The U.S. military is under more pressure than most organizations to run like a well-oiled machine. Naturally, that's also true for the companies such as Northrop Grumman Corporation (NCG) that provide equipment, weapons, and training to the military. Without providing the right kind of training at the right time, both to internal employees and external customers in the military, Northrop Grumman wouldn't have the military as a customer for long.
NGC is a defense and technology company headquartered in Los Angeles with divisions in Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, and California. With 120,000 employees and $32 billion in sales in 2007, the company builds ships, electronics, space technology, and IT and mission systems. It sells its training, air-, space-, and watercraft, and weaponry primarily to the U.S. military, although it also has some foreign customers.
Like most companies, NCG faces a generational training challenge. "How do we develop, design, and deliver content that meets multiple needs and that appeals to the learning styles of four generations of workers?" asks Kathy Thomas, vice president of learning and development for NGC. So far, the answer is to use a blend of methods, including classroom training, e-learning, case study scenarios, and peer-to-peer coaching, all with a keen eye to managing costs.
The delivery of skills and technical training that allow NGC to operate and deliver for its customers is another challenge, but even more so, the development of leaders who can lead across a sector and across the enterprise is one of Thomas' key preoccupations. A leadership training program that is delivered regionally, in tandem with sector-specific leadership programs for front-line and mid-level managers, addresses this need. "It's an opportunity for the people each division sends to leadership training to meet and network with their counterparts in other lines of the business," Thomas says. "So you end up with a shipbuilder sitting next to a rocket scientist, and then the focus is not on the product; it's on what it means to lead people in an organizational context so they rally around the same goals and objectives."
If there's any challenge NGC faces more than most, it's the war for talent. NGC needs systems engineers and project managers, and it vies not only with its own competitors but also with other sectors for that kind of talent. Other factors, such as the requirement for background checks, classified information, and U.S. citizenship, narrow the field still further. "When we get people through our doors, we look at it as a lifelong deal, and so we have to make sure we're doing needs analysis and staying in touch with our business needs, both today and into the future so we can develop the talent we need and stay ahead of the curve," Thomas says.
Each business within NGC is different, which argues for a federated method of organizing training. In each of NGC's seven business sectors, there is a learning and development function that reports to the HR function in the corporate layer. There are also additional training functions in those businesses that may do specific craft or technical/technician training. For example, the shipbuilding sector has its own apprentice school. This division builds aircraft carriers and submarines for the Navy, and due to the degree of complexity involved in building them, the division has no choice but to grow its own workers rather than find them in the market.
The learning and development directors for each sector report to Thomas and serve on an enterprise learning and development council, which Thomas chairs. The council's function is to collaborate on the implementation of enterprise-wide learning architecture, such as NGC's learning management system (LMS). "All of our sectors are using the LMS now, but as we built it out, we wanted to make sure we were using it for the right functions, such as training that's common to all sectors," Thomas says. For example, the LMS is used to track and deliver compliance training across the company.
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