By Ian McCue, commerce and retail reporter
⏰ 5-minute read
Intertek Alchemy, a company that produces employee training courses, created a series of COVID-19 courses and made it freely available to everyone, a departure from its usual business model.
The courses were extremely popular among customers, many of whom have opted for the business’s individual-based training offerings as the virus makes group training sessions difficult.
Alchemy has yet to face any cash flow challenges due to the coronavirus, as most of its customers are food manufacturers.
Not long after the coronavirus reached the U.S., Archie Barrett and other executives at Intertek Alchemy started meeting several times a week to assess the fast-changing situation, talking through business continuity plans and about how to transition into a remote workplace. It was in one of those meetings that executives decided to create safety training videos about the coronavirus and make them available to the public at no cost.
The first course was a 12-minute video from Alchemy, a learning management system (LMS) and courseware provider, that covers basic information on the coronavirus, including how it spreads, what are the symptoms and how people can protect themselves and prevent further spread. The company started producing the course in the first week of March and turned it around in about a week — record time.
“It’s like the whole executive team said, ‘Let’s just make this available [for free] … so that if there’s people out there that can benefit from taking this course that aren’t customers, then let’s empower them to do that,’” said Barrett, Alchemy’s executive vice president of product management.
“I think a lot of companies are looking at what they can do to help with this pandemic with the resources they have and are stepping up and doing that. There’s all kinds of stories about that on the news. This is our way of helping out.”
"I think a lot of companies are looking at what they can do to help with this pandemic. ... This is our way of helping out.”
This marked the first time in the business’s 17-year history that it released one of its video training courses to the public instead of just to customers. The “COVID-19: Overview” course is currently available in English, Spanish and Canadian French and will soon be available in four more languages or dialects. Users can watch it through a web browser or download a SCORM file that they can upload onto their LMS.
As of mid-April, more than 40% of Alchemy’s customers had played the course for groups of employees in more than 1,100 factories. The company earned positive feedback from both customers and prospects.
“We’ve actually never gotten this level of thanks and appreciation from our customers in pushing out a course than we have with this one,” Barrett said.
The public can view Intertek Alchemy's interactive training courses on COVID-19 via the company's website.
Training manufacturing employees
Alchemy develops learning solutions primarily used to educate front-line manufacturing workers. Most of its customers are food manufacturers, and the company has developed its own platform with about 100 video courses on food safety, workplace safety and human resources. A team of videographers, graphic artists and instructional designers create professional, high-quality courses.
Manufacturers typically use Alchemy’s interactive training programs, which allow the audience to answer questions with remotes, to train groups of 20-50 workers before or after their shifts. Clients can use Alchemy’s courses as they are, modify them or create their own.
“It was clear that there weren’t good, high-tech learning solutions for those production workers,” Barrett said of why the Austin, Texas-based business started. “So we came up with a way of taking your traditional learning management system and traditional online e-learning, and we added a classroom solution … because these production workers, they’re used to training in groups.”
Of course, training in groups has become more challenging in the time of the coronavirus. Alchemy’s courses can also run in e-learning and kiosk modes that let employees train individually on company devices. The company has seen increased use of both e-learning and kiosks since the coronavirus became a global issue.
Alchemy has updated the course as recommendations from leading public health officials change and will continue to revise it. For example, when it first released the COVID-19 course, the World Health Organization (WHO) said people should stay at least three feet away from each other to prevent the spread of the virus. Soon after, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the minimum distance should be six feet, so Alchemy updated the course.
Mostly, business as usual
So far, Alchemy has not faced any real economic impact due to the pandemic. None of its customers have asked for discounts or payment deferrals. In fact, some of the food manufacturers that utilize its platform and course content are as busy as ever as they try to keep up with sky-high demand for grocery staples.
However, some of Alchemy’s clients supply restaurants and were forced to rethink their operations as restaurants in many states either closed or moved to takeout- and delivery-only. Many of those manufacturers have adjusted their supply chains so they can sell products to grocery stores.
“The impact to the food industry a lot of times is a little different in say a downturn or recession than other industries,” Barrett said. “Sometimes the food industry isn’t hit too hard or hit at all because people are still buying food. Maybe they’re going to restaurants a little less, but they have to get their food from somewhere.”
“Sometimes the food industry isn’t hit too hard or hit at all [by downturns] because people are still buying food."
Even as those essential businesses try their best to operate at full capacity, they face new coronavirus-related problems. Employees may get sick or need to stay home to care for their children who are no longer at school, and working from home is not an option for food production employees.
As a result, factories need to onboard new workers and cross-train existing ones quickly and in greater numbers than before. Alchemy’s customers have turned to its platform and courses to help them do that.
Expanding its free course catalog
After the success of its overview course on COVID-19, Alchemy recently released five more training videos on hand-washing, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, managing visitors and personal hygiene that are free to the public. Everyone can also access posters on handwashing and personal hygiene and a breakroom video on the coronavirus.
The technology company sees these efforts as a way to give essential businesses and others a much-needed assist during a uniquely challenging time.
“These are courses that our customers [would usually] receive as part of our solution,” Barrett said, adding that Alchemy may develop additional coronavirus-related content for the public. “... Every week, we are looking for ways to help our customers and prospects respond to the crisis.”