Does online training guarantee results?
Many manufacturers are increasingly providing online tutorials and updates through their websites. So, does that mean traditional learning and training centres providing knowledge for installers have had their day?
The industry has a skills shortage and needs new recruits, so could online learning be used to entice new people into the industry?
For new recruits, there are 34 colleges across the country delivering training and qualifications approved by the CIPHE – they provide everything that an apprentice needs to learn, from pipework through to water regulations and knowledge of sustainable heating.
Jerry Whiteley, the CIPHE’s technical manager, says traditional learning is vital but the move online might be driven by need rather than choice. “The big challenge at the moment is that the tutors qualified to Level 3 are almost impossible to find,” he says. “It’s more theoretical because the skills learning is done at Level 2, but it’s still a problem we’ve got to think about.”
Training doesn’t end with passing a qualification. With CIPHE members obliged to gain 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) throughout the membership year, it can sometimes be tricky to keep on top of everything that counts towards those precious CPD points.
There’s also the other challenge for most people who are self-employed. Any training has both the cost of the course but also the cost of a day not helping customers.
Whiteley says: “We can see a future where the majority of training is done online. There are the time constraints – particularly if you are self-employed. There’s also the changing way in which people want to learn: you only need look at the web to find video tutorials on social media channels.”
But if the industry is to drive up standards and give customers the best service possible, staying up to date on the rules and new products is critical.
This is where the 19 outlets awarded the status of Industrial Associate Approved Training Centre (IA ATC) by the CIPHE come in.
Among them are specialist providers as well as manufacturers. The specialists cover specific issues such as regulatory change; for example, the launch of the 18th edition of the Wiring Regulations (BS 7671:2018) last year. This was a major event for the industry and ensuring people are compliant by July this year has led to a lot of people signing up.
One of the providers, Steve Willis Training Centres, says: “Demand for courses has been extremely high, and this is likely to continue as the deadline for qualification approaches.”
The other challenge for installers is keeping up with developments from manufacturers. Most now update product guidance online, but many have yet to develop full online tutorials.
Working with the industry
Manufacturers remain committed to real-life learning. Just a few months ago, Baxi launched three courses backed by the CIPHE on combi-boilers, multi-meter training and boiler diagnostics. Each last a day and the firm says heating engineers often attend all three days. They work on live boilers that have been set up by the trainers with faults for them to identify and put right.
Steve Owen, national training manager at Baxi Heating, says: “Without ongoing training, skills would quickly become dated and the quality of installations would suffer. At Baxi, we’re therefore committed to investing in the best trainers and learning facilities possible to help plumbing and heating engineers feel confident when working with Baxi products and to reach their learning and development goals.”
The essential mix
So, is the online learning revolution likely to pass the industry by?
Whiteley says: “We know that it’s the way the government wants to go and that’s why we are going to develop two new digital training products. Manufacturers like Worcester Bosch are also going down this road and we’ve had a lot of discussions with other Industrial Associate Supporters amongst our membership.” But, he says, even with a move online there will always be a need for a real-time test of skills: “In the future, training centres will more likely become testing centres in the same way as we have driving test centres. But – and it’s an important one – there will always be a need for real-world training because fundamentally people will still have to prove they can do the job, or that they have the knowledge about the appliance they are installing.”
To help track your CPD, the CIPHE has created the Mycareerpath professional development system. Located on the CIPHE website, it’s an online tool for members to plan, evaluate and record professional development. It allows you to record activities and experiences that contribute to your CPD, so that you can build up a body of evidence that can be updated, printed, and sent to colleagues or institutions for online review and comments.
This article first appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of P&H Engineering, the magazine for members of the CIPHE. Find out how to join here.