Water industry training programmes have had to undergo a transformation to ensure essential learning continues during the coronavirus pandemic. Ceris Van de Vyver, head of technology and training at global innovation consultancy Isle, shares insights into delivering training virtually.
Q: Isle moved quickly to create a virtual training programme as the pandemic began to unfold. What made this a priority?
A: As the Covid-19 crisis has proven, there is no industry more critical to public health and the global economy than water and wastewater. Underpinning it are highly skilled specialists, who are duty bound to maintain in-depth knowledge of legislation and complex technical standards around the supply of water, treatment of wastewater and protection of the environment.
With fast-changing travel restrictions and shifting global lockdowns likely to impact in-person training for some time, we recognised early on that a complete switch to digital training was necessary, so created more than 30 new courses tailored specifically for a virtual audience. The courses cover water treatment, wastewater treatment, sustainability and leadership and all are in the process of receiving Continuing Professional Development (CPD) accreditation through the Institute of Water.
Q: What benefits to virtual training have you discovered?
A: The benefits are wide reaching. In developing its virtual Programme for Water Professionals, Isle’s training team has built an e-classroom which has already reached clients in South Africa and the UK – all while trainer, Mandhy Senewiratne, was in Australia. This ability to overcome travel disruption and connect people located in different countries is just one benefit.
With many teams still working remotely, it also provides an opportunity to engage with employees, making them feel less isolated and ensuring they continue to feel valued, while maintaining team-working and camaraderie.
The transition has also given us a fresh opportunity to update course content, providing a new, Covid-altered perspective on key industry areas, where relevant. It has been a chance to take stock of all the courses we offer, ensuring they are relevant to today’s sector, which is undergoing a transformation.
As the industry adjusts to working during a pandemic and prepares for the likelihood of future resurgences, addressing the climate emergency and tackling water scarcity must also remain priorities. Urgent steps are needed to become more sustainable, such as investing in smart, data-led technologies and accelerating digitalisation. Focusing on personal development and the upskilling of employees ready for these future roles, not only expands the capability within the business and increases its resilience, it also reassures staff that they are being invested in during an uncertain time.
Q: How can virtual training remain interactive and engaging?
A: As a company that seeks out innovation for others, Isle aims to bring that spirit to its own operations and has sourced the latest digital training and conferencing tools. Using a training platform such as Menti.com, online courses can still be interactive, with quizzes, polls and Q&As. By keeping group sizes small – with a maximum of 12 delegates - everyone becomes involved.
While there are now new technical elements to consider, the main principles of virtual training are the same as in-person training – delivery is just as important as content if participants are to remain engaged and focussed. Mandhy gets people out of their seats, stretching and moving around, she asks questions, encourages conversation and debate, is creative and exuberant in her approach and makes people laugh.
Recently awarded the 2020 Environmental Professional of the Year by the Society for the Environment, sustainability is entwined into all that she delivers. Feedback tells us her enthusiasm and passion for her subject is a key element in the success of her training – this energy is essential in an e-classroom.
Isle’s other services that have gone digital – such as its Technology Approval Groups (TAGs) – see larger groups coming together and it has to be accepted that not everyone will get a chance to speak during the event. On occasions such as these, it is particularly important that all participants have an opportunity to leave comments, ask questions and give feedback afterwards and for their input to be acknowledged.
Q: Do you see a return of in-person training?
A: Isle is looking forward to running face-to-face training courses again but the willingness of the water sector to continue learning and sharing virtually proves how adaptable it can be. Perhaps in the long-term, a greater mix of approaches to training, knowledge-sharing and networking can be expected.
Workplaces are unlikely to see a complete return to how they were before; the pandemic has demonstrated just how effectively people can work from home, training budgets may be cut as financial implications of the crisis hit and anxiety around travel may remain for some time. At the same time, online tools will continue to evolve and expand, employees will become more confident using them and travel time and costs, such as overnight accommodation, will be saved, making virtual training and learning programmes a permanent feature for many organisations.
It is reassuring to see the water industry embracing the opportunity to interact, share and learn in new ways.