Subway Goes Back to School

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The course loads at University of Subway may differ from those of, say, UCLA, but the education gained from the sandwich chain’s Web-based learning tools prepare graduates to meet Subway’s selling and operational challenges.

Doctor’s Associates, Inc., franchisor of the Subway chain that generates more than $6.8 billion in annual revenues, decided that in order to operate nearly 30,000 restaurants in 86 countries it would need a training tool capable of readying 300,000 employees to serve a worldwide customer base. In 2005, it partnered with Nashua, N.H.-based SkillSoft to develop and launch a learning initiative that would meet all of the chain’s unique needs.

“Our greatest challenge was to find a way of reaching people in more than 29,000 locations spanning many time zones and in multiple languages,” said Bonnie Zownir, director of worldwide training for Doctor’s Associates, Milford, Conn. “Another challenge was overcoming reluctance on the part of some of our audience to use the technology.”

The learning solution began as an offthe-shelf management system and Microsoft Office courses, deployed by SkillPort (a learning management system from SkillSoft). Through SkillSoft’s custom-development services organization, more than 30 Subway-specific courses were created to train a position that the chain calls the “sandwich artist.”

“The person who makes the sandwich—the sandwich artist—is a primary target audience for the training program,” explained Scott Fillenworth, director of the Northeast region for SkillSoft. “But the curriculum is developed not only for the sandwich artist, but all the way up the food chain to shift supervisors, store managers and the franchisees themselves.”

The chain’s training program, which is called the University of Subway, is administered via a company intranet site. Custom-developed content trains employees on varying levels on customer-service techniques, opening and closing procedures, and the art and science of making a Subway sandwich.

“We created courses for 11 different job families within the company, so each person had specific courses for their job function,” Zownir added.

Although the usage of the tool is opt-in, not mandatory, the participation rate is high.

“The adoption rate has literally skyrocketed over the past 12 to 18 months,” Fillenworth said. “It’s grown virally in such a way that we’re now seeing course completion rates approaching a half-million in a 12-month period. We believe that by the end of this calendar year we’ll be running at about a million course completions in a 12-month period.”

The program is available 24/7, allowing full access around the world in nearly every time zone and dialect.

“Courses are translated into six languages so far—French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Chinese and English,” said Zownir, “with more planned.”

Technical support is provided by SkillSoft, which works behind the scenes to implement database upgrades and serve as liaison to the SkillSoft-provided Subway technical support desk. Subway also uses SkillSoft Dialogue to develop and create custom training materials that can be deployed rapidly.

The chain has curriculum plans for all levels of restaurant employees who work for the franchisee. The results, according to Zownir, speak for themselves.

“The employee turnover rate has dropped, as people are better trained to do their jobs,” she said. “Some franchisees have instituted incentive programs and career paths related to completion of various levels of courses.”

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