The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) uses a learning
management system (LMS) to run a lottery. Winning the lottery wont
land you a $1 million. But if youre a member of the union, the
lottery will help you get a seat in one of the more than 1,000
course sections the unions Local 32BJ Thomas Shortman Training,
Scholarship and Safety Fund runs each year for 85,000 eligible
With a pool of tens of thousands of potential trainees to draw
from, simply registering members of Local 32BJ for training was a
full-scale effort each training trimester. The unions members range
from doormen to window cleaners. They work in both residential and
commercial settings. Some are native-born Americans, others are
newly arrived immigrants. As a group, the memberships computer
skills vary greatly. And since 2006, Local 32BJ has grown from a
mostly New York- and New Jersey-based organization to one with
sites in Connecticut, Florida, Virginia and Washington, D.C. All
these factors made for a complicated training situation.
Unlike most unions, we represent a really diverse membership, says
Linda G. Nelson, director for the Local 32BJ Thomas Shortman
Training, Scholarship and Safety Fund. We have thousands of
employers and tens of thousands of locations. Its not as if we have
workers at one location or factory.
When it comes to delivering and registering people for training, we
have to come up with a way to treat everyone equally, adds Nelson.
Because of the number of members we have, we cant register people
on a first-come first-served basis and expect everyone to get the
training they deserve.
To create a streamlined and equitable approach to training, Nelson
and her colleagues began exploring learning technologies that could
automate training registration and reporting. In 2010, Local 32BJ
Thomas Shortman Training, Scholarship and Safety Fund purchased an
LMS software for delivering and tracking training made by Meridian
Knowledge Solutions. According to Nelson, the administrative
features of the LMS were what first attracted her group to the
system. Prior to purchasing the LMS, Nelson says her organization
didnt have a training system that offered much more than a computer
screen showing members that they were eligible for a training
class. There were no real reporting capabilities to speak of,
The training fund says its first goal was to put in place
registration and reporting features, which their newly acquired LMS
As a first step, Nelson and her colleagues created a system for
getting members into classes in an efficient way. To do that, the
unions training team developed a pre-registration lottery process
by customizing the LMS.
Heres how the lottery works: the training team set up a
training-class request period of two weeks. Members then call or
email Nelsons group to pick the classes they would like to take.
The LMS checks to see if the member is qualified to take the class.
At the end of the two weeks, the LMS closes registration and begins
the lottery. Each member who either doesnt request a class or is
ineligible during the two-week registration period is excluded from
the lottery pool of candidates. Next, Meridians learning-management
software using an algorithm developed by Local 32BJ randomly slots
each eligible member into a class based on their training
preferences. At the end of the request period, the LMS shows
Nelsons team how many members want to take classes and how many
courses the union should run.
Since training resources are limited at Local 32BJ, the LMS-powered
lottery gives Nelson a way to equitably assign members to classes,
especially popular classes like plumbing or electricity basics.
Eighty-five thousand members of Local 32BJ are eligible to take
training and, on average, 6,500 members fill 10,000 seats per year.
Nelson expects the LMS to not only streamline the process for
registering members but also boost the amount of training that
happens through better managing their available resources.
Beyond managing the training lottery and automating registration,
the LMS also offers online collaboration centers for discussing
training. Local 32BJ is looking at creating an online community for
its instructors with the LMS. The unions instructors are
tradespeople. Many are unfamiliar with learning technology. But
Nelson and her team have made great strides in getting instructors
to use other features of the LMS for automating attendance and
organizing class rosters. So she hopes the instructors will explore
the online collaboration rooms, too.
Eighty percent of our instructors are now using the LMS to automate
and manage attendance, says Nelson. We have over 200 instructors in
the LMS at this point, and we trained them to use the learning
management system through monetary incentives, training courses,
WebEx sessions, conference calls and in-person coaching, all in a
positive way. Given the right incentives, we think theyll use
According to Nelson, investing in an LMS to streamline training
operations is benefiting union members. Its simple for them to sign
up for classes, improve their professional skills and keep tabs on
their progress, certifications and diplomas. And thats a lottery
that makes everyone a winner.