SkillSoft: A New Take on Leadership Training

E-learning pioneer SkillSoft is helping organisations to extend management and leadership training beyond the traditional small core of high-level executives. Vice-president and managing director, EMEA, Kevin Young explains why.

According to Kevin Young, EMEA MD of SkillSoft, nearly every organisation the firm talks to has placed a strong emphasis on leadership development, not just for small executive groups, but extended to include first line and new managers. ‘They see it as a key competitive advantage,’ Young says.

The Nasdaq-traded provider of SaaS-based e-learning and performance support solutions is in a strong position to detect these changing attitudes, with over 1,000 employees around the world and sales of around $281.2 million in 2008 so far. Young believes e-learning is an attractive option during an economic downturn, but organisations have already recognised the benefits of e-learning over formal learning, regardless of their current trading conditions. In B2C, leadership and talent management is the critical issue for the majority of SkillSoft's customers, typically large corporates.

Smart casual

Citing research carried out both in Europe and the US, Young claims 70% of learning happens on an informal basis. 'There is absolute recognition and acceptance that this is the case,’ he says. ‘Organisations are trying to redirect their resources so that it comes from a high-quality, trusted, relevant authority. There is also a shift towards electronic performance reports. Our customers are saying, “I need skills and knowledge and I need it now. I need it to be embedded in the work process so I can understand and apply it within that work process.”’

In April 2008, SkillSoft launched its Leadership Development Channel (LDC), which it has anchored with a series of satellite broadcasts; short video clips aimed at the first line manager group. ‘It enables us to move leadership training beyond the small core that’s traditionally received that focus, to reach larger numbers of people with trusted content. In spring we organised a live satellite broadcast, with over 600 attendees from around Europe, which demonstrates the huge appetite that exists for this fresh approach to training,’ Young says.

Eastern expansion

SkillSoft’s mission has resonated with businesses around the world. In May it announced first quarter revenue of $81.6 million and net income of $7.1 million. A month later it revealed that it had negotiated a multi-million pound partnership to expand its offerings in China and Russia. Ambow Education, which sells education resources in China, will become SkillSoft’s distributor, targeting Chinese businesses and the government, and will provide organisations with localised content and structure in simplified Chinese. SkillSoft’s Russian library will also grow from 85 courses to more than 130 over the next 12 months as part of a deal with Noviy Disk, a leading developer, producer, publisher and distributor of software in the Russian-speaking territories.

As for Young’s assessment of the European market, he admits that the economic climate is more challenging now. ‘But at the same time, the impression we get from our customers is that product lifecycles are shorter. Organisations need to learn how to cope with reduced resources, perhaps a lower budget and lower headcount, and e-learning is one solution. That can mean generic off-the-shelf material, or material that’s specific to them as a business, built in-house using new technologies that we licence to them,’ he says.

Customer content is still a relatively small but growing part of SkillSoft’s overall sales – and is becoming more important, says Young, because organisations can understand the appeal of quickly building their own content and relating it to their product. ‘You don’t need an in-house department for that,’ he explains. As a SaaS provider, SkillSoft also hosts around 90% of its customers. ‘We offer all the benefits of SaaS, that’s how we’re perceived, and we’re happy to be regarded in that light.’

Kevin Young, EMEA MD of SkillSoft.