The future of water treatment training is multi-pronged, both hands-on & digital
In the world of water treatment, ongoing training and development is a critical part of daily life on the job. Whether you are new to the role or have been in the business for decades, there is always something new to learn about water contaminants and how to solve the problem of removing them. Taking advantage of opportunities to keep you and your staff educated is a great habit to get into and has become second nature for many, so much so that most did not even realize they had a learning-based culture within their company until those opportunities were gone. A worldwide pandemic hit that almost instantly removed all local and national trade shows, forced vendors to cancel their events and even reduced cross training in our own businesses from isolating staff for their safety. Suddenly, we were put in a position to find new ways to maintain that training aspect, which holds such high value in the way so many build their businesses.
The Rise of Virtual Training
Thankfully, many organizations did their best to adapt and provide a virtual component to compensate for the canceled in-person training opportunities they traditionally offered. This was unfamiliar territory for most on both the hosting side and the attending side. There was never a need for an online version of most events because the information was so much more impactful in person. Even if virtual trainings were offered pre-pandemic, their attendance was much lower due to the perception that you would be getting less of an experience.
While venturing into the world of digital learning came with its own challenges, people picked up how to participate rather quickly. Those that were self-proclaimed “not technically savvy” started logging into their digital devices more and more as it became the norm at work and as a way to stay connected to family and friends. The global shift in society to interact primarily through the internet certainly accelerated everyone’s familiarity with the likes of Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, GoTo Meeting and more.
So, what happens to the momentum that virtual training has gained after the pandemic isolation subsides? Will it replace in-person training for good? Will it get dropped like a hot potato as people flock to the convention halls and conference rooms of old? These are great questions and taking a deeper dive into the demographics of the water quality industry will help predict what we are likely to see coming for training options in the next few years.
What We Have Learned
In their 2020 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn shared their findings of how business professionals plan on developing the talent of their team. When asked how much they anticipated to spend on in-person, instructor led training, the majority (38%) said they would cut back and spend less. Alternatively, 57% openly admitted that they will increase their budget for online learning opportunities. You may be wondering why there would be such a difference between the dollars spent one way versus another. The sudden immersion into virtual education revealed a lot of surprising factors that most people were not expecting. We not only got to experience what “Zoom fatigue” feels like but also witnessed the benefits that comes with taking online classes; it is extremely convenient.
Taking a small break in your day to attend a virtual event and immediately getting back to work is more efficient. Just thinking of the time lost traveling to get to a venue and back seems like a waste in comparison, not to mention the expense of gas money, plane tickets and hotel rooms that come with it. Many business professionals are shifting their mindset and their budgets to spend more on digital courses because in the long run it will help them save in other areas.
There is also the benefit of scalability when it comes to virtual classes. When in-person seminars were your only option, there was no way to let your entire crew attend the meeting. There would be no one left to do the work; you would have to shut your doors until the team returned or, more realistically, only send a few while the rest managed the day-to-day responsibilities. In a digital world, webinars and virtual training platforms are designed to reach the masses. Your entire team can participate and benefit from a seminar in the comfort of their own office together without ever missing a beat. Or, in other cases, individually pick the time that works best for their schedule to absorb the content.
Is it a Fad or Forever?
It is easy to point to the pandemic as the cause for this technological shift, but it likely just accelerated a trend that was already on the horizon. That impending push for more virtual options would have reached us eventually as the younger generations start making their way into the workforce. That push largely came from millennials (those born 1980 to 1995) making a splash in their careers, a generation unlike any before them due to their early and consistent exposure to new technologies.
Today, millennials have grown up and are no longer the new kids on the block. They now hold higher decision-making positions within businesses and have come to expect that their vendors, partners, and employers have the digital assets that they use regularly. Driving that need for technological need even higher is the next generation coming into the picture: Gen Z (those born in 1996 or later). Not only did this generation have access to technology their entire life, it was significantly faster and more powerful than what the millennials experienced. These youngsters were FaceTiming before they even learned how to ride a bike. The nearly instant, tangible interactions through mobile devices and computers are a normal part of their life and will carry into their careers as they begin to enter the workforce. According to the Center For Generational Kinetics, an organization dedicated to the study generational trends, there was a significant increase in an employee’s interest in their employer providing ongoing educational support with the Gen Z age group than there had been with the millennials. Would they be willing to signing up for a virtual training if it was offered at their job? Of course, because they will have been exposed to it many times in their life prior to starting their career. Online learning is a comfortable option for this age group that is eager to learn.
The Future of Ongoing Training
Despite the advantages of online options, it is safe to say that it will never fully take the place of in-person training opportunities. In a service-based industry, hands-on experience does wonders for how well the information is retained. There are some things that cannot be translated to a digital experience, like testing water or proper equipment service and maintenance. However, after finding ways to engage through digital platforms, many customers are coming to expect that level of convenience and will feel disappointed if it is taken away.
Instead, what is likely to happen is a hybrid of “blended learning.” This would bring virtual components into an in-person event so that even if you are not able to attend the full session on site, there would be an option to log on to participate in some of the content provided. This allows the company to expand their reach and allow more attendees to join in on their training in one form or another.
As regular in-person meetings and classes resume, many water treatment professionals will be eager to return to the way things used to be. It is also possible that things will never quite be the same again. Trade shows will offer options to log-in from a distance in conjunction with their floor layout, seminars will book conference rooms and save a spot for a camera to stream the class to the virtual attendees, and many vendors will start to develop self-guided online classes to reserve the face-to-face opportunities for what is truly important to experience hands-on. These shifts in society will set the stage to expand the way we educate and open it up to more flexible opportunities.