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Basic Training

Entrepreneurs have taken a little knowledge a long way by meeting the increased demand for training services.
June 1, 1997
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/14280

Entrepreneurs have taken a little knowledge a long way by meeting the increased demand for training services.

We have a lot to learn. The technology we mastered yesterday is already obsolete. The management skills we learned in college no longer fit today's workplace. We lack confidence and direction. And we face unprecedented change. Few of us will be doing the same jobs the same way 10 years from now or even two years from now. The gold watch is officially a relic: Multijob careers are now the norm.

The new realities of the workplace don't apply just to employees. Employers, too, are feeling the burn. To stay competitive, organizations of all kinds are downsizing staff and raising standards, putting increased pressure on their employees to perform, perform, perform.

Transformation of this magnitude doesn't happen by itself; it wouldn't exist without active learning. This is precisely why employers spent some $55.3 billion on training in 1995, up from $30 billion in 1983, according to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). And employer-sponsored training is only part of the picture. Individuals also comprise a ready market for training in employment skills, job hunting and career advancement.

Career training is a vast and intricate market. Its players include major national firms, individual consultants, boutique training organizations, private seminar companies, community colleges and career schools. While some of these formats aren't appropriate for the average entrepreneur wanting to break into this industry, many are, and new opportunities open daily. Here is an industry with ample room for innovation and growth. The only real prerequisite is having knowledge to share.

Marketplace Of Ideas

Job and career training is hardly a new concept, but it's become a more compelling entrepreneurial opportunity for a few good reasons. For starters, says Ed Schroer, vice president for new business development at ASTD, "Corporations are outsourcing more of their training services to independent consultants and suppliers."

Why? One reason is that in-house training often isn't cost-effective. Employers want cutting-edge expertise, but they don't necessarily want to pay for full-time trainers for each technical application they use. The same holds true for nontechnical training. Why keep a top-flight motivational trainer on staff when all a company really needs is an occasional shot in the arm?

Cost savings isn't the only advantage that independent trainers can offer. "Clients want rapid deployment of new technology and, with it, a rapid deployment of technical training," says Patricia Roberts, founder of technology training firm PTS Learning Systems in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. "They want just enough [training], just in time, just when they need it. They don't want to sit through an intro course or deal with a lot of extraneous information." Independent training firms provide instant access to top-level expertise.

Even outside the traditional corporate milieu, demand for training is strong. Through seminars, Cambria, California, career trainer Lucia Capacchione helps corporate and individual students cope with layoffs and career changes. Using techniques developed in the book she co-wrote, Putting Your Talent to Work (Health Communications), Capacchione guides students toward their true callings. "People want work that is meaningful, enjoyable, and that resonates with their values," she says. "No one was talking about this in the '70s, but interest in it has skyrocketed in recent years."

Instructions, Please

Understanding the demand for training is relatively simple. Tapping into the market is a bit more complex, however. Training today takes many forms, from one-on-one tutoring to seminars, public speaking, "help desk" services, classroom teaching and even interactive multimedia instruction.

Opportunities abound, but not all opportunities are created equal. For example, says Doug McBride, executive director of the Information Technology Training Association, "there is certainly a large number of people who are behind the leading edge in terms of their technical skills. For this reason, the market for [high-tech] training continues to grow."

Specialization, and even customization, are the new buzzwords. Of course, emphasizing a specialty can be either a boon or a bane. Choose the wrong focus, and your company may never leave the ground.

Choose the right one, however, and it's possible to create a business that's not only tailored to your clients' needs but also to yours. Take Roberts, for example. She co-founded PTS Learning Systems in 1986, when PCs were just hitting the business scene. "I had a background in education, but I was really interested in the corporate world," Roberts explains. "In the mid-'80s, people were buying PCs but weren't necessarily up to speed in knowing how to use them. I saw an opportunity there and went after it."

Eleven years later, PTS employs 150 people and is active in the emerging field of interactive computerized training. Eventually, Roberts hopes to take the company public. "Because of our size and experience, we're able to offer customers total solutions," she says, including everything from individualized instruction to computerized tutorials.

In contrast, Ivory Dorsey, founder of Golden Eagle Business Services Inc. in Atlanta, prefers to keep her business small and agile. Through consulting, classes and keynote addresses, she motivates employees at corporations such as Lucent Technologies and Bell South to embrace change, champion innovation and take chances. Golden Eagle is virtually a one-woman show--and that's just how Dorsey and her clients like it.

What Dorsey does is unique. Part mentor and part evangelist, she creates individualized programs to meet client needs, whether this means working with small groups of sales executives or addressing large conferences of financial officers. If this description of Dorsey's work sounds vague, that's because flexibility is her forte. "People often call me knowing they want something but not knowing what it is," she says. And when the only guidance her clients give her is that they want their people to be at the next level, it's up to Dorsey to create a program to achieve that goal.

Dorsey's talent has won her a sizable following, but it isn't likely to propel her company to multinational proportions. Why? "To grow this business by conventional standards, I'd need to bring in other people," says Dorsey. "And I don't find many people who can do what I do."

Head Of The Class

Fortunately, the scale of Dorsey's business suits her just fine, just as Roberts' burgeoning company fits her aspirations. And though this field is not for everyone, the wide range of formats accommodates a spectrum of entrepreneurial types.

Are you born to teach? Take a cue from Dorsey and Capacchione, and go to the head of the class. Or consider curriculum design, creating training products that duplicate or enhance the work of great teachers. Is marketing your best subject? Hire or contract with talented trainers, and focus your efforts on sales.

Of course, successful entrepreneurs in this field possess some degree of both educational and marketing savvy, and most are good students, to boot. Keeping the working world up to date means staying current yourself--both in terms of trends and client needs. "[Clients] are more motivated, more demanding and less patient today," says Roberts.

New entrepreneurs who expect to tap effortlessly into a geyser of opportunity may be in for a jolt. While it's possible to launch a training business with little inventory, a modest location and meager amenities, undercapitalization is a serious threat to fledgling firms. "You have to allow a significant amount of time to establish clients or design your products," says ASTD's Schroer. "Ideally, new entrepreneurs should have a year's worth of income available to them."

Marketing costs may also be substantial. David Holcombe, co-founder of technology training firm Influent Technology Group in Framingham, Massachusetts, initially sent out 120,000 information packages to launch a series of interactive technology seminars. "The only practical way for a company like us to come in is as a boutique player," says Holcombe. But niche playing may also necessitate an expanded geographical reach. As a result, says Holcombe, "the barrier to entry is higher."

In fact, expectations are high overall in this field. Workers and companies alike may be eager to learn, but they're also discerning about how their time and money are spent. Firms that don't deliver won't survive for long.

On the other hand, those who can offer skills, guidance, knowledge and support to a lightning-paced workplace find that the market is ready and the rewards are rich. Those who can, teach.

Want to Know More?

For information on training opportunities, contact the American Society for Training and Development at 1640 King St., Box 1443, Alexandria, VA 22313-2043, (703) 683-8100 or visit its Web site at (http://www.astd.org).

Entrepreneurs interested in technology training can contact the Information Technology Training Association at (512) 502-9300 or write to ITTA, 8400 Mopac Expwy., #201, Austin, TX 78759.

Influent Technology Group in Framingham, Massachusetts, sponsors conferences and expos for the information technology training industry. For more information, call (888) 333-9088 or visit its Web site at (http://www.influent.com).

Contact Sources

Golden Eagle Business Services Inc., P.O. Box 43447, Atlanta, GA 30336-0447, (404) 881-6777;

Influent Technology Group, 498 Concord St., Framingham, MA 01702-2357, (508) 872-9088;

Information Technology Training Association, (http://www.itta.org);

Lucia Capacchione, P.O. Box 1355, Cambria, CA 93428;

PTS Learning Systems, 1150 First Ave., Parkview Tower, #700, King of Prussia, PA 19406, (610) 337-8878.

Gayle Sato Stodder covers entrepreneurship for various publications. She lives and works in Redondo Beach, California.