At Corgan, Practitioners Guide the Tech Conversation

Building a sustainable training program with quantifiable results

Founded in 1938, Corgan is a top five architecture firm as ranked by ENR in 2017. With 10 offices in the US and three international locations, Corgan is enjoying rapid growth and recognition for excellence in design. A key component to their success has been the firm’s wholesale willingness to embrace new technologies.

While companies often champion their investment in the most cutting-edge technology, the reality is there’s often a big gap between having certain software and actually maximizing it. With Corgan’s unique and groundbreaking technology training program, they are moving their practice forward by harnessing the most powerful tools in the industry and recognizing that it takes people to make technology work best.

Chad Speas, a licensed architect, is a senior associate at the firm; he also holds the title of design applications manager. Speas and his team of three are responsible for the design and implementation of a firm-wide training program for the 525 technical staff. When Corgan decided they wanted a training program of this magnitude, they called on Speas, who has significant experience and knowledge in technology, and gave him six to eight months to come up with the best solution. There were several factors to consider, including the large number of participants, geographical distance between offices, and the sensitive demands on schedules that could affect any practitioner at any time. In other words, he had to make this work for a lot of different people, in a lot of different places, who would not all be able to participate in training at the same time.

One thing Speas knew from the outset: “Training is often not sustainable. It falls off the radar.” So he understood he had to create a program that would be flexible enough to accommodate different learning styles and needs.

The design process was “really about understanding how people learn, challenging knowledge against best practices, and then using those best practices to teach in a more theoretical setting so that they can gain that knowledge in whatever learning mode they use best—whether it be a lab setting, a lecture and presentation setting, YouTube or videos on their own time,” Speas said. In other words, he wanted to make the training about the users of the technology, and not about the technology alone.

Speas chose to focus on four core programs: Revit, NewForma, Bluebeam and Autodesk 3ds Max. He and his team developed a series of training videos for each software that are a mixture of lecture-style education and hands-on guidance. The series range from 24 sessions (Revit) to six (Bluebeam), and all the videos are broadcast live via GoToMeeting, with time for people to ask questions, and then archived so the trainees can go back and reference them whenever they need to. The live Q&A helps boost engagement, while the archive allows people to reinforce knowledge gained.

One of the most striking aspects to this training is that Corgan invites the staff to view the training videos not on their own time, but on company time. That’s a lot of hours spent not designing projects for clients. Many firms would calculate the “loss” of billable hours and decide that such time-intensive training just isn’t worth it. But Corgan sees things differently: they want their professionals to be leaders in their field, and they view it as part of their company’s responsibility to empower them to get there.

A guiding philosophy for Speas, and Corgan overall, is to stay true to themselves: “Above all we’re architects and designers. We design buildings first. Second to that is the tech.” This sort of thinking helps guide the way new technology is taught. Instead of being driven by the tool, the training is determined by the practitioners. And instead of starting from what the technology can do, “we flip it the other way around and say, ‘We want to accomplish this and how do we do it?’” said Speas.

And the training has worked. While it’s impossible to zero in on how each hour of training has affected the firm’s bottom line, one way of measuring the effectiveness is to look at the revenue generated per technical staff member over the past few years. If the architects and designers are using the tools at their disposal more efficiently, it should go up. And Speas is more than happy to report that, since training implementation, that number has risen every quarter. Perhaps the field at large ought to take note of how Corgan is taking technology training to the next level, and maximizing their investment in tools of the trade.

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