Obviously the development of the technologies we use forces us to develop our skills in order to complete our jobs. The type of studying performed will depend on your area within the industry. A variety of up to date accredited courses are available through online vendors and in further education establishments, here are some of the main areas to concentrate on:

Microsoft Certified Networking Courses
These courses are aimed at getting the user up-to-date with Microsoft Windows 2003 platform and Windows Server system, allowing you to manage and develop networks and security.

Cisco Networking
These courses will enable you to configure and operate local and wide area networks, which national and global organisations heavily rely on.

Programming (Java, C#, Visual Basic, etc...)
These courses will give you the know-how to be able to create and design software solutions using the latest in development technologies.

Web Design (Adobe Macromedia, Flash, CIW, etc…)
Studying these courses will enable you to develop and maintain websites, create content and digital media, as well as enter into the lucrative world of e-commerce.

With the speed at which technologies are advancing getting faster by the year, the earlier you fit your personal learning into your everyday work, the less chance you have of getting left behind. It’s a sobering thought that the systems I used within my university degree just five years ago are already obsolete.

I Wish I had that Job

A recent article on the BBC news website suggested that four in ten UK workers are thinking of quitting their jobs in the next year.

Why? What is it that makes us so unhappy in the workplace?
Is it the money? The travel in rush hour? That annoying guy who sits opposite you?
Instinctively, we all know we need to work to support ourselves and our families so we muddle through the week, the best way that we can.

It is human nature to always want something better than what we have – always trying to keep up with the Jones’ – but I think sometimes we need to look at what we currently have before we make the rash decision to jump ship.

We hear about “so-and-so” who works here and has this amazing job and often say “oooh, I wish I was them,” but the reality of it is, that a job will always be a job. In other words, we all need to work for our pay checks; there is no way to avoid it.

So maybe we should look at how we can improve our current working environment rather than automatically thinking that some new position you’ve heard about will ultimately be better.

Let’s discuss what it is about our jobs that we dislike so much. The aforementioned BBC article says that the main reasons for unrest in the workplace are:

  • Unreasonable workloads
  • Feeling underpaid
  • Lack of career path

It is quite easy to blame the above entirely on poor management but this is insinuating that we have no control over our own futures. It is very easy to sit back and say, “There’s nothing I can do, it’s just the way things are.” Whatever happened to being proactive and taking the future in our own hands? Both management and employees alike need to look at ways to make everyone happy.

Here are some thoughts on the subject.

  • There are always those daily tasks that take us longer than we would like; if we were adequately trained from the outset and provided with regular training workshops, we would be able to be productive throughout the day and hopefully minimise workloads.
  • Help management to understand that although we may always put our gripes down to money; it is amazing how far a pat on the back goes.
  • It is in our nature to learn so give us the chance to. This will not only help keep staff happy but it will benefit companies as well.

In short, there are small things that companies can do to keep great staff. Make them feel wanted by providing training options; the chance to learn and grow with the company. The best promotional tool a business has is its staff – keep them happy and they’ll do great things for you and everyone will want their job!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Welcome to the new Clear Learning blog!

Well well well! Here we go again.
This is the second installment of our blog and we are hoping for great things. Now, with a new and improved design, and some eager writers, we plan to bring you the most up to date happenings in the field of learning.
With our team of trainers working throughout the UK and our inhouse online training specialists, Clear Learning have all areas of training covered.

Our training and development solutions include:
  • Small business skills workshops - that tackle common challenges of having your own company. Our half-day workshops cover; finding and employing great staff, getting paid on time and how to make the internet work for your business.
  • Online training courses - that cover a wide range of business and IT disciplines. With 1300 instantly accessible courses, you control when, where and how long you spend training.
  • Customised learning solutions - we’ll work with you to assess your requirements and deliver a bespoke training package that enables you to achieve your goals.
Feel free to get involved by leaving us comments and offering your point or view - this is what we thrive on, so get into it!