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Economic jitters benefit Monett through International Institute for Learning

Monday, July 27, 2009

Packing materials for a training session planned at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport, Delores Hinds, at left, and Bill Osborn, at right, readied another shipment for the International Institute for Learning out of the Monett office recently. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Of all the companies operating in Monett, the International Institute for Learning (IIL) is the most keenly attuned to economic conditions extending beyond the United States borders. The current economic situation is continuing to have a major impact how IIL and its Monett branch are functioning.

Steve Osborn, vice president of global operations based at the Monett office, said three-quarters of the companies that contract with IIL to train its people are Fortune 500 companies.

IIL's core business has been in providing training to employees of major companies. Workbooks for training sessions are assembled and shipped from the Monett office. Whereas a year ago, IIL was providing training for insurance giant AIG and banking giant CitiGroup, now companies have generally reduced training budgets, Osborn said, and many have let people go.

While other local firms may not feel much of an impact from how these big corporations fare in the economic picture, their welfare very much affects IIL.

Economic activity has slowed enormously, Osborn said. Orders for IIL's services are off about 50 percent from what they were nine months ago. Unpredictable shifts in business activity are still very evident, he said.

"When the major U.S.-based global companies got in trouble last fall, U.S. businesses felt it immediately," Osborn said. "It was like falling off a cliff. Horrendous. Two to four months after the meltdown, though, international business, even those associated with U.S. companies, held up pretty well.

"In the last 30 to 35 days, foreign-based business has started to see a significant fall-off. There are some signs----not much----of healing in the U.S. Maybe the injury is still very apparent in the international market," Osborn said. "If the current trend holds, the international curve will slow up three to four months from now. I hope so. The economy is by no means where it needs to be, but it's headed in the right direction."

To save money, businesses have shifted more and more away from traditional classroom training session to virtual classrooms. Teaching sessions broadcast over the internet save on travel expenses, hotel rooms and can often be attended from one's regular office desk. Osborn said IIL has long been a leader in offering international business training in a virtual classroom setting. The virtual classrooms are managed by Monett people and facilitated by people in Monett.

"We can schedule a class and deliver it to Seattle, Toyko, Singapore or Bejing. A tremendous amount of clients, 50 percent of the names you hear on CNN that do traditional classrooms, are going virtual classrooms now. The shift to virtual classrooms has helped support Monett," Osborn said.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there had been a significant move to virtual classrooms. Osborn said the shift in today's economy has involved a greater percentage of the market.

With the internationalization of business, events around the world affect IIL. When news of bombings in hotels in India or Singapore come out, Osborn said there is always concern of whether IIL had anyone in that location that day, either taking or delivering a training session.

"We sell knowledge transfer," Osborn said.

"The mechanics of how that happens is also changing. The Monett office continues to compile and ship workbooks for training, but, sale of the actual books is not the critical revenue maker.

"We own the workbooks. We grant to right to use them," Osborn said. "The workbook is there to enhance the learning process. The real training is between the instructor and the students."

In working with a firm like Microsoft, for example, Osborn said IIL grants the company the right to download the workbook off the internet, saving the cost of IIL printing and shipping them. IIL has partnered with a lot of clients in becoming more green, he said.

With less activity at the Monett office in dealing with workbooks, the staff has been concentrating on upgrades such as launching a new learning management system and changing the customer relation software.

"Our software developers in New York are usually covered up with customer demands. Configuring new software and launching systems is something they usually don't have the resources to do," Osborn said.

Work that could be transferred from New York City to Monett has been done as well. Nonetheless, the pace in the Monett office is slower with orders down and the emphasis off workbook production.

"We're trying to minimize the impact on the staff," Osborn said. "We haven't laid anyone off, and at this point, we don't intend to. We've cut out all the overhead and streamlined everything we can."

IIL's other major emphasis, the training and networking of professional project managers, has remained relatively steady. Just as it becomes important to keep training staff, Osborn said companies are placing high value on their project managers.

"Now more than ever, when a company sets out to make something happen, it has to happen right. Companies don't tend to want to lose their project managers," Osborn said.

"We're spending a lot of time and effort reinforcing relationships with clients, the practical things you do to have clients. Because tomorrow will be a better day," Osborn said.

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