Leaning into Learning: How Sundt Construction Accelerated the Shift to Blended Online Learning

June 11, 2020

woman sitting in living room on rug looking at laptop

130-year old Sundt Construction has a long-standing commitment to craft training out in the field. But training for administrative staff has often fallen short. Systems weren’t user friendly and they lacked a centralized resource connecting learning and development with operating groups, making it difficult for employee-owners to get what they needed. 

To address this training gap, Sundt put together an L&D team in May 2019 led by Shawn Blubaum, Director of Operations Talent Development, and Melissa Moreno, Director of Administrative Talent Development. 

They were making steady progress engaging employees with both instructor-led training (ILT) and online content. Then COVID-19 hit, which presented a challenge—and (it turns out) an opportunity to lean in to a new culture of learning.

Promoting a new learning experience

When Shawn and Melissa arrived, they needed to prove to people that face-to-face classes weren’t the only way to learn—that there was high-quality, useful material online. “The company was of the mindset that if it wasn’t instructor-led and developed by Sundt, then it wasn’t good. We had gotten a little bit stuck in our ways,” said Shawn.

He and Melissa needed to shift the expectation of what a learning experience could be. They started by meeting with group leaders and project teams to figure out how to better align the learning being offered with what would add value for Sundt’s employee-owners. They also renewed their LinkedIn Learning contract and expanded access to all administrative staff in the organization. Then, it was time to promote it.

The key was creating a structured communications plan, like announcing a new course every Friday. They also went on a “road tour” (back when travel was still the norm) to show employees how easy it was to find all the resources they needed. Fast forward to today and 70% of administrators have activated LinkedIn Learning licenses. 

COVID-19 amplifies online learning

The work that Shawn and Melissa started last year was accelerated by COVID-19. As a construction company, Sundt is considered an essential business; while job sites were up and running, project teams, as well as office and support teams, were largely remote, forcing the L&D team to deliver learning in new ways. “It sped up our agenda,” said Shawn.

In April, the team quickly put together collections of LinkedIn Learning content—one on change / resilience and one on working remotely / leading virtual teams—and pushed the content out immediately to support employees in their new world of work. Even though it was external content, it was vetted and had the Sundt logo, which helped engage employees. 

The team also embraced a blended online learning model; they identified which ILT would translate to a virtual environment and enabled learners to sign up for a VILT course right from the LinkedIn Learning platform. “We have a whole month of virtual instructor-led training for May. That’s brand new for Sundt,” said Shawn. “COVID-19 is forcing us way beyond our comfort zone.”

They’ve also created roughly 70 learning paths to support every operational position within the company and recently started sending out announcements about what’s surging to get employees excited about LinkedIn Learning as a resource. 

“We are working hard to get people comfortable learning in this new environment. We don’t want learning to stop. We are just providing it in a new way,” said Melissa.

Communicating to learners—and execs 

The team created a digital training calendar, with links to daily offerings, to make it easy for people to access all Sundt content and online learning resources, and continues to focus on the message that ‘we can make the best of this and get through it together.’

In addition to communicating consistently with employees, the team also meets with each of the four business unit presidents every other week. While the executives supported L&D from day one, it has still been important to communicate what’s working and keep selling it internally. 

“We’re trying to create a true partnership,” said Melissa. “We meet regularly with our Group Presidents to let them know about what training is going on and provide a dashboard based on LinkedIn Learning and LMS data to show them what their people are learning. That way we can figure out, together, what we need to drive towards as an organization.” Group managers also share course recommendations with their teams, playing an important role in getting the word out about learning opportunities.

A true culture change

By asking what employee-owners want instead of telling them what they were going to get, as had happened in the past, Shawn and Melissa now serve as a valuable resource for administrative training. Employee-owners or groups who previously wanted to take only ILT now recognize the value of online learning and VILT, and appreciate that the L&D team is “listening and putting out good content.”

They are also starting to shift the mindset around learning: learn because you want to learn, not because it’s required. “Learning can be for other soft skills or power skills that might not have anything to do with your current job,” said Melissa. “Because of its setup and ease, Linkedin Learning has helped us spark that interest in learning. People can pick and choose from what we recommend and from the 6,000+ videos on any topic. We’re hoping to see more and more people be consistently active with it.”

The changes from COVID-19 are here to stay. Moving forward, Sundt expects to continue with at least a 50/50 mix of ILT versus virtual—maybe even leaning more towards online. The team is realizing they don’t have to travel to deliver a stellar learning experience and are saving money and time in the process. “This might have been a harder hill to climb had the pandemic not happened, but it sped up the process for us. People are realizing this is the new norm. They’re adjusting and getting on board,” said Melissa. 

Let’s continue the conversation

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