As published on Constructor: The Magazine of the Associated General Contractors of America in the September/October 2011 issue.
When most people think of training, they often visualize a physical room and tangible learning materials—a whiteboard, a projector, printed handouts, tests, and so on. But for those in charge of training in the commercial construction industry, more and more safety and training managers are choosing to conduct training online, often referred to as “e-learning.”
However, unlike online training programs of the not-so-distant past, e-learning today no longer means sitting through a boring Power-Point slide show or watching a video of an in-person lecture. Today, many online training programs offer rich, interactive experiences that enhance learning and knowledge retention. More important, e-learning can help you save money by increasing safety on the jobsite as well as boosting employee productivity.
How? First, contractors can learn at their own pace, at any time, from any location that has an internet connection. In some cases, they can even earn continuing education credits from providers or sponsors such as AGC or rewards from manufacturers in return for completing a product-training course or attending a live webcast. Training managers can see just who in their organization is getting it and—perhaps more significantly—who isn’t. In contrast, when training is done in a traditional classroom, it’s often hard to gauge how much of the knowledge presented was actually retained.
Even with the great strides of the past several years, many managers still question whether in-person training can be effectively replicated online. It can. A recent study by the U.S. Dept. of Education found that people who learn online generally perform better than those in a face-to-face course.
Employers are intrigued by the cost-saving opportunities associated with e-learning. For example, online training can help keep a firm’s costs down by enhancing safety on the jobsite with state-of-the-art product and skills training courses. Using online training to boost safety can reduce insurance costs and increase productivity by reducing downtime due to illness or injuries.
Employees and contractors also benefit from seamless license renewals, since e-learning can help ensure their professional licenses are always up to date. Some e-learning providers, including AGC, offer online courses to contractors who need to complete continuing education courses. Instead of taking time off work to complete the course, some states allow contractors and electricians to take courses and tests online, fulfilling requirements on their own schedule.
To make things even more convenient, participants can print certificates of completion immediately, and in some states certain e-learning providers will report results directly to the state board.
This seamless license-renewal process not only makes it easier for the learner but also helps employers rest assured that their employees meet certification standards. As an added bonus, employers no longer have to re-organize project schedules because of employees who are sitting through continuing education or training courses available only at set times.
E-learning can also minimize inconsistencies with training—a program element often overlooked by training and safety managers. With traditional learning, different instructors have different training methods. By moving training online and using standard and consistent course materials, all learners are receiving the same essential information. In fact, traditional course instructors can incorporate online training materials into their classroom setting, creating a hybrid course. Such hybrid learning makes any training program more effective by ensuring all course participants receive the same learning experience, whether online or in a bricks-and-mortar classroom.
Arguably one of the most important benefits of online training is increased safety on the jobsite. Because online courses are available at any time, employees can continually take courses to improve and refine their skills on serious topics such as fall prevention, dealing with hazardous materials, the proper use of personal protective equipment and more.
Increased safety means lower costs for employers and less risk to the end user or customer. Commercial contractors are reaping the rewards from incorporating e-learning into their training programs.
I spoke with one large commercial contractor based in the Pacific Northwest who, after implementing an online training program, saw a dramatic decrease in the number of on-site accidents among his employees. The company’s limited safety staff was frequently challenged by inconsistencies in training, especially with new hires. An e-learning program helped the company overcome these challenges and provide a robust, consistent training program that has steadily increased on-the-job safety.
The American Council of Education found that U.S. employees cite continuing education programs as the second-most important reason they stay in their jobs. Increasing job satisfaction by improving skills and on-the-job safety are two important reasons many contractors say, once they have begun online training, they would rather not go back to their old methods.
By Lisa Bordeaux. Lisa Bordeaux is the director of sales and business development at BlueVolt.