Scottish whisky leader Edrington upskills staff with AI-powered learning hub

(Image sourced via Edrington)

For 18 months, all 3,000 employees at the Scottish household whiskey brand maker Edrington have had a new way of accessing skills and training via a new online AI-powered company ‘up-skilling’ portal.

Introduced in September 2019, the new system combines the use of two key edtech technologies and has also won much higher course engagement and completion than previous e-learning, with 85% engagement in its first year, compared to, at best, high sixties previously .

Another benefit has been that twice the number of mandatory courses has been completed by staff than with the older system. Finally, significant HR team time has been won back thanks to reduced manual course scheduling and admin.

Headquartered in Glasgow, Edrington produces some of the world’s best-known Scotch brands, including The Macallan, Highland Park, Famous Grouse and The Glenrothes. Over the last few years, the company decided it needed to change its market focus into new territory which its Training Development Manager of Global Supply Chain, Chris Palmer, calls the “ultra-premium” spirit brand sector. Palmer says:

We’re on a journey into the ultra-prestige and luxury categories of the drinks market, making The Macallan into a luxury product, to be followed by Highland Park. In that ultra-premium space, there is a real need for us as a business to look at our skills and how we support people within the business to be able to deliver against that vision.

To make the move as successful as possible, the company identified a need to offer all staff new training to build skills in areas such as digital marketing and e-commerce, as well as new approaches to global supply chain management. He adds:

Bringing talent in can be expensive, so we wanted to look at our internal talent pool and up-skill them to be able to get us the skills that we need to build the brands both in terms of selling them but also new ways of producing them .

Another project aim was also to improve on-going delivery of mandatory compliance (eg health and safety) training. To meet these goals, Palmer and his team decided to upgrade to a unified global online learning and development platform.

Replacing a fragmented, siloed L&D approach

What ‘unified’ means here is that instead of the internal training function having to constantly email out details of courses and do a lot of complex training admin and course scheduling, the new system would make learning much more of an employee-driven, self- service tool.

If all mandatory courses could also be accessed in a central hub, as well as the new skill help for the move to premium, the overall efficiency of company team development could be improved. It was also envisaged that progress of staff against the new goals could be better managed, delivered, tracked, and accessed.

The project was also a rebuild of the company’s existing in-house L&D (Learning and Development) service, the Edrington Academy. Palmer says:

We already had a learning system in place, but it was fragmented. We had several providers of learning across the business, and so where you sat in the business determined what experience you had with learning tech.

We also had a central system focused around softer and people skills, which is a key part of your skills development. But we started to realize that we need to be able to pull on different content providers and expand the options of what we could offer our colleagues to be able to help drive the move towards luxury/ultra-premium.

Both the older Academy’s multiple division-specific training and the soft skills core have been replaced by a new facility, the Edrington E-Academy. This uses two key L&D technologies. These are a learning management system (LMS) for administering and delivering training content at scale from LearnUpon, and a learning experience platform (LXP).

This latter system, Degreed, uses machine learning to help employees identify what skills they want to add to their portfolio, matches them to new courses, but also presents relevant projects that could teach them such skills.

The vendor was selected after demonstrating how this could help Edrington up-skill, as well as its approach to centralizing all the content, from video to blogs to manuals – some of which are externally sourced, whilst others are developed in-house by subject matter experts.

The idea of ​​being able to provide such a skills journey for employees is important to the organization. Palmer says:

We asked ourselves: How do we bring learning alive for people? How do we give them the opportunities to go and learn and then get the opportunities across the business to bring that learning to life and put it into practice. That’s the real benefit for not just the learner, but also for us as a business as well.

In terms of identified benefits from unified L&D at Edrington, as noted, 85% of the business looked at their new training portal in the first 12 months. In terms of scale, that equates to consuming over 28,000 pieces of content in just the first few weeks.

Making smarter decisions

Palmer feels this has been a successful start for the company. But he also believes that there are many opportunities for growing the E-Academy, especially on the supply chain side of the business.

I conclude:

We’ve got much more planned for how we want to utilize both the platform and learning across Edrington. Our CEO is really bought into building an Edrington learning culture as he sees how we can utilize skills across the business, increase the attention of the great talent we have by helping them build their skills and experience here.

And by putting the brand teams out with the production teams, you’re starting to see us making smarter decisions with how we market our products, and we’re getting better at how we craft those products as well.

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