In the Great Reshuffle going on now, people are moving in and out of jobs and industries. Organizations are adapting to new business models and changing consumer demand. Their employees need training to update their skills and know how to comply with government regulations.
The Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) is helping employers ramp up their business, adjust to change, and rebuild the restaurant industry in their state. But the restaurant industry is highly regulated. To pass inspections and keep their doors open, restaurant employees must be certified to handle food and alcoholic beverages.
Regulations provide an opportunity for associations to offer education and certification to their members and market. While other associations were suffering during the pandemic, TRA enjoyed booming business. In the last six months of 2021, they saw a 465% increase in revenue thanks to their compliance training and certification programs.
Compliance training is a competitive business
All restaurant employees in Texas (front-of-house and kitchen) must have a valid Food Handler certification card. In establishments that serve beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages, front-of-house employees must also have Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) seller-server certification.
Selling training programs and certification exams is a nice business if you can get it. TRA does well despite going up against 55 competitors who offer the food handler certification and 28 who offer TABC seller-server certification.
Certifications like these are, frankly, a commodity. Restaurant employees most likely base their purchase decision on price, convenience, and, probably, what their employer recommends. But first they have to find programs to compare.
What’s in a name? Everything when marketing compliance training and certifications.
On the TABC website, the organizations offering seller-server certification are listed in alphabetical order. Who do you think gets the most clicks on a list of nearly 30? The ones at the top—and that’s why TRA rebranded their course.
“We made a phone book move,” said Sarah Ivie, project and business intelligence manager at TRA. “The course was named TABCtoGo. We renamed it #1 TABC Certification by TRA. The new name definitely drove more traffic to us.”
Partner with deep-pocket organizations
TRA attracted a big audience because it had another advantage—a partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission, which was looking for ways to support the recovery of the Texas restaurant industry. The commission provided a $500,000 grant for the purchase of TRA’s ServSafe Food Handler and TABC training and certification.
Thanks to the grant, TRA can offer both courses for free, while the money lasts. Customers complete an online registration form that collects the information TRA needs for grant reporting. They receive a free code to use when checking out in the iMIS store. Customers who don’t go through that process pay either the full amount or a member or negotiated employer discount rate.
When the state commission went looking for a partner, TRA was a natural pick since they already offered these two certification programs along with certifications for food managers, employees accommodating guests with food allergies, and customer service model and technology programs.
But the state grant came with a catch: the courses had to be ready in four weeks. The timing couldn’t have been worse: TRA was in the midst of finding a new LMS and their old one didn’t have the required functionality. Now they had to find, select, and implement an LMS, and, oh yeah, integrate it with iMIS within a few weeks. One more thing, they’d have to rebuild the courses in the new LMS too. Impossible?
Find an LMS that can handle tricky compliance requirements
When two motivated teams work together, it’s amazing what you can do in a short amount of time. Long story short, everything worked out and TRA went live with the new courses before the state deadline.
“Integration with iMIS was our number one requirement,” said Sarah. iMIS is the backbone of TRA’s technology ecosystem, so they couldn’t afford to encounter any delays in integration—not a problem with TopClass LMS. “When we did the review of TopClass, we looked at the system and the single sign on, and it was obvious it could handle integration without a problem.” It didn’t hurt that Sarah was already using TopClass regularly since it powers the iMIS Learning Hub and NiUG Learning Center.
But integration wasn’t the only key requirement. TRA must adhere to strict state guidelines for user identity verification. “We have to record and report each person’s middle initial and a separate ID number, which we capture as part of the iMIS single sign-on for TopClass. We created a custom login/create account wizard to do that. When someone creates an account, they must enter this information to move forward. Each time they log in, they verify that information.”
Another identity verification process occurs at the beginning of the course. The user is asked ten random yes/no questions, like “Have you ever owned a red car?” or “Do you have a brother?” While the user is taking the course, one of the questions pops up and must be answered before they can proceed.
“I can't even tell you how many LMS providers we reached out to, hoping to find something out of the box that would help us match the state requirements,” said Sarah. We referred TRA to a content developer who found a way to achieve identity validation within the content itself by writing custom code for their SCORM courses.
When selecting a new LMS, you must consider compliance requirements from regulatory bodies in addition to your association’s requirements. Sarah said, “Start with the end result. What organizational goals will you be working towards with your training program? What do you want to see in the future? Work backwards from there to break down your needs. Talk through the details (“we want to offer this course”) as well as the big picture (“we want to be the standard for this type of certification”) with the LMS providers you interview. Be sure the system you choose will work for you both now and in the future.”
Make it easy for companies to do business with you
Besides the 465% increase in revenue, TRA also saw a 693% increase in the number of certificates issued in the last six months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. “Despite the dramatic triple-digit increase in users, our team only received about 10% more support calls and emails. It’s obvious TopClass LMS functions much more smoothly than our previous LMS.”
TRA makes it easy for employers to do business with them by offering:
• Member discounts on training and certification programs
• Bundled certification packages
• Volume discounts
• Preferred pricing for corporate partners
• Pre-paid course codes for employees to use
• Customized tracking reports for employers/HR departments
• Monthly and automatic billing
Sarah’s perspective is helpful when considering how your association can respond to member and market needs. What do your association, industry professionals, and industry employers want to see in the future? How does that vision translate into goals for your education department? Sarah said TRA wants to provide resources to give their members the best opportunity to succeed, help them stay open safely, and assist them in keeping their employees, growing and rehiring new workers, and driving the recovery of their state economy. Paraphrase that mission and you have a good place to start.