Trade groups change training
While the COVID-19 pandemic has turned business as usual on its head, Laurie Kendall, executive director of the Associated Builders and Contractors Pacific Northwest (ABC PNW) chapter, is focused on the positive.
"I guess the silver lining of the pandemic is that we realized in the construction industry that we are pretty agile," she said.
All of ABC PNW's apprenticeship training is virtual for now as the organization develops strategies for social distancing when the apprentices do the hands-on portion of their performance evaluation. The program traditionally combines classroom work with on-the-job training. Apprentices learn about the use of tools of the trade, safety, and job terminology in class while gaining practical experience on job sites.
Other training, such as CPR and first aid, are not as effective in a virtual format, so ABC PNW has continued to offer them in person, with classes limited to four or six participants spaced at least 6 feet apart. Mannequins are wiped down frequently, Kendall said.
ABC PNW hosted a virtual seminar presented by Susan Wooley, prevailing wage rate technical assistance coordinator with Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries, who oversees the agency's prevailing wage rate law education program.
"That one was so in-depth that we'll probably do it again live with social distancing at our facility. It's really kind of a mix at this point," Kendall said. "We just adapt to what we need to do and have all of the CDC requirements in place, and we'll get everything done that we need to get done."
Another potential issue was ABC PNW providing curriculum from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), which certifies high school instructors to teach students about construction and maintenance. Before the pandemic, the curriculum was taught through a multiday, in-person format that required instructors from across the state to travel to attend the training. With COVID-19, NCCER agreed to provide the training virtually.
"It's saving the school districts a lot of money because the teachers don't have to travel and spend the night. The (high school) instructors have adapted so well and it's very impressive," Kendall said. "We're advocating that even after we open everything back up, NCCER lets us continue to do this virtually because it just makes sense."
Frosti Adams, workforce and professional development manager for Associated General Contractors Oregon-Columbia Chapter, said the association has long offered a Supervisory Training Program (STP) online in conjunction with the University of California, San Diego as a "typical college term" course. As of mid-June, enrollment for the next term was similar to last summer's demand, she noted.
"AGC America offered a Project Manager course as well, but we didn't get many requests for information on that. Because nearly all of the courses we offer in Professional Development have a certification exam and/or hands-on piece, it is more difficult to offer them online," Adams said.
When the pandemic began, AGC Oregon-Columbia offered some safety courses online through a webinar format, but not necessarily a classroom situation where assignments were submitted. Regarding enrollment, Adams said that summer is typically a slow time for professional development classes because projects are ramped up.
"AGC member companies have continued to work through the pandemic, for the most part, and I have heard from company owners and HR departments that they are increasing hiring. That said, we are definitely looking at making more AGC-certified courses online friendly," she said, adding she is an adjunct professor at Warner Pacific University with an extensive background in designing and teaching online courses and will be working with instructors to make their courses more online-capable.
Adams said she has received feedback from participants since the chapter began offering more virtual and online training in response to COVID-19, and the responses have been pretty decided.
"The main thing I hear is that participants have a hard time sitting through an online class," she said. "Construction and its support industries attract kinesthetic, hands-on learners. Sitting in an eight-hour class on erosion control is torture! When we offer this face to face, we get great reviews on the course and instructor. When we offered it virtually, it was just not the same."
AGC Oregon-Columbia also is modifying its Educator Externship program, which will take place in July. The eight-day program exposes educators of all levels and subject matter to the construction industry so they can incorporate what they've learned about employability, skills and career opportunities into their classroom or career center. The goal is to inform more students about these skills and opportunities and provide resources for students who may want to pursue a career in the trades. This year much of the program will be virtual, though a group from Southwest Washington will tour several job sites, Adams said.
Oregon Tradeswomen initially postponed its annual Career Fair from May until September before electing to cancel this year's event and hold the next one on May 14 and 15, 2021. The hands-on event highlights lucrative careers in the construction trades, and most of the workshops are managed by tradeswomen. The organization notes that while it is focused on presenting career options to female-identified job seekers, it is open to everyone.
"It truly is a community effort and labor of love to host the Career Fair each year, (and) canceling the event was a very difficult decision for Oregon Tradeswomen with a financial impact," OTI states on its website, adding financial donations are most welcome.
OTI also postponed its spring and summer Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class, an eight-week, pre-apprenticeship training that introduces students to a variety of trades through field trips, guest speakers, hands-on workdays and other training opportunities. It tentatively plans to resume full programming after July 1, and people are encouraged to visit its website for updated information and its COVID-19 resource page.
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