Unique ambience encourages cognitive thinking

by Martin Williams

Douglas Holyoak, learning and education director
PricewaterhouseCoopers Hong Kong
Photo: Nolly Leung

Global accounting firm takes corporate training to new heights

Training in an agreeable and inspiring setting is considered more effective and pleasurable. With this in mind, accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Hong Kong recently opened a new training facility in Kwun Tong, just in time for the firm's peak training season.

The Kwun Tong facility occupies the entire 19th floor of a twin-tower building and boasts nine training rooms, plus a community area in the bridge connecting the towers.

"Now, we have three times the space," says Douglas Holyoak, learning and education director, PricewaterhouseCoopers. "All the classrooms have an identical look and feel. All except one have masses of natural lighting, with floor-to-ceiling windows. This setting is important for facilitating both teaching and learning."

Mr Holyoak was on secondment from PricewaterhouseCoopers in the US. When he arrived in Hong Kong last year, he helped with the facility's design, and particularly with the audio-visual equipment. "The audio-video configuration has been very well thought out, giving the entire facility exceptional versatility and flexibility," Mr Holyoak notes. "For instance, you can put four or five rooms together and get 300 or 400 people in, or have single rooms with small groups of 10 to 20 people. Devices and equipment like projectors and screens can be moved so that the audio-visual configuration does not obstruct learning. As a result, the facility is as comfortable and pleasant as possible."

The Kwun Tong training facility is PricewaterhouseCoopers' third in the Greater China region. The other two are in Beijing and Shanghai. Although it will be mainly utilised by Hong Kong-based staff, it will also be available for training of employees from the firm's Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau offices.

Internal affairs

PricewaterhouseCoopers looks at more than just rooms when it comes to training. Mr Holyoak emphasises, "It's the whole experience —f rom the moment staff members walk in to the facility to the minute they leave. Course designs and instructors are important as these serve to uplift and inspire people. Training is about cognitive activity, as well as emotional aspects."

To facilitate cognitive learning, there are reminders of PricewaterhouseCoopers' values throughout the facility. Staff will find mantras such as "we invest in relationships, both with clients and employees" on the facility's walls or engraved in its glass windows.

Since the new facility is opened for all PricewaterhouseCoopers employees, most trainers are in-house staff who focus on core skills and theory training.

"Expert practitioners from within the firm take the responsibilities to groom junior staff, as one of our values is to give back to the organisation," says Mr Holyoak.

New recruits embark on PricewaterhouseCoopers training even before they start working for the firm. As individuals move through the ranks from manager to director and eventually partner, they receive training at every level.

"Employees continue to undergo training until the day they retire. We have programmes specifically targeting individuals who we believe will move up to the next level," says Mr Holyoak, explaining that the firm's "Towards Leadership Programme" prepares promising staff to move up the ranks, and helps senior staff assess employees who are promotion material.

New technology

Formal training constitutes only part of the overall learning experience, says Mr Holyoak. "Most learning takes place on the job, with formal training representing only around 10 per cent of the spectrum. People learn something new on every assignment," he points out.

Mr Holyoak, for example, is exposed to a vast pool of knowledge resources. Only recently he sat through two business development programmes in order to assess them. He also attends courses that are specific to his job.

Although the firm will always provide courses on basic accounting, a team of dedicated trainers constantly explores ways to enhance learning. New or enhanced courses keep staff up to speed with developments that affect the accounting world.

According to Mr Holyoak, technology has a big impact on the industry. "This is why we also look at new learning techniques to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of our training and development endeavours," he adds. "Currently we are considering podcasts, webcasts and other ways of using the internet. The new facility has a production studio, so we can do more live webcasts, and set up virtual classrooms."

Meanwhile, security remains a focal point in leveraging IT applications. Any future podcasts containing proprietary information would require safeguards to ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands, Mr Holyoak notes.


Taken from Career Times 10 October 2008, p. A5
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