A Golden Opportunity at Our Doorstep?

Amidst the other tumultuous changes the pandemic has caused, it has brought an important issue to light for the construction industry. And one that cannot be ignored.
The construction trades, upon which our industry relies, are at a critical crossroads. And one that if we’re honest with ourselves can be positively impacted by technology, but only if we don’t get stupid about it.
Let’s start with some basics, and I’ll use electricians as an example. We already know that according to information from the U.S. BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) and the NECA (National Electrical Contractors Assn.), America is facing a shortage of electricians in the upcoming decade, and the pandemic hasn’t helped. Apprentice and journeymen training programs have already been hit hard. From the shift from classroom training to Zoom sessions, the need to have a safer learning environment has been evident. There is a practical limit, however, in what these sessions can accomplish.
Early in my career, I was an Army Engineer instructor, and across the expanse of subjects I taught, there was a standard format.  Start with nomenclature, followed by principles of operation, followed by hands-on application, and finally proficiency testing. In that format, the first two steps comprised education and the latter hands-on training.
Most formal construction apprenticeships follow the same format, and the Craft Olympics that I attend continue to highlight the top craft people taking what they have learned and applying it in a jobsite setting.
However, today, we’ve been thrown quickly into a Zoom world that we can only try to address the foundational education aspects of our craft. Trainers used to classroom settings are having to adapt to a different learning delivery approach. Depending on whether they have experience in distance learning, the effectiveness of these sessions can vary widely. For more than 20 years, the internet offered opportunities to train many people at long distances, and desktop simulation software enabled levels of IMI (interactive multimedia instruction).
The most basic version (Level 0) introduces learners to ideas and conceptual information through reading, listening, and viewing, such as with a video or PowerPoint presentation with no interactivity. Zoom Slideshare is an example of this.
The next level (Level 1 – Passive) exposes the learner to ideas and conceptual information in a linear or hierarchical format such as navigating a slide presentation or main menu.
A second scenario expands upon passive learning and enables the learner to interact with online objects in the course and where the learner is required to recall information and provide simple responses to instructional clues. This level (Level 2 – Limited Participation) is where virtual classroom/student management becomes essential as you see the first evidence of comprehension.
Online learning programs above this instructional level are rare and are mostly limited to applications like the military. Called Level 3 – Complex Participation, the learner has increased control over how they apply the lesson material and the learner can make decisions using varying techniques in response to instructional cues and apply complex information to solve a problem or produce results.
In the near term, hands-on learning such as craft training will continue to be done on the jobsite or training center rather than in the virtual classroom.
Classroom instructors have to be able to adapt to a new learning paradigm. You may find yourself providing both virtual classroom as well as individual learner-paced instruction, and instructors need to understand how to assess and manage the ongoing engagement of your online instruction. It may prove challenging pivoting from in-person to online, so your instructors may need additional training in the new platforms and learning management systems. Remote learners may require equipment, network infrastructure, and technical support to be productive.
The pandemic has changed how we educate and train our people. These new “tools” will be as important going forward as any piece of equipment we use in construction. But as we know, the quality of the result is the skill of the person using the tool.