A shift to virtual learning
As the Covid-19 crisis has proven, the water and wastewater industries are critical to public health and the global economy.
Underpinning these vital services are highly skilled specialists, 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 travel restrictions and shifting global lockdowns likely to impact in-person training for some time, water industry courses have had to transform to ensure essential learning continues during the pandemic.
This shift to virtual learning has led to global technology and innovation consultancy Isle creating the Programme for Water Professionals, more than 30 new courses tailored specifically for a virtual audience.
Ceris Van de Vyver, head of technology and training at Isle UK, shares her top tips for delivering essential training in a digital world.
1) Recognise the benefits
In developing its 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 of virtual training.
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.
2) Review and refresh course content
Creating a new training programme provides a fresh opportunity to update course content, providing a new, Covid-altered perspective on key industry areas, where relevant.
It is also a chance to take stock of all the courses on offer to employees, ensuring they are relevant to today's sector, which is transforming.
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 vital future roles, not only expands the capability within the business and increases its resilience, but it also reassures staff that they are being invested in during an uncertain time.
3) Source platforms that encourage interaction
To ensure online training remains innovative and engaging, a variety of digital training and conferencing tools are now available.
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.
On occasions where you have larger groups coming together, 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.
4) Present with energy
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.
Feedback tells us enthusiasm and passion for subjects are key elements in the success of training - this energy is essential in an e-classroom.
"Delivery is just as important as content if participants are to remain engaged and focussed."
One way to do this is to get people out of their seats, stretching and moving around, ask questions, encourage conversation and debate, be creative and exuberant in your approach and make people laugh.
5) Embrace the change
Isle is looking forward to running face-to-face training courses again. 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. Furthermore, 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, and employees will become more confident using them. Virtual training and learning programmes will become 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.