Online from Kazakhstan to California

In the fall of 2004, Bruce Keyston was assigned to a hazardous waste cleanup project that carried a HAZWOPER training requirement for site work. To maintain compliance for this work assignment, he was due for an annual 8-hour refresher training update. But because his remote job assignment placed him in Kazakhstan, he could not find a refresher class within hundreds of miles of his location.

Fortunately, Keyston's company MACTEC, an Atlanta-based consulting firm providing engineering, environmental and construction services to public and private clients worldwide, maintained an online training account. An online program therefore allowed Keyston to complete his refresher training over a 2-week period.

The day Keyston finished the course — 12 time zones away — Basil Falcone, a company manager in San Francisco, was able to access the online database to verify that Keyston had completed his training and was in compliance with both company and client requirements.

At the same time, Falcone could check on his other 131 employees in the account, noting who was in compliance and who was trailing behind on assignments. In fact, Basil's company has nine separate accounts around the country representing major operation facilities with 306 total users enrolled in the system.

This is just one example of how technology developments in the past decade radically and positively have changed workplace training and recordkeeping. Now, workers can complete their training from almost anywhere — Keyston, for example, also took online training courses while he was in Russia, Iraq and Thailand.

Keyston's case is one of many examples of how companies today use online training to solve problems and streamline their business operations. The process offers more advantages than location-based perks, however. Let's take a look at all that online training can offer. (Keep in mind that other online learning variations, such as webcasts and hybrids, may offer other features not discussed here.)

Individualized Learning

Not everyone has the same background, knowledge, education or learning ability. As a consequence, people learn at different rates. A classroom environment forces everyone to move at the same pace — too slow for some, too fast for others. Online training provides students the opportunity to move through material at a comfortable pace in accordance with their abilities. The training curricula easily can be designed to suit various employees or classes of workers simply by selecting and assigning different courses for the corresponding students.

In addition, students enrolled in online programs may access courseware anytime. New employees can catch up on training previously delivered without the need for a special class. Students also typically have the opportunity to review their coursework as long as they maintain an account with the provider. This can come in handy when the initial training event precedes operations involving the subject matter by several months. A student may review a course as a refresher just prior to any upcoming exposure.

Convenience and Cost

In the MACTEC example, Keyston's logistics problem effectively was solved with an online learning solution. Pulling employees out of the field into central training locations at scheduled times can be difficult and costly, especially considering travel and administrative costs, time burdens and scheduling difficulties. What happens when several employees don't show up for scheduled training? What is the cost to circle back and pick up those employees who missed the session? What if they never get trained?

Online training is available 24/7 whenever the student has access to a computer and the Internet. For example, popular online training providers have many students active in their systems at any hour of the day, every day, from all over the globe.

Finally, online training typically saves time, money and administrative aggravation, making it far more cost effective than offline training.

Recordkeeping and Testing

Immediately after he finished his training in Kazakhstan, Keyston's course completion record was created in the training-provider database. No additional activity was required on his part or his managers or administrators to register his course completion.

Just as the student has 24/7 access to the training, administrators and managers have round-the-clock access to the database and their employees' training records. All of Keyston's training records, for example, still are available for review to this day.

Some companies employ a single gatekeeper for records review and management, while others choose to provide multiple managers or administrators with either limited or full access to their employees' training data. The employer's ability to have ready access to this information provides efficiency and accuracy in the data management process.

Online training also requires students to demonstrate comprehension through examination, such as interim quizzes or final exams. While some of these tests may not particularly be difficult, students must pass and demonstrate comprehension in order to move forward with subsequent training or to receive credit for the training.

Quizzes also engage students and keep them on their toes. How many times are students observed in a classroom zoned out — perhaps even asleep — and just passing time until class is over? Furthermore, the automatic recording of quiz scores creates a permanent record in the database if ever needed.

Customization and Language

While online training is not always cost effective, especially for smaller organizations, it can offer customization for a particular client's needs. Minor changes or additions to generic courseware, or even a full-scale custom development, can be generated to produce a client-specific or site-specific course.

For example, one large telecommunications company with 10,000 employee users contracted for the development of nine custom courses specific to the company's policies and applications. Several changes to the courseware have been made over the years, usually accomplished and published within a few days.

Other clients developed site-specific programs they use to process all employees, including subcontractors, as a prerequisite for admission to the project. One major Northern California builder has implemented this technique successfully on 11 separate projects.

Online programs also present a solution to language barriers in training. The diverse workforce currently employed in California and several other states raises the issue of delivering training in languages other than English. Such in-person training requires the services of a trainer who not only has subject matter expertise, but who also has appropriate language skills. A trainer with all these qualifications may be difficult to find.

Online courses, meanwhile, can be translated into many languages to help solve this problem. Spanish is the most commonly offered option, but others can be used as well. The resultant coursework therefore can deliver the same consistent message as the original English version.

The Blended Approach

Many people in the online training community believe that online learning does not entirely replace classroom training, and instead should be viewed as a supplement or complement to it. A blended approach that combines both classroom and online training tailored to fit the needs of an organization may provide a successful middle ground.

Recently, a northern California construction firm set out to train all its foremen and supervisory personnel with an OSHA 10-hour course, along with some company-specific material that included potential legal liability issues and exposures. The company was reluctant to pull all the personnel out of the field for the 2 days required for training. Instead, employees were required to take an online OSHA class first as a prerequisite to the company-specific portion of the training. The company therefore reduced the amount of time employees were off the job for training from a couple of days to a few hours.

It Isn't for Everyone

The world continues to grow more and more technology-based, and the construction industry is no different. The utilization of techno-gadgets, online bid documents, computerized payroll and reporting and online training are just a few developments.

Not everyone, however, is ready for change, and some people adopt new technology at a slower pace. Some firms are comfortable with their present-day solutions and are reluctant to “fix it if it ain't broke.” And not every student embraces the online training solution.

While online training may not be for everyone, ClickSafety customers tend to be satisfied with online training solutions. At the conclusion of every OSHA 10 or 30-hour course, for example, students are required to complete an evaluation. Positive feedback is common, including statements like, “This was the best training course I've ever taken.”

Furthermore, recent developments will result in more and better online options. Course libraries continue to expand over time, creating additional opportunities for training fulfillment. For example, ClickSafety just released several new courses, including the Cal/OSHA 8×8, Cal/OSHA 10-Hour and a General Industry 10. A Spanish version of the OSHA 10-hour course also is in production.

Finally, for an online program to be successful, the provider should offer competent customer support for both technical and subject matter issues. ClickSafety Outreach Trainers handle several e-mails and calls daily, providing a personal response to student questions.

What's in the Future?

Online training particularly is well suited for the delivery of lecture course material. With the increases in bandwidth and other technological advances, online training providers will have the opportunity to provide more video applications, more robust situational analysis scenarios and other engaging interactive applications. In fact, a lot is being done right now. More sophisticated database management and tracking of offline training also will be available.

Online delivery may not solve all training challenges, but it certainly should be considered as a viable option to become part of an overall training effort — whether employees are in Kazakhstan or California.


Ron Bruce has 35 years of experience in various aspects of construction management, safety and health program development and management. He is a former risk manager, vice president and acting president of a major West Coast heavy construction firm and held various positions with the world's largest multi-line insurer. He is a certified safety professional and has an MS in safety from the University of Southern California. As vice president of Content Operations at ClickSafety, he has managed and overseen the development of hundreds of web-based safety and health programs.

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