Industry Training Becomes Increasingly High-Tech

By Ellen Rogers

By now, anyone and everyone knows that Zoom isn’t just what a fast car does. Virtual meeting software platforms such as Zoom, have made it possible for people to continue meeting and interacting with co-workers, customers, vendors and others, even while socially distanced. These programs and other means of digital technologies can also be used to enhance and grow training— something else that has had to change in the new COVID-19 world.

Processes and Procedures

Ben Beeler, technical director for the Architectural Glass and Metal Technician (AGMT) and North American Contractor Certification (NACC) programs, says that as a result of the challenges brought by COVID-19, glazing contractors have less time to devote to the certification process.

“In order to assist glazing contractors, we have developed a series of seminars and workshops in quality management and safety procedures,” says Beeler. “A lot of glaziers have availed themselves of that opportunity and been able to expedite certification as a result. We’ve found that the companies participating in the workshops are in a better position to have everything in place to achieve certification quicker than those who don’t.”

Earlier this year the AGMT began offering the written knowledge-based portion of the testing through a remote proctoring platform as another means to aid contract glaziers seeking the certification. The hands-on portion has been postponed, however, but Beeler says they are starting to look at resuming that as well. He says that while the nature of the hands-on test allows for significant social-distancing, candidate safety is their main priority.

For contract glazing firms that are already NACC certified, Beeler says having that certification in place has allowed them to operate more efficiently during these times.

“Some have told us that if they did not have the processes and procedures in place to be certified, because of inefficiencies caused by COVID, they would not be in as comfortable a position as they currently are,” says Beeler.

Staying Safe

Steve Schohan, YKK AP America’s marketing and communications manager, says his Georgia-based company’s approach toward training starts with a focus on what keeps people safe.

“It lines up with our social distancing and safety precautions around site. For example, we can’t have as many people in a room, so a lot has gone virtual,” he says. “In other cases, we may have more than one meeting, but even in our big training rooms we don’t let more than six in a room.”

That’s where, he says, there’s been more of a push toward virtual. And that’s not limited to just the operations in their main offices.

“Even with extended branches [and our] human resources (HR) activities, we’d travel to every branch and HR would spend time training with each location. This year, everything was done virtually,” says Schohan, adding that the shift has been a great success. “People are getting used to it. It’s not as difficult [as you might have thought]. Before the virus, our meetings would offer an option for virtual participation, however technology issues were frequent … now [virtually] the flow is better, issues are few, and people are comfortable with the virtual environment.” He adds that the company has also now published most everything they do virtually to their intranet site, which gives employees the capabilities to go back and re-watch to refresh their memories. “And that’s something you wouldn’t typically get in face-to-face meetings,” he adds.

As far as production training, Schohan says that hasn’t changed as much, aside from the safety protocols and social distancing that’s now in place.

“Our focus is on keeping safe. And we will adjust [those protocols] as new recommendations are made,” he adds.

Going Global

Jeff Heymann, vice president of Benson Industries, based in Portland, Ore., says having personnel spread throughout the world, much of their training and operations was already taking place virtually, even before COVID-19.

“A large part of our training on 2D and 3D drafting and estimating tools has been with self-directed modules and virtual classes. With that model already in place, the impact of COVID has been minimal,” he says. “Benson and our parent company, MiTek, also have had a strong legacy of continuing education for management and emerging leaders. That segment of training has transitioned for the time being from in person workshops to virtual.”

Schüco, which has worldwide headquarters in Germany and U.S. operations based in Newington, Conn., is one company that is highly focused on the opportunities that are possible through digital technologies. Tejav DeGanyar is the director of its Virtual Construction Lab (VCL) in New York. He says it was about 18 months ago that Schüco started exploring virtual training possibilities—not for their own employees, but for their fabricator customers.

“We have a large and sophisticated training center in Germany where fabricators can come for training on every aspect of the product. They will come on a regular basis as we have new fabricators and as new products come out,” says DeGanyar. “This becomes very expensive, sending so many to Germany, so we decided to do these trainings in a virtual space … where we can show how things go together. It also allows them to put windows together virtually. There is also a certification process, and a Q&A session.”

DeGanyar says they approached this virtual training through several angles.

“We have a virtual shop so you can see how elements go together, and we also have a training process that’s more like games where you can play and see how well you know the process. This was all pre-COVID,” he says. “Now, it has taken a new life and we are expanding on that aspect. Since COVID our VCL group has been inundated with other requests for help in areas of virtual marketing. For example, our architectural advisors, [normally] go out and meet with architects; that element has been compromised. So we
do the next best thing and we have a virtual showroom, which is a digital twin of an actual showroom.” The showroom is set up in a virtual reality app that allows architects, façade consultants and others to view and interact with the company’s different products.

Life After COVID

Whatever the world will look like in the future, it’s quite likely that virtual activities and training are here to stay, at least in some form.

“We have all had to adopt daily virtual interaction as a primary way to communicate with colleagues, clients and suppliers,” says Heymann. “As a result, the acceptance and effectiveness of virtual training has followed. I believe the future will only continue this trend especially with organizations that have national and global reach and resources.”

Schohan agrees, adding that the possibilities will likely become more hybrid,
with the option to join in person or virtual.

“I think we will continue to build upon that and, for most of our training, that’s possible except when it’s hands-on and I do see those returning to face-to-face eventually,” he says. “I think we will likely have more joining virtually because people are comfortable with it now, and I think that will be driven by the successes we’ve had. For example, a sales person can listen in on the phone when driving or wherever they are.”

One consideration, though, is the importance of interaction and engagement in virtual meetings and trainings.

“I think a big, critical point is to make these as engaging as possible. You have to have elements of interaction/entertainment to keep them engaged, such as games to help replicate in-person behavior or quick polls on the presentation,” says Schohan. “Our future of virtual is going to be a lot more interactive.

Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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