Jérôme de Grandmaison, VP of corporate HR for East Asia Pacific, talks to Rebecca Lewis about the evolution of Alstom University.

In the early 2000s, Alstom Group was not in the best position. The company had doubled in size – thanks to a succession of buyouts of other companies – but this had happened without the necessary organisational adjustments.

According to its website, at this time, the company’s bankers were calling for everything to be sold and Alstom found itself precariously close to filing for bankruptcy.

However, through some state support and a series of job cuts, Alstom survived. Now, it was time to focus on the company’s core business – and its people.

“The creation of AlstomUniversity happened around 2005 and it was proposed after this almost-bankruptcy of Alstom Group,” says Jérôme de Grandmaison, the company’s vice-president of corporate human resources for East Asia Pacific.

“We had our recovery, but it was decided we needed to integrate a new culture into the group.”

Alstom University: The beginning

In the original setting up of the university, the company created a certain number of curriculums based on the different functions of the organisation. The learning facility was not a technical training centre or a technical university, but much more based around functions and leadership.

“It was decided that, from Paris [the company’s main headquarters], we would create a curriculum for HR people in the company, a curriculum for project management, and a curriculum for finance and sales people,” de Grandmaison says.

Once these various curriculums were set up, the company wasted no time in pushing them globally.

In the beginning, the courses worked where, for example, an HR professional would undertake a particular training programme for two weeks, then another to understand “the world of Alstom”, and then another focused slightly more on the technical competencies.

“This was the beginning, and it was provided through a network of campuses where we made sure people from all around the region could attend this sort of training.

“In this first period of AlstomUniversity, the various curriculums were designed from a much more top-down perspective, which was very corporate when compared to the rest of the world.”

The university’s evolution

This plan worked for Alstom at first – helping to build its people’s strategies and skills. But then last year the company decided to change its approach.

“We wanted to empower the campuses and the people in the various business lines to take more control of the learning development within AlstomUniversity,” he says.

“We wanted to have a mix of top-down approach as well as including the requested learning needs of the various businesses – or a bottom-up approach – to make sure we had a more consistent approach.”

This involved using more local providers to help with training, as well as instilling a more consistent culture across how learning was viewed in the company.

We weren’t addressing a lot of the needs from the various businesses. It was not consistent with specific needs and values of the different countries we operate in.
Because of this, Alstom found employees were coming out of the university with skills that were still not up to scratch, but changing the culture of learning and the approach of how people learned made the biggest difference.

Now, the university is present in Europe, America and Asia – in India and China – and soon a university will also open in Singapore.

Entering the university

As an employee, being put forward for various courses in the university is based on nomination.

As well as the standard training within the curriculums, it also offers a programme that allows employees to train themselves. Staff can attend these self-taught e-learnings, telepresence trainings and virtual classroom training based on a discussion with their manager and HR.

As the work and lifestyles of Alstom’s employees change to adapt to a global environment, so do their training needs, and the “edutainment” training methods on offer help to encourage the development of staff.

De Grandmaison says its e-learnings are very popular with staff, but mostly with those under 30.

“For the other population in the company we only have about 3% to 5% of people who are comfortable with this sort of approach,” he says. “But what we are seeing is that through this, we are training 10,000 people each year.”

When it incorporates its attrition rate, the results are even better. “Since 2004, almost 80% of the population of the group has been renewed. This has been a huge transformation.”

The pros and cons

De Grandmaison says through this process of improving AlstomUniversity, it discovered how much it benefitted the project management community. Through the adapted curriculums, it could offer training allowing them to grow from project management level one, to level two, to project director.

“This, to me, is the best example of success,” he says.

One of the other advantages was once the training was aligned globally, it allowed for more networking opportunities for employees.

However, de Grandmaison says it learned quickly not everyone was suited to the self-directed and e-learning because some people admitted they found it “boring”.

We had some feedback from sending more senior people to trainings that they found it boring, but I guess that is true for everyone at times.
“Globally, there is a very good buy-in of the people and they know this is our culture and understand why we put them forward for this.”

It has also learned about the high cost of training. Before last year, it wasn’t getting much buy-in from countries outside of Europe because of the expense.

“They were paying much more from Asia to be involved in something in Europe,” he says.

It fixed this cost issue by using more local suppliers and vendors, rather than relying on its tried-and-tested favourites in Europe. The company is still struggling to prioritise following up how it manages its training. With no LMS systems in place, the tracking of training and matching training with individual development plans is mostly done manually.

“We don’t yet have the proper tools and we don’t have LMS in place. This will be a big investment for the company and this is one of our biggest challenges.

“But we are really moving forwards in terms of talent development in the company, so this is a big focus for us so we are planning for it, but it comes down to cost.”