Training need not be taxing

If any agency faces a training nightmare, it’s the IRS.


As part of its year 2000 readiness efforts, the tax agency acquired about 50,000 PCs
last year and plans to buy an equal number by midsummer. As employees move up from
Microsoft Windows 3.1 and MS-DOS to later versions of Windows, they will have to learn to
use them on a schedule that does not interfere with tax work, said Patricia McCormick,
employee development specialist at the IRS National Learning Center in Austin, Texas.


Separate training courses are under way for employees who have hearing, mobility or
visual impairments, who speak English as a second language and who draw unusual shifts or
workplace assignments—for example, telecommuters.


Overall, the IRS has more than 100,000 far-flung employees plus tens of thousands of
seasonal hires with training needs.


Several learning alternatives will make the transition to new desktop environments
easier, McCormick said.


Many people will use Desktop Trainer 3.0 from MicroVideo Learning Systems of New York.
Its CD-ROM courses teach Microsoft Access 97, Excel 97, Exchange Client 4.0, Windows NT
Workstation 4.0, PowerPoint 97, Windows 95 and Word 97.


For intranet courses, the IRS uses products from Harcourt Brace and Co. subsidiary NetG
of Naperville, Ill.; Anderson Soft-Teach of Oak Grove Village, Ill.; and CBT Systems of
Redwood City, Calif.


“We hope more of our people will have enough [bandwidth] to use courses of that
type in the future,” McCormick said.


Some employees long familiar with MS-DOS are not yet ready for Windows self-study,
however. “They need help to learn to use the mouse and navigate Windows well enough
to move around the course,” she said. IRS officials designed further types of
instruction for them.


Employees can enroll in interactive video training classes broadcast by satellite
downlink. They sign up for one-hour help sessions and can view IVT class videotapes for
help.


Agency officials are experimenting with newsgroups so that users can discuss specific
subjects online.


“Our goal is to provide the same information through enough alternative ways that
everyone can find a suitable course that meets their learning style, diversity needs and
equipment availability,” she said.


For example, SVi Training Products Inc. of San Diego provides workbook courses that can
be delivered to users as electronic files by intranet or e-mail.


When field office development specialists decide that classroom training will work
best, the National Learning Center provides materials, and the field offices usually hire
one instructor for every six employees, McCormick said.


Because the IRS is rolling out a new e-mail standard this year—Microsoft Exchange
Server under NT Server 4.0—and also buying new PCs, McCormick predicted that training
is bound to be easier next year.


“On the other hand, software and hardware are still changing very fast, and people
need to be retrained with every change,” McCormick said.


She said IRS commissioner Charles O. Rossotti has set a three-year PC lifecycle as a
goal for the agency. 


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