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Behind the Scenes at Industry Edge: How We Created Our Industry Certification Program

December 21, 2021

One of the top requests we hear from our clients is they want to work with people who have experience in their industry. Although anyone can claim they have industry knowledge, it’s hard to know whether someone is truly an expert unless you’ve worked with them. We wanted a better way to show that our people have the experience clients need, so we created Industry Edge, a self-led e-learning program that allows our employees to become industry experts by learning from our own experts within the firm.

We built this program to show our clients and others the vast amounts of industry-specific expertise our people truly have, and to validate their skills and ability to help clients with specific challenges. Industry Edge not only sets us apart from other firms, it also enables each of our team members to build their personal brand as a trusted client advisor in the industries they serve.

We’ve discussed the details of this ground-breaking program in a previous post, but we also wanted to dive deeper into how we developed the curriculum using our internal knowledge, which was no easy task. To get a behind-the-scenes look, we spoke with Kelly Gascoigne, a senior manager in our Learning & Development team who played a huge rule in the creation of Industry Edge. Here’s how the process unfolded, from initial selection of the industry experts to what’s currently in the works.

Harnessing the Brain Dump

A program like Industry Edge requires tapping into an enormous amount of knowledge and endless hours of collaboration. Our Learning & Development team went to each industry expert at the firm to help determine which individuals should lend their expertise and hands-on experience to help develop the curriculum. Some of these experts are partners who lead our industry-focused efforts, like Matt Chavez (technology) and Bob Tuvell (real estate), and others are subject matter experts (SMEs) partners identified.

Every one of these busy professionals contributed incredible amounts of information and was willing to collaborate to share it throughout Armanino. Their knowledge and their firm-first focus are what make the program possible.

However, all this expertise also created a challenge: how to distill such a huge amount of knowledge into a manageable framework. For this, we turned to professionals on our Learning & Development team who have specialized experience designing instructional courses.

Once we’d chosen our experts, they worked with our instructional designers to determine the objectives for each course. This took a significant amount of time because it was basically an expert’s brain dump of all their industry knowledge and what they think each tier of the program should know before earning their badge.

Then our instructional designers had to convert all this knowledge into actionable materials. For example, they asked our experts about the type of industry-specific information someone needs to know to become a Practitioner (our entry level of industry certification). They determined that at that level, people should have a solid command of basic industry knowledge: the lingo, reporting and compliance needs, concepts, barriers and opportunities clients in this industry face. In future levels, we’ll expand on this baseline knowledge and the learning requirements of each tier will become more advanced.

Completing the Practitioner level for an industry will give our team members the expertise and confidence in their skills to be able to help clients with everyday needs. As they progress through Industry Edge’s higher levels, they’ll gain the skills  to tackle increasingly advanced challenges, using case studies and hands-on simulations.

Make a Module, Check it Twice

Next, we had to determine how to package the industry knowledge to be as engaging and interactive for employees as possible, while also doublechecking its accuracy through external sources. We spent a large portion of the design process validating the information we’d received using books, websites, white papers and knowledge-sharing sessions among experts to ensure every bit of our curriculum was current and accurate.

During this process, we also had to educate our SMEs on how to work with instructional designers. The designers know how to put the information together in a course format, but since they’re not experts who work directly with clients, it took a lot of time and collaboration between these two groups to get the balance right.

Our instructional designers developed learning storyboards and placed information into modules, and then it was time to figure out how to display the information to ensure an optimal learning experience for our people. We included games and videos in the modules, some featuring the SMEs who helped created the curriculum.

At the end of each module, we provided an assessment for SMEs who helped with content creation to review every bit of information. They looked at the data and facts in each module and made suggestions about how we could further improve the content.

Once the module went through this review process, it was tested extensively before being launched. Our Learning & Development team completes every module, learning the material and interacting with all the games and videos to ensure the technology works and the subject matter is clear. In the process, they actually earned their own badges!

Keeping Up With the Pace of Change

After a year in the making, our Technology badge was the first one to launch in September 2021. We created buzz around the launch using webinars and got people excited about being able to take growth into their own hands with a course they could complete at their own pace.

Earned badges can be featured on an email signature or LinkedIn profile, and this market-facing credentialing is a great incentive for the program. People love that they’re able to showcase their industry knowledge and willingness to grow, and to share how they’ve mastered a new skill and completed a challenge.

As we continue launching industries and tiers, we’ll adjust our process to capture as much internal knowledge as possible and make sure we’re keeping up with the pace of external change our clients are experiencing. As more information becomes available, or as change happens, we’re ready to adapt our curriculum for future modules or modify our current ones. We can also add new types of information to next tiers of the program.

Creating a program like Industry Edge takes an exponential amount of time and collaboration to make sure the material is accurate, current and will benefit every single person who decides to take their growth into their own hands. We’re currently reviewing our nonprofit and real estate industry modules, with plans to launch both in early 2022. We look forward to launching more industries and badges for our employees and giving them opportunities to showcase their eagerness to learn and become even more knowledgeable, trusted advisors.

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