On-Site Magazine

Keeping training programs alive

When the pandemic forced contractors to abruptly cancel in-class training, contractors found innovative ways to keep learners up to date.

October 15, 2021   By Jacob Stoller
Construction

Photo by Leon on Unsplash

 

In February 2020, PCL Construction was winding down one of its largest software rollouts in 20 years. Learning materials were finalized, district champions were trained using real-life scenarios, and in-class training was soon to commence in districts across North America.

“Then the pandemic hit, and the question was ‘nobody’s doing in-class training right now, so what can we do instead?’” says Nikki Stalker, team lead, Solution Delivery, PCL Construction.

Training users is more challenging in construction than most other industries because given the variability of jobsites and regions, a cookie-cutter approach rarely works. Consequently, training programs must be relevant in a wide variety of situations.

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“Every project is unique and how each of our districts construct them is as well,” says Stalker, “so our software has to accommodate a lot of different project management styles and contractual obligations.”

Fortunately, PCL’s new release had been piloted in the districts prior to the pandemic, and the district champions had been trained. The insights gained during this process enabled the company to add content to the course materials that explained the business processes that the software was supporting.

“We repackaged the information we had delivered to the district champions in the classroom into a pre-recorded PowerPoint that people could run on their own,” says Stalker. “In addition to step-by-step instructions, we also provided instructions on business process – that’s something we wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

A BLENDED APPROACH

Prior to the pandemic, much of the live classroom learning at Omaha-based Kiewit was tailored to the requirements of particular projects. The instructors were designated super-users – business process specialists who were trained by the software development group at the company headquarters.

“Our jobs vary in that we work in a lot of different verticals,” says Justin Rauner, Kiewit’s chief technology officer. “And some applications get used more than others and some don’t get used at all depending on the specific project requirements. So, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for us.”

Responding to the need to go online, the company has migrated to a blended learning approach where learners participate from their computers but interact with a live instructor and other class members through Q&A sessions.

The company has made some adjustments for the different learning environment.

“In a virtual environment, it’s easy to be multi-tasking with the training running in the background.” says Rauner. “But then the comprehension and retention on the topic is not very good. So, we reduced the duration of our classes by 50 per cent or more. We also added a rotating schedule where we would have virtual instructor-led training on a specific tool once a month.”

The approach has proven to be highly popular with users. Rauner notes that response and survey rates have gone up significantly.

REINFORCING ONLINE LEARNING

Construction company Pomerleau has a history of encouraging employees to utilize online learning resources. In September 2019, the company made LinkedIn Learning available to employees, giving them access to approximately 20,000 courses. The use of these materials accelerated in 2020.

“When COVID hit and we sent everyone back home, we told them ‘this is a good time for you to learn something,’” says Jonathan Harvey, Pomerleau’s training and leadership development director.

Over 90 per cent of training was already being delivered online. What changed during the pandemic is the company had to discontinue site visits by experts who ensured that the tools were being used properly and gave users one-on-one support where needed. These visits were replaced by more frequent team calls.

“People also started helping each other more,” Harvey says. Pomerleau also uses a company-wide change management process to ensure that new apps help users become more efficient and innovative and don’t interfere with the normal workflow.

“We want our superintendents to walk the site, and not be in the trailer behind a computer doing clerical stuff,” Harvey says.

BACK TO NORMAL?

The convenience of remote learning is self-evident, but the benefits of in-person – focus, interaction, and relationship building – may prove to be essential in the long term.

“I think this has opened our eyes to the possibilities and the convenience of remote learning,” Stalker says. “But there’s a balance between that and giving people the ability to focus in a classroom setting where they shut off their phones and their other screens. There’s also a lot more opportunity to generate conversations in an in-person setting,” she adds.

“Once the pandemic is over, I think we’re going to continue to move much more to a blended approach where we’re going to have on-site and virtual learning,” Rauner says.