TRAINING 2000: TECHNOLOGY TO TAKE OVER? Technology is moving to the head of the class when it comes to training employees. The Alexandria, VA-based American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) predicts that technological advances, along with downsized corporate training departments, will mean an increase in training delivered through computers and video conferences in coming years.

"Training in the classroom will never be completely replaced; there are places where human interaction is really important," says Curtis Plott, ASTD president and CEO. "But the decreased cost of hardware and software, along with increased accessibility, will make technology more attractive and feasible." As evidence, Plott cites an ASTD benchmarking study of 55 companies that shows classroom training decreased from 78 percent in 1994 to 69 percent in 1995.

But it's not just technology that is changing the face of corporate training departments, according to Plott. Once these departments have been shrunk by downsizing, large companies will dramatically increase their use of outsourcing. (Smaller companies have been outsourcing training all along, Plott says.) In-house corporate trainers, in turn, will function more as brokers for training suppliers.

The focus of training also will shift from what is taught to how employees perform. "Along with this emphasis on performance, companies are increasingly trying to figure out how effective their training is," says Plott. "They are focusing on whether employees are performing and whether they are seeing a return on their investment in training."

DEALING WITH CHANGE: TRAINING FOR MANAGEMENT A new three-day program from the Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, NC, is designed to help managers deal with employees traumatized by organizational change. The program, Revitalizing the Workforce, grew out of the effects of downsizing on workforces, but its appeal isn't limited to companies experiencing downsizing, says Michael Wakefield, program manager. "Our experience shows that employees exhibit similar responses to any major transition, whether it's a merger, restructuring, or downsizing. Change scares the hell out of people."

The program details a four-level plan for organizations to follow. Each level presents a range of "structured experiences" that trainers, human resource professionals, or others charged with energizing employees can address through a meeting.

AIR CONSORTIUM SIGNS TWO REGIONAL CARRIERS The Business Travel Contractors Corporation (BTCC) is pursuing its goal of "more rational," less costly business travel airfares through new agreements with two low-fare airlines plus a proposal to promote low-fare airlines' entry into markets dominated by the major carriers.

BTCC President Kevin Mitchell says the group expects to sign contracts this month with Frontier Airlines and Reno Air for airfares that exclude commissions and credit-card costs and are guaranteed for six months. The deals are based on revenue guarantees by members of BTCC, a buying group composed of U.S. corporations purchasing about $1 billion a year in business travel services.

BTCC, based in Lafayette Hill, PA, has a fare agreement in place with Southwest Airlines and has continued to pique the interest of the major carriers, getting "extremely close" to an agreement with Continental Airlines, Mitchell says. "When the time is appropriate we will go out [to the major carriers] with another proposal."

The Frontier and Reno agreements, he adds, do not represent a change in strategy toward low-cost carriers. "We've offered to do business with all carriers, regardless of size," he says.

Mitchell attributes much of the major carriers' resistance to BTCC's proposals to high load factors, currently at about 70 percent. "Even if the majors are comfortable dealing with a group, they're still thinking 'We don't have to do this,'" he says. "We are moving toward our end game by employing other kinds of strategies."

One of those strategies involves BTCC underwriting the low-fare carriers' cost of entering what Mitchell calls "hostage" markets, those served exclusively by one or two major carriers. "We would identify the market and the corporations it serves, sit down with the carrier and ask, on every 100 seats, how many do you need guaranteed to cover your costs?" Mitchell says.

This spring, BTCC expects to reach agreements with three low-fare carriers to enter the Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Detroit markets. Agreements of this kind will neutralize the majors' ability to prevent competitors from entering new markets or from being driven out of markets they're in, according to Mitchell. "The frustration is so deep and so wide that just having one of these agreements launched will put everything in motion," he says.

BUSINESS TRAVEL: A VIEW INTO THE NEXT CENTURY The next five years will bring a strong demand for business travel, relatively low airfares worldwide, and a continuing rise in hotel rates, says Runzheimer International's 1997 business travel forecast.

The Rochester, WI-based management consulting firm expects the annual average worldwide inflation rate to come in at a modest 3.5 percent. That means an overall inflation factor for January 2002 of 18.8 percent over January 1997 pricing.

Worldwide airline competition, abundant fuel, and the U.S. government's demands that protectionist governments opt for an "open skies" policy should keep airfares stable, the firm says, predicting an annual average increase of 2.8 percent. Relatively low airfares will keep hotel demand high, with room rates rising above the rate of inflation. The firm's other predictions: Worldwide ground transportation costs will rise at a rate close to inflation, while meal costs will rise at a slower rate, with companies reining in restaurant spending by business travelers.