Although the COVID-19 pandemic caught many off guard, the experience has provided opportunities for apprenticeship programs and training funds to adapt training methods that will meet educational needs far into the future.
In their article “Staying Connected: Virtual Instruction Strategies for Apprenticeship Programs” in the December issue of Benefits Magazine, authors Thomas Fischer and Thomas E. Pfundstein, Ph.D., reviewed some of the educational and technical challenges that apprenticeship funds and training centers encountered as they launched online training and offered suggestions for best practices.
Fischer is executive director of the North Atlantic States Carpenters Training Fund (NASCTF), and Pfundstein is the director of curriculum and instruction for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) International Finishing Trades Institute (iFTI) in Hanover, Maryland.
Drawing on their own experiences during the pandemic, Pfundstein and Fischer outlined some of the critical steps apprenticeship programs and should consider when setting up virtual instruction programs:
NASCTF and iFTI sought approval from agencies including the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship and state licensing bodies as well as international training authorities, in the case of iFTI. In addition, the training funds got temporary permission from the Council on Occupational Education, a U.S. Department of Education program, to deliver their apprenticeship and instructor training programs remotely.
Choose a Platform
Cost, ease of use and interactivity are all key factors in selecting a platform. Virtual learning was a relatively new approach to delivering curriculum for NASCTF, so the choice was primarily based on ease of use for both the user and instructor. The iFTI had an existing learning management system (LMS) website, an online learning portal and a secure web-based software program for providing training for apprentices, journeypersons and instructors during the pandemic.
Select a Team
One of the biggest challenges for the funds was to take a team of administrators and instructors who had expertise in the delivery of in-person training and evaluate how their skill sets would translate to a virtual environment. The funds identified administrators and instructors who had experience in the technology and felt comfortable speaking in front of a live camera and trained them on the platform.
Identify Classes for Virtual Instruction
Classes such as those required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and on subjects such as foreperson/leadership training, estimating, infection control risk assessment (ICRA) awareness, print reading, silica awareness, COVID-19 awareness, substance abuse and suicide prevention, diversity and inclusion were in the first round offered by the funds.
Choose a Delivery Format
Another factor considered when selecting courses was whether they should be delivered in synchronous (offered in real time, allowing interaction with the instructor) or asynchronous (recorded content available online at any time) formats. For learners who can meet the demands of a specific time schedule, synchronous learning offered the advantages of being able to participate in classroom discussions, which allows attendees to achieve a more in-depth understanding of the subject matter. Asynchronous learning has been a better option for learners who require flexibility and a pace that meets their individual learning styles. Combining synchronous and asynchronous learning in a hybrid model is becoming a more popular method of delivery and can provide learners with the best of both worlds.
Reach Out to Members
After the courses and delivery formats were selected, the funds notified all members that virtual training would be available. The notifications provided links to sign-up pages on the fund websites and social media pages.
[Free Member Report: Top Trends in Apprenticeship Programs: 2020 Survey Report]
After the pandemic, virtual learning—if delivered using proper teaching and assessment techniques—can provide career-building opportunities that may not have been otherwise available for members who are in remote locations, Fisher and Pfundstein wrote. “Organizations that use the pandemic as a catalyst for positive change and growth will have created a culture of learning that will be able to continually adapt to a continually changing landscape in the arena of training and education.”
Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans
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