Pipeline construction industry embraces e-learning

A national construction industry skills training organization says it is tapping into distance learning software to help improve pipeline construction workers’ mobility and safety.

The Construction Sector Council (CSC) is currently in the middle of rolling out the Pipeline Construction Safety Training Course. According to George Gritziotis, executive director of the CSC, the e-learning course will be made available through colleges, local unions, individual training centres and other venues that already provide safety training for the pipeline construction industry.

Gritziotis said the idea for computer-based training for construction workers came out of a desire to streamline safety training across the country so that no matter where a pipeline construction worker comes from, he or she has a standard base knowledge of safety training.

“Safety training in construction is a provincial jurisdiction,” Gritziotis explained. “Each province does its own thing, and pipeline construction is no different.”

Having the same standardized safety training will increase worker mobility, giving people the flexibility to find pipeline construction jobs across the country. “It means that if a worker is trained in Nova Scotia but is applying for work in Alberta, we know that they received the same training online. Otherwise their safety training curriculum of a particular jurisdiction could be different and might not meet the requirement of pipeline construction from one region to another.”

Jim Topping, president of Edmonton-based Banister Pipeline Construction Co., said his firm only has 10 permanent employees — the core people who manage the company’s construction jobs. But to get that work done, Banister hires tradespeople through union halls on a project basis.

“Our projects tend to be scattered throughout, and there is not a lot of continuity between contracts – they’re in different locations in Canada,” Topping explained. “We may have a project in Alberta in the spring, and in the summer we might have a project in the Maritimes.” This is characteristic of the pipeline construction industry, he noted.

The benefits of e-learning would definitely kick in during the tradesperson hiring process, he said, “with respect to new hires and what they are expected to know prior to coming on the job site …. By and large, 95 per cent of our tradesmen for [our various] projects will be different people, because we tend to hire in the locale that we are working in …. So it’s certainly an advantage to us to know that the pool of employees that we access will have access to prior safety training through this program.”

E-learning in the construction industry is relatively new, Gritziotis said, but “it’s something that we know down the road will take off. The kids that will be coming into the industry all grew up with the Internet, and I think this is the direction the industry should go with.”

Until now, only two provincial safety associations have dabbled in e-learning, he said. But even if every provincial safety association made e-learning a focus, it would be difficult to pull all the content together, he said.

“Sometimes different approaches to e-learning can’t be integrated easily.” For this national endeavor, part of the goal is to “avoid creating the same content over and over again from each province …. So we said ‘Why don’t we find one approach, one e-learning content management system to use, and develop it in a way that is standard across the country so we can work together to bring the best in the content side?’” he said.

The CSC issued a competitive bid to find a learning content management system that would meet its needs. It was looking for a system “not just to develop it but to allow the organizations that provide construction education and training to access that through our hardware so they can develop e-learning if they want to.”

Eedo Knowledgeware Corp.’s ForceTen software was the package of choice, Gritziotis said. “This is something that allows us to do authorware, track users, allows us to do content management, authoring. It’s a browser-based authoring tool and it has a number of different features, like built-in storyboard facilities, and the ability to drag and drop (content) – similar to a Microsoft application.”

The software gives the flexibility for organizations to develop their courseware according to one of four main levels of e-learning: knowledge databases, the most basic, text-level kind of training; online support, which might include forums, chat rooms, online bulletin boards, e-mail or instant messaging; asynchronous training, which involves self-paced learning and may be entirely self-contained with links to resources, or include access to instructors through different collaboration methods; and synchronous training, which is done in real-time using multimedia technologies, with a live instructor facilitating the training.

Topping said he’s only had a chance to view one segment of the CSC’s e-learning offering (less than 10 per cent of the entire program), but from what he’s seen, he is “very impressed with the delivery.” He added that when used for initial safety training, e-learning might actually help safety information sink in better than the traditional two- to four-hour orientation session a tradesperson receives on his or her first day on the job.

“The big advantage of the e-learning program is that the individual can learn at their own pace, maybe under better surroundings, and can absorb the material better. I would expect that someone who had come through an e-learning program would have better retention and understanding of safety issues than what they get in the current situation.” The first-day orientation could then be used more effectively to explain the safety concerns for the specific project the tradesperson is hired for, he said.

Topping emphasized, however, that neither orientation sessions nor an e-learning courses can replace on-the-job training. “We see e-learning as being just the basics; on-the-job supervision of safety practices are still a very important part of industry. We cannot assume that someone who came through e-learning will know everything about safety.”

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