Training in the Age of COVID-19

Posted by Mark Roman on September 29, 2020

The country is getting back to work, and that includes manufacturing plants, warehouses, office complexes, shopping centers, and other facilities.


With the ongoing pandemic, this is proving challenging in more ways than one. And we’re hearing from many Envision Environmental clients about a specific concern: keeping up with training as their workforce returns.

I’ve said many times in the past that training is the most powerful investment you can make in your facility. You always get a positive return.

Unfortunately, current events have proven the Rolling Stones wrong: time is not on your side. You actually have very limited time and a lot to do when it comes to employee training.

There are two key areas we must concentrate on for our EH&S training:

  1. COVID-19-related training needed to keep workers, management, and their families safe. As you know, information on how best to do that is dynamic – a moving target. On top of that, there are different requirements and regulations you must adhere to depending on what type of facility you are. (Here are the CDC’s general and industry-specific guidelines for COVID-19 training and prevention.)
  2. Routine training specific to your facility, mandated OSHA training, and client-specific training related to a certain product. This is all the required training – with deadlines for completion – that you did before the pandemic.

With COVID-19 appearing to be a reality for the foreseeable future, it’s time to adapt your training programs. The challenge:

How do you account for new pandemic training curriculum and at the same time make sure routine training gets done so that your EH&S program doesn’t take a hit… all within the limited time you’re dealing with?

The New “Normal” When It Comes to Training

Gone are the days of routine in-person training, for now anyway, due to social distancing requirements.

Remember the pre-pandemic days when groups of workers might attend off-site training, split by shift, or trainers would come on-site for group training? This would take personnel away from the job for a good chunk of the day, even a full day, or even longer depending on the training that needed to be done.

Right now, many facilities are pared down, with a limited on-site workforce. It’s generally not possible to send workers offsite. Plus, distancing requirements make training in a classroom setting or hands-on group training close to impossible. You just can’t get the number of people you need through the required training in a timely manner.

So what’s the alternative? Training is still required by regulations, and now, more than ever, training is needed to keep the workforce safe and the company running efficiently.

Another element at play here is that a portion of your people are now working from home. How do you keep up to date on training?

At Envision Environmental, we’re taking a four-step approach to training in this climate.

1. Virtual Training


Many parts of our lives have now gone virtual via video conferencing platforms like Zoom. School, happy hours, family gatherings -all online.

Likewise, training is moving to an online portal-based learning environment, like our own Environmental Virtual University, which offers health & safety training courses.

Training is conducted on an individual basis, self-paced, in an interactive environment. And management can watch each trainee’s progress.

The advantages of web-based training are that it’s inexpensive, workers can complete the course work at their own speed, and on their own schedule. And there is ease of implementation – you know who’s enrolled in each program and when they have finished.

There are some drawbacks. There is a lack of human interaction. There is no trainer there to demonstrate or offer examples. Students can’t ask questions. There is no live discussion or feedback.

Plus, with a virtual environment, it’s difficult to tell if the worker is actually engaged in the training or if they are being distracted by other things, especially at home. Are they really paying attention or just clicking to the next section?

With Envision’s Virtual University, trainees are forced to pay attention. Our highly interactive training platform checks on what you’re learning and keeps tabs on engagement in the material throughout, not just at the end of each module. If you do the virtual training route, it’s important to find a platform that has this capability.

2. Virtual Training Combined with Real-Time Virtual Interaction


This hybrid model is endorsed by OSHA, which has always been adamant that hands-on training is key, especially when dealing with hazardous materials. OSHA does recognize the reality and has come to see the advantages of virtual training. Their new position is that computer-based training can work and meet requirements, if there is a “live” element that allows trainees to ask questions of the trainer, and vice-versa. They want to see that interaction.

We recommend that you schedule virtual training, along with a video conference call (like the Zoom platform) with the trainer and attendees following completion of each training module. The idea is to ask questions, get feedback, and share real-life examples. This way there can be interaction, and everyone involved can stay safe.

Obviously, this method won’t work for every training need. You can’t learn how to safely operate a forklift or handle drums of hazardous material on your computer. You have to be in the driver’s seat at some point.

To maintain safety and social distancing, having small groups do the hands-on training is recommended, as is making the training as brief as possible. Realistically, much of this could be done in 15-minute sessions.

3. Ensuring the Required Training Is Being Done and Accepted


With a virtual training environment, accountability can be a challenge. Plus, there is a lot to be covered, from routine training to COVID-19-specific topics.

You’re investing time and money in this training, so you must ensure that the proper training is being done and understood, otherwise there is no point. To be sure, it can be a challenge to maintain a captive audience working from home or even in the workplace when a smartphone is close at hand.

To keep people engaged, we recommend smaller, highly focused segments of training of say 20 minutes, instead of hours-long webinars packed with information. We find that people pay more attention during these short duration training events and retain more information.

Also, be sure to be respectful of everybody’s time. Keep in mind that people are busy and stressed out. It’s important to start virtual meetings or webinars on time. Don’t spend 20 minutes waiting for more people to log in or let the sessions run long. It’s one thing to let people leave work for a full day to sit in an air-conditioned office with a catered lunch – eight hours of training would be no problem in that environment. But at home… not so much.

At Envision, we use something we call Tailgate Training Sessions. At a job site, we gather at our trucks at the beginning of each day to briefly review the EH&S plan for that particular site, what to do if an accident occurs, potential contaminants, and the goals for that day. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes.

You can use that same format in virtual training. Instead of going through eight hours of training in one day, break it up into 20-minute segments (with the ability to ask questions after each session) spread out over a few weeks or months, with hands-on training added as needed. This will boost retention of the material and result in a more successful training program.

4. Document Everything


You can do all the training you want, but if you don’t document who did the training, who was trained, what they were trained in, and whether the training was completed… regulators won’t consider that training to be done. It’s as if it never happened.

This can be a challenge, especially with all this new virtual and COVID-19-related training you might be implementing. To keep track of everything and make sure everybody’s training is up to date, we recommend developing a spreadsheet with a reminder for when training is needed for each employee. Then make sure all the relevant information about each employee’s training (who, what, when, was the training completed, etc.) is included in your files.

Where to Go from Here

Training your employees in specific activities and job functions, as well as environmental, health and safety issues, not to mention how to stay safe during this pandemic, has never been more important… or more of a challenge.

By taking advantage of technology and the availability of virtual training, mixing in live and hands-on elements when needed, you can keep your workforce up to date on routine training and help them understand how COVID-19 will impact how they do their jobs.

At Envision Environmental, we’re happy to advise you on conducting training as your employees start coming back to work with our Virtual University and custom solutions.

For more information, please get in touch with me, Mark Roman, at 609-208-1885 or via e-mail at markroman@envisionenvironmental.com.

Topics: Newsletter