The History Behind the CGS Learning Division | CGS

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Natalia Kossobokova

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April 22, 2019
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The History Behind the CGS Learning Division

How a Two-Person Training Team Became an Award-Winning Learning Division

In honor of CGS’s 35th anniversary this month, the CGS team is highlighting the origin story behind each of its three divisions: Applications, Learning and Outsourcing. This week, the CGS Blog takes a look at one of the most digitally transformed departments: CGS Enterprise Learning division, which is based in Canada.

In the early ‘90s, CGS founder, President and CEO Phil Friedman realized the importance of creating a learning department in the company’s very early stages. Friedman wanted to make sure his clients knew the full functionality of the applications he was providing, inside and out. As a result, he decided to expand his training team.

“Back in 1992, I joined CGS as a Training Services Manager. At that point in time, there was only one other employee developing course materials,” said Rhoda Cahan, former VP of Learning Services at CGS.

That year, CGS consisted of a few hundred employees and resided at 32nd Street and Broadway in Midtown Manhattan. The company did not yet have a human resource, legal or marketing department. Cahan had to create course catalogs from scratch.

She joined CGS at a time when the company was quickly growing and so was the commercial adoption of the internet. Her training experience brought in a lot of CGS’s first clients. She had previously worked at an insurance company called Mutual Benefit and was very familiar with the local training managers on Wall Street. As a result of her training experience and networking skills, she began recruiting more experts for her training division. One of the hires was Doug Edwards, who served as a salesperson for the Learning Services Division at CGS. Edwards was known as a “go-getter” and the driver behind CGS’s relationship with IBM. The third hire, who worked closely with the training department, was Jennifer Slavens who has now been with CGS for 25 years. At the time, Slavens was responsible for contract management, producing course materials and shipping course materials as well as arranging travel for instructors.

“In a matter of a few months from the day I joined, we were training some of the top Fortune 500 financial firms,” Cahan recalls.

In the late ‘90s, Cahan remembers how Friedman wanted the company to develop enterprise e-learning solutions. After browsing the internet, her team stumbled upon a company called Certify Online, whose CEO was Doug Stephen. The business employed less than 20 people at the time and was located in the home of Stephen’s mother.

“In 2000, we were operating out of this 200-year-old apartment building,” said Stephen, who is the current Learning Division and Country Manager, CGS Canada. “At that time, to be able to run your internet site, you had to run this technology called IBM WebSphere. It was a hot topic. Everybody needed it.”

Luckily, Stephen’s company had the second highest concentration of WebSphere experts in the world. CGS’s CEO wanted to tap into this talent pool. Consequentially, Certify Online became a contractor for CGS in the late ‘90s, providing WebSphere instructor-led training services for corporations.

“Then lo and behold, in 2001 Phil decided to come to our headquarters in Saint John on a cruise to Canada,” Stephen said. “One night over dinner and drinks at my mother’s apartment, he asked me ‘Would you like to join our company?’ He wrote down a number on a napkin and that was it. I accepted. It was a perfect marriage because of Phil’s contacts and our expertise.”

From then on, the CGS Learning Division began to incorporate a lot of new technology into its training programs. The company started to get recognized by a lot of famous tech companies that then began to recommend CGS as their preferred training team to Fortune 500 companies.

After 9/11 some of CGS’s financial services clients in the World Trade Center area could not go back to their offices. The CGS office at that time was located at 52nd Street and Broadway in the Theater District. People were working remotely from their homes or other offices. CGS developed web seminars for training so people could still attend classes from remote locations.

CGS was also overcoming another challenge at the time: the burst of the dotcom bubble. This came as a result of extreme growth, speculation and investment into internet-based companies during the late 1990s. Nevertheless, the CGS Learning team was able to persevere in this economic downturn by becoming more agile, innovative and widening its scope to attract new companies in a variety of industries.

Cahan remembers how one of the Training division’s first very large contracts was for a military medical records system.  Her team had to place and then train over 100 instructors at military bases throughout the U.S.  They had about a month to secure and train qualified instructors. This engagement was so successful that it led to a five-year contract with the military to place instructors in 10 different countries across the globe.

After 2004, the learning industry evolved significantly with the rise of open learning platforms, software simplification and lower costs. As a result, the L&D market became a lot more competitive. CGS continued to adjust business models, marketing, delivery methods and the types of content they trained with. CGS has come a long way since the early-2000s.

“Last year alone, we trained 7 of the top Fortune 500 companies. It’s really quite an amazing feat because for the longest time, we were the best-kept secret,” said Stephen “Then marketing and sales got involved. We always believed that we had some of the best talent in the learning industry, but now the word has gotten out that we do fantastic work.”

The CGS Learning division now consists of over 300 employees, a network of 2,000+ expert instructors and boasts many impressive clients, including one of the largest media companies in the world. In 2018, CGS Canada expanded its operations at its office in Saint John and expects to create 100 new jobs over the next four years with the support from the provincial government.

“We're excited to continue the expansion of the CGS workforce in Saint John,” said Friedman. “With the availability of highly skilled professionals in the Saint John area, we are able to further provide best-in-class services to current and future clients globally.

Stephen’s team is currently paving the way in the field of tech-forward learning. He spoke at a conference in February 2019 to demonstrate how learners can “Propel Productivity with Augmented Reality.” Stephen believes that the future of learning will change with its technology landscape and that global workplaces are hungry for more immersive and enriching ways to share and scale knowledge.

CGS is using the most cutting-edge Learning technology out there in paired with shoulder-to-shoulder training, in order to drive our customers’ return on investment,” said Stephen. “It’s exciting to see where we can take learning into the industry 4.0 era and beyond.”

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