Jeremy Tillman had a vision. “I wanted to create a marketplace that made it easy for people to find the corporate training they needed and to develop technology to allow companies to better manage the learning processes of their employees.” And so, in 2004, after an epiphany while working on another firm’s project, he started TrainUp.com.
Eighteen years later more than 60,000 companies, including 92 percent of the Fortune 500, have purchased one or more training courses from TrainUp.com. And Tillman, who grew up in public housing, has from the company’s inception traveled all over the world with training and with technology he says, “helps bring people together.”
His story is a fascinating one. Tillman started an e-commerce company while a computer sciences student at the University of Alabama – Huntsville. He managed the university’s five computer labs and built a training management system to aid in its corporate education programs. There, Tillman got his first taste of working with firms like Boeing, Teledyne, and Raytheon.
Tillman stated that TrainUp.com truly took off by 2006 and has continued its growth and vision. The secret to his firm’s future, he lets on, lies with helping people to learn collaboratively. Traditional corporate training had been focused primarily on conveying job-related information, but adult learning theory teaches that information alone is insufficient to produce real change.
The collaborative approach flips the old narrative of, “what can I gain” to “what can I contribute to the larger whole.”
“We learn things faster when we gain the insights from others and brainstorm to find solutions to on-the-job problems. The end-result is often a richer learning experience that has ongoing impacts for individuals and companies alike,” Tillman noted.
That’s the TrainUp.com view of training, one that multitudes have undertaken.
TrainUp.com is also on the cutting edge of creating custom learning, performance, and talent management solutions for building, tracking, managing, and assessing enterprise-wide initiatives for multiple large, recognizable corporations.
And in 2022, as companies across myriad sectors face the challenges posed by the new paradigm of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), Tillman believes his training methods are a perfect fit.
The collaborative approach which TrainUp.com has developed over nearly two decades is particularly geared toward Inclusion. Diversity and Equity are largely hiring decisions, while Inclusion requires a change of culture from the bottom up.
“Building inclusive workplace cultures has to include everyone on the job. The key to successful inclusion training is connecting people together rather than presenting training as divisive – and allowing employees to recognize contributions from those they may have previously discounted. These principles apply across the board, from global corporations to small businesses, and even church organizations. Good training is founded in connectivity, and that requires inclusivity,” he tells me.
Tillman cited a recent four-nation, 1,000-person pilot training session for a multinational corporation. In the pilot, 250 people each from China, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States were encouraged to leverage the TrainUp.com platform for training. Prior to the event, over 600 of the participants were engaging together and interacting to address serious discussion questions, actions that surely enhanced the collective learning experience and that of the most active participants.
Plus, says Tillman, TrainUp.com obtained lots of data on how the people engaged both before, during, and after the event. The TrainUp.com platform enables participants in such group trainings to continue their conversations and share their successes and failures. The outcome has been impacts in areas far beyond the scope of the specific training. Once again, the key is creating community out of diverse parts, not just talking diversity.
TrainUp.com’s latest initiative to addressing contemporary adult corporate learning is its Institutes project, due to launch in April 2022. Therein are four planned courses – leadership skills, inclusive leadership skills, essential skills for first-time managers and supervisors, and customer service skills. The company asserts that unlike most online courses, participants do not have to schedule their lives around expensive live webinars and overpriced course libraries. Instead, these institutes are both on-demand and rooted in community.
In the Leadership Institute, the mantra is “you manage things; you lead people.” The program teaches the difference between people management and visionary leadership – which includes learning and putting into practice essential leadership skills including communication, strategic thinking, and empathy. The institute seeks to provide tools for beginning a lifelong journey.
The Inclusive Leadership Institute prepares students for creating and inspiring diverse workplaces. Students learn the basic building blocks like Cognizance of Bias, Collaborative Training, and Cultural Intelligence. Inclusive leaders must be able to tackle the challenges of diversity, equity, and inclusion with a confidence founded in practical implementation.
TrainUp.com has learned that jumping from individual contributor to manager is a difficult challenge requiring many skills that all too often are not in the toolboxes of first-time managers. To empower first-timers to achieve the goal of maximum team performance, the curriculum includes such skills as goal setting, time management, giving and receiving feedback, and employee recognition.
The Customer Service Institute teaches participants skills for retaining customers, in recognition that it is much cheaper to keep old customers than to acquire new ones. This institute focuses on elite ‘soft skills’, such as emotional intelligence and communication, and ‘hard skills’ such as time management and support metrics.
Tillman recounts one client company’s focus on customer service as a strategy for retaining top talent. Disaffected salespeople were reassigned to customer satisfaction roles. They had to refocus from short-term sales to helping customers feel value and satisfaction. The result was that the sales force found a new level of pride of accomplishment in satisfying customers that made them better salespeople.
Tillman, who knows something about the power of inclusion and overcoming adversity, says he dedicated his career to empowering growth and shaping the future of learning. His reason? “It is what takes someone from where they are today and get them to where they want to be tomorrow.”
And that, he adds, is best done by encouraging everyone in the workplace to maximize their potential and actual contributions to the work at hand – and to their individual futures.
Duggan Flanakin is a journalist and policy analyst who writes from San Marcos, Texas.