Guest Editor - Michelle Kohn, CPTM

Working for a global organization oftentimes means working on projects with people from around the globe who have very different skill sets and backgrounds. In this dispersed environment, it is imperative that learning and development (L&D) be strategically aligned with business goals to ensure consistency across the business.

At Arup – an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists, working across every aspect of today’s built environment – we employ more than 13,000 people in more than 35 countries.

Managing large multi-disciplinary projects is one of the key skills that sets us apart from many of our competitors. After identifying this skill as essential for select team members to have, our L&D department created an internal certification program for project managers, with the goal of ensuring that no matter where the employee is located (in a large or small office), they will receive a consistent training experience.

But having a small L&D team meant we lacked the ability to deliver this program on an ongoing and consistent basis. Our solution was to partner with senior staff in the initial design and delivery of the program. Here are a few areas that our team focused on during development.

Stakeholder Analysis: We first interviewed senior staff in both large and small offices to determine what skills were necessary for someone to be successful in this role. The L&D team then designed an initial outline of nine core courses and four optional ones covering project management, finance, legal, technical and people skills based on those interviews. We then vetted this list with a team of senior engineers from across the region to ensure we would be meeting their needs.

Subject Matter Experts: We then assigned subject matter experts to each topic to work with a designer to create the courses using a combination of in-person and e-learning modules, depending on the topic. We also created a learning path for these modules, allowing learners to take different courses at different points in their career so they can continue to learn and grow as their career progresses. Courses are delivered in-person by a senior engineer in the office, and once a quarter we do train-the-trainer classes in each office to get facilitators comfortable with the topic and presenting.

Certification: The final step to becoming internally certified as a project manager is an interview with a panel of senior principals in their local office. A series of scenario-based questions were created for the senior team to ask, along with a ranking matrix for them to use to score the answers. This format ensures that we are giving learners the opportunity to demonstrate that they have the skills required to apply the learning to real-world examples.


The certification program has been extremely successful due to the amount of buy-in from senior staff. By having them involved in designing the curriculum as well as facilitating, we now have a direct loop to when things in the business change and courses need to be updated. Using real-life examples has brought the program to life and allows us to keep it specific to our company and our culture. By having senior leaders teach, they are able to share their experiences with junior staff and end up unofficially mentoring many of the people who take their course. It’s been a great partnership between the business and L&D to create a custom program that addresses a critical business need and has resulted in a stronger more robust pool of project managers, which is critical to helping grow our business.