In the lightning fast-paced landscape of information technology, Ken Davis created a forward-thinking and engaging learning platform to train employees at small-midsize businesses.
By Joshua Swank, California Business Journal
When Ken Davis left Qualcomm after 17 years, he immediately had a plan.
“I went into my office, I closed the door and took out a sheet of paper,” he says. “I began to write down 19 things of what I was going to do next — and 13 of those became Spokes Learning Solutions.”
Three years from that day, he and his wife Jennifer are at the forefront of a new kind of company that delivers specialized training to small businesses across Southern California.
The Solana Beach startup’s approach to learning is built on the idea that personalized education produces collective rewards for the organizations that use it.
Imagine an information broker who takes the knowledge and high-level curricula of the corporate world and offers it to clients at an attractive price. The more customers, the more services—and everyone’s costs decrease.
This idea took root when Davis met with Southern California business leaders who were impressed with his work at Qualcomm’s corporate learning center. Davis’ time at Qualcomm spurred him to think differently about what technology was and what it could be. This includes groundbreaking work in the company’s corporate learning center, where Davis and several colleagues developed an employee app store—among of the first of its kind.
“We were actually changing the way training and development occurred before the industry was talking about what we were doing,” he says.
Inspired by the untapped potential of educational technology — and Davis’ own passion for innovation and problem-solving — Spokes Learning Solutions was born.
“I wanted to see if we could create that same kind of magic that we had at Qualcomm and build an entire ecosystem and offer that to the smaller companies,” he says.
Many executives, particularly those of small-midsize businesses, worry that employee training may not be the right move while they are expanding. Others perceive the $161-billion industry of corporate learning as inaccessible to smaller companies — a luxury item that is nonessential to the bottom line.
Davis, however, sees things differently.
“We want to change the way businesses see training. So we decided to build an inner world with exceptional, competent workforces built around employee engagement. We build engagement through learning and development.”
This isn’t just rhetoric. The field of corporate learning has an impressive track record. Companies who devote resources toward employee training receive a 24 percent higher profit margin than those without. In a major study conducted by London’s Middlesex University, more than 40 percent of employees feel they weren’t meeting their full potential due to a lack of training.
This kind of discontentment leads to turnover, a potential death blow to small businesses, costing them thousands of dollars in replacement and retraining.
For growing businesses, this is a critical issue. “A lot of companies will see the need for training a little too late,” Davis says. “Then they’ll realize that they missed the opportunity to share company values, ethics, or codes of conduct.”
Davis stresses the importance of reducing turnover and increasing retention with employee development programs. Studies consistently show the benefits of such initiatives—increasing employee tenure by three to five years, saving thousands of dollars in the long run.
“The big challenges facing most small companies is turnover — this can cost them from thousands of dollars to 1 1/2 the lost employee’s salary to replace,” he says. “Financially, it is worth it to include on-boarding and personal/professional development as keys to engagement and longer tenure. Onboarding and retention are almost every small businesses top concerns.”
Most forms of employee-training focus on a “need to know” basis. This includes legally-mandated lessons including sexual harassment and safety in the workplace. This barebones operation pushes training onto workers without much incentive and little understanding of why it’s important.
Spokes Learning avoids these problems with a deep, personal touch.
“We’ll talk to employees on all levels to make sure everybody’s on board — that’s what makes us different,” Davis says. “We’re not interested in just a one-off training program as much as we are in setting up the company — and its clients — for long-term success.”
A Custom Learning Ecosystem
Spokes Learning offers a wide array of services to employers to train a diverse set of workers. From cutting-edge virtual workshops to more formal training, Davis’ intriguing programs have a sincere interest in crafting a culture of continuous learning.
Davis accomplishes this with customized programs.
“The programs are tailored for the type of workforce they have and the type of industry they’re in,” he says. “It’s not a one-size fits situation. The learning ecosystem becomes user-centric, rather than training-centric, so it doesn’t impact their work-flow so they can apply it in real-time and share it with others.”
Spokes considers the evolution of business over the years to help employees and clients meet the changing needs of the digital age. In many instances, this requires Spokes to build a bridge between what is taught, what is understood and what is practiced.
“Training is not just a one-time thing,” Davis says. “Learning is a lifelong activity. We’re born to learn and we thrive when we learn. The highest form of it is when you adapt it into the real-world.”
This process involves re-schooling and re-skilling employees to reduce turnover from outside forces such as artificial intelligence or automation. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, advances in artificial intelligence could threaten almost a third of the U.S. workforce. As old industries decline, new jobs will need to be created.
Davis ensures longevity for the workers who are trained for another department, and the business itself. “Building an empowered workforce builds an empowered company, when they are engaged to work hard and understand the company’s values, goals, where it’s going and their role in it — they become brand-ambassadors,” he says.
With a comprehensive analysis of a company’s internal culture and potential, Spokes Learning Solutions stands out as an upcoming trailblazer. Likening it to a “LinkedIn of Learning,” Davis plans to unveil additional features to the company.
“We’ve built a platform with a complete network of resources, from technology to content providers to integrators,” he says. “We bring the key components of the training industry together with a cohesive vision – like ‘spokes’ in a network, connecting the content, systems, expertise and the needs of the business together in a user-centric environment. It’s what I like to call, ‘The next kind of network.’”
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