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Delivering essential learning in a digital landscape

As onsite training takes a back seat due to Covid-19, digital sessions are proving to be an effective alternative with far-reaching benefits, writes Ceris Van de Vyver, head of technology and training, at Isle UK.

Water industry training programmes have had to undergo a transformation to ensure essential learning continues during the coronavirus pandemic. In developing its Programme for Water Professionals, global technology and innovation consultancy Isle has created an e-classroom which has already reached clients in South Africa and UK – all while the trainer is in Australia.

With fast-changing travel restrictions and varying global lockdowns likely to impact in-person training courses for some time, a complete shift to virtual learning was necessary. Isle ‘s training team created more than 30 new courses tailored specifically for a virtual audience.

As the 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 ever-changing legislation and complex technical standards around the supply of water, treatment of wastewater and protection of the environment.

Addressing the climate emergency and tackling water scarcity are also priorities, as the industry takes urgent steps to becoming more sustainable, investing in smart, data-led technologies and accelerating digitalisation. Focusing on personal development and the upskilling of employees ready for future roles, not only expands the capability within the business and increases its resilience, it also reassures staff they are being invested in during an uncertain time.

Virtual training provides an opportunity to engage with employees who are likely to be working remotely, making them feel less isolated and ensuring they continue to feel valued. It can connect employees located in different countries and maintain team-working and camaraderie.

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, creating virtual courses covering water treatment, wastewater treatment, sustainability and leadership.

Topics range from catchment management, abstraction and financial regulations on the water side, to preliminary treatment, activated sludge and waste-to-energy in wastewater. Emerging pollutants, living buildings and innovation management are among the sustainability and leadership subjects and all courses can be tailored to individual companies.

Going digital

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. Isle’s trainer gets people out of their seats, stretching and moving around, she asks questions, encourages conversation and debate, is creative in her approach and makes people laugh.

Using a training platform such as Mentimeter, 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.

Isle’s other services that have gone digital – such as its Technology Approval Groups (TAGs) – will see much 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.

The same approach applies to Isle’s new open access Water Action Platform which includes a web platform and webinars dedicated to collaboration, knowledge-sharing and learning in the global water sector, launched to address Covid-19 challenges.

Isle is looking forward to running face to face training and TAG sessions again but the willingness of utilities, end-users and technology developers to continue to take part and engage with each other virtually, proves how adaptable they 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, training budgets may be cut as financial implications of the crisis begin to 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.

Topic: Skills & workforce
Tags: training , skills , water , employees , technology , digital

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