Training in Progress
Of the four types of training available to environmental professionals -- traditional instructor-led, video-based, CD-ROM-based and online training -- the most convenient is online training.
But convenience is only one of several factors to consider when choosing a training type. Only by comparing the pros and cons of each type can environmental professionals decide which method would be most beneficial for themselves and/or their companies in terms of cost, comprehension and logistics.
There is no inexpensive training type for all environmental professionals, because the cost differs according to the number of people trained and the number of courses they complete, according to Brent Bassett, president of BDN Industrial Hygiene Consultants Inc. in Portage, Mich. A training instructor, who has been providing environmental courses for 21 years, Bassett now provides access to or materials for all four training types.
Instructor-led training. The cost of instructor-led training is based on a minimum number of students in the course, because course fees from those students will pay for the instructor's time, Bassett says. An awareness level course will typically cost from $25 to $40 per student, and many instructor-led courses include video.
Video-based training. Video-based training as a stand-alone training type requires investing in the purchase price of the video, ranging sometimes from $350 to $650 each. This approach can save money, however, since only one video is needed, because it can be viewed by a group of employees.
"With Internet training, you're buying access to many courses."
CD-ROM-based training. Buying a CD-ROM for training purposes often costs from $600 to $1,200. Only one employee can use each CD-ROM at a time, and additional CD-ROMs of the same course can usually be purchased at a discount. If 10 people take a course, it costs $60 to $120 per person, and if 100 people take it, the cost is only $6 to $12 per person.
Online training. Online courses are typically sold as a block of courses. The price range for that block of courses is the same as buying one CD-ROM, and numerous people can take each online course at the same time.
"The initial cost will be about the same, but we can open up so many more courses for (approximately) the same price," Bassett says. "If you offer them 10 courses on the CD-ROM training at $10 per course, that's $100. For the same $100 or a little more than $100, we can offer 40 Internet courses to that person versus the 10 that we can offer for CD-ROM training, versus the four classes that we can offer in classroom instruction."
"With instructor-led training, you're buying just a class," Bassett explains. "With video and CD-ROM training, you're buying a course. With Internet training, you're buying access to many courses."
Also factored into the total expense of training are the costs of pulling environmental professionals out of the field to attend scheduled training sessions, notes Jon Handy, vice president of business development for Target Safety, a San Diego, Calif.-based company that provides online training courses to the environmental industry. A former training instructor with six years of classroom training experience, Handy converted his training materials to CD-ROMs and sold those for five years before switching entirely to online training in 1999.
"The true cost of training is the loss of productivity by bringing 20 to 30 people into a room at one given time," Handy says. "Now, (with online training) the employer has the flexibility and convenience to put those 20 guys through the training course in a compliant, safe manner without losing productivity.
"This is the new way to do it," he says. "They take one guy off the job site for a day, and they don't lose the productivity off the job site."
"They take one guy off the job site for a day for training, and they don't lose the productivity off the job site."
Each training type has advantages and disadvantages regarding its effectiveness in helping students learn new information.
"With instructor-led training, you have that human interaction between that instructor and that student," Handy says. "He or she can ask questions and get responses right away and be involved with the human element of training, and that's important. And you can do all kinds of great things with hands-on workshops."
In addition to courses in which hands-on activities are required, such as respiratory protection training, Bassett also provides courses that offer science-experiment type classroom activities to demonstrate information being presented. Participants have reported that they really enjoy and retain knowledge from those activities, he says.
Also beneficial for visual learners are videos, which are presented as part of instructor-led courses, he adds.
"We make that video part of the training," Bassett says. "If you just do lecture, even if it's just for a couple hours, you lose people, especially adults who have not been in classroom situations for a long period of time."
Yet both instructor-led and video training proceed at the instructor's pace rather than the student's pace, he says. CD-ROM and online training proceed at the student's pace, and if suddenly summoned elsewhere, he or she can resume the course at the same stage at a later time.
"The advantage of the (CD-ROM) and Internet-based training is they physically have to be involved in order to read, listen and react," Bassett adds. "They have to be pushing buttons to answer questions, whereas in a classroom situation, they could be leaning back and lose focus and tune out."
One of the drawbacks of CD-ROM and online training has been that those training types don't permit the student to ask questions during the course. While that's still true for CD-ROM -- typically the employer will appoint an onsite senior staff member to answer questions as needed -- some online courses, such as those being offered by Target Safety, now include a feature in which the student can click and e-mail or call an environmental professional who will answer questions by e-mail within 24 hours or by phone during eight-hour weekdays.
CD-ROM and online training proceed at the student's pace, and if suddenly summoned elsewhere, he or she can resume the course at the same stage at a later time.
"That is a requirement with the state (of Michigan), that they have to have the ability to ask questions, and most states, I think, are taking similar positions," Bassett notes.
Additionally, CD-ROM and online training courses are more consistent than instructor-led training, Bassett says.
"As an instructor, and doing a lot of it, you change it a little bit every time," he acknowledges. "There's no way you can document exactly what you said at any given class, whereas with (CD-ROM) or Internet-based, you can go back through the course and see exactly what they took."
One of the biggest problems with instructor-led training occurs when an employer schedules a group of its staff to take a training course, and then due to an urgent situation arising on a job site, five or more of those people are not able to attend the class.
"Then you're back to square one, and you have to schedule another course just for those five people who didn't show up," Handy says. "That's problematic and expensive, and it happens all the time."
Videos and CD-ROMs are effective until regulations change or new statistics and data need to be incorporated into a course, he continues. In such cases, companies which develop the courses have to update the material, produce new videos or CD-ROMs, ship them to end users, charge those customers an update fee and instruct them to discard the old version.
"Inevitably, there would be different versions of the same course being used at the same organization, so there was no consistency of training," Handy recalls. "With Internet-based training, we can update the courses automatically, and everyone's taking the same revised, updated course."
For most companies, however, the most time consuming administrative burden related to training environmental staff is the tracking of courses completed during the past 30 years as required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, Bassett says.
"With the instructor-led training, unless you've developed a specialized program to track all the people that you've put through training, you basically are going to have to keep paper certificates of completion after the training courses, whereas the CD-ROM and Internet-based training courses allow you to electronically track -- to set people up for courses on a network system -- and then it will remind you if those people have not completed that training by the scheduled dates," he explains.
"And, you can typically run reports of training they have completed, when they completed it, how long it took them to complete it and what their scores were on the tests," Bassett says.
The majority of health and safety companies nationwide are using traditional instructor-led and video training, according to a survey conducted by Industrial Safety and Hygiene News in April 2000. Only 10 percent were using online courses to fulfill the training requirements of their staff, but 25 percent said they were planning to use online training during the next three years.
This article originally appeared in the September 2001 issue of Water & Wastewater Products, Volume 1, Number 2, page 46.