How COVID-19 Changed Workforce Training

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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the rapid spread of a newly discovered virus named SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as COVID-19 or coronavirus, as a pandemic. Each state determined a level of action to be taken in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, from issuing full stay-at-home orders to choosing only to close schools and allowing businesses to close if they desired.

Now, regardless of what initial steps were taken, the entire United States has begun the multiphase process of reopening, from nonessential businesses to schools, as they see fit for their citizens and their economies.

Employee wearing face mask

While many employees have not yet fully returned to work, such as those in personal care or bars and restaurants, industries such as manufacturing and construction must continue. But whether you have returned to a full-strength workforce yet or not, many employers are wondering: What will employee training look like now?

Here we will examine some of the ways workplace training may be different during and after COVID-19 and why training should not be neglected during these potentially stressful times.

Training is Always Evolving

As expected, employee training will look a little different in the coming months. However, over the last few decades, training has changed and adapted to meet the needs of both employers and employees.

Man wearing mask at computer

Thirty years ago, the idea of online training programs would have seemed outlandish. Today, it is expected out of nearly every training partner. If a company doesn’t offer an online learning library, their resources are fairly limited and the training content may not be fully up-to-date with standards and regulations.

In the past, training tended to follow a “one and done” strategy except for certain HR-related topics, such as sexual harassment in the workplace, which is often repeated yearly. However, more organizations now implement retraining, which is understandably even more applicable when it comes to health and safety. After all, employees need to stay up-to-date with regulations and must know how to follow all preventive and reactive steps in various situations.

What to Expect in Employee Training

Specific training programs will of course vary by industry and company, but there are a few general changes you can expect to make — if you have not already done so — that will help make your return to training more efficient.

Mobile courses completed from anywhere

No matter if you have office employees now working from home or oil workers needing to train while on a rig, online courses make both required and optional training fully accessible by employees at any location.

Taking training online could also save your company time and money, as online training does not require a physical classroom setting or bringing an in-person trainer to your jobsite. Employees can complete virtual training from anywhere with internet access.

Keep in mind that there are certain roles or tasks that may still require some in-person training. For instance, anyone can take an online chainsaw safety training course, but until an employee has physically picked up a chainsaw and demonstrated how to safely operate the machinery, they could be considered a liability.

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Smaller in-person training sessions

Avoiding OSHA fines

While mobile learning is certainly becoming more prevalent, there are companies who take a blended training approach, offering the bulk of training through an e-learning platform while continuing to conduct some in-person training. For those organizations, it is crucial to keep employees safe, especially in these times of social distancing. 

Instead of gathering entire departments together for one training session, consider splitting the team into groups. This not only allows for any distancing protocols you have in place to be respected, but it also creates a more intimate learning environment.

Additionally, smaller classes typically mean fewer potential disruptions or even shorter questioning sessions. This allows workers to return to their duties more quickly meaning more actual working hours in their day.

Microlearning to fit into any schedule

In 2020, more than 79% of all Americans own a smartphone, a huge increase from 20% only 10 years ago. The pervasiveness of these always-connected mobile devices means learning should be available at all times and accessible from anywhere.

Along with the popularity of smartphones, there has been a corresponding proliferation of social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram. In the U.S. alone, Snapchat has more than 80 million users while Instagram has 130 million. Both of these platforms, and many others like them, are popular for the short videos users can upload and share.

Because we have become a mobile-first society and have developed an affinity for short interactions, it is necessary for training to be fully engaging from beginning to end. Users are far more likely to stay actively present in a training video lasting 5-15 minutes than in a full lecture that could last from 30 minutes to well over an hour.

Microlearning, the common name for these short learning modules, suits the reality of today’s learners very well. You can find them as short as three minutes, meaning they get directly to the point without any unnecessary “filler” content that may distract from the key information. This also means training can be completed without taking hours out of an employee’s day.

Training Can Help Boost Employee Morale

Employee taking online training

When employees are happy, they are more actively engaged at work, are less likely to suffer the effects of workplace stress and display more loyalty to their employer.

Consider for a moment what you could do to boost employee morale. Things such as free food, team-building events outside the office or better benefits likely come to mind.

But now with a growing number of remote workers and more health protocols in place in workplaces across the country, these standard options are far less easily implemented. Don’t overlook how something as simple as employee training can help in less-obvious ways.

Employers often understand the immediate benefits of training — meeting compliance standards or checking off HR training boxes — but there are many underlying benefits that should not be overlooked, including how training can boost morale.

Some of the many benefits of employee training include:

  • Making employees feel valued
  • Decreasing turnover
  • Developing more-skilled workers
  • Increasing profit margin
  • Creating better company culture

Most companies probably feel they provide employees with adequate on-the-job training. However, employees themselves are expressing the desire for more training opportunities. In fact, 94% of employees would stay with an employer longer if the company invested in learning and development.

In these uncertain times, for both employers and employees, showing you care about your workers in any way possible is likely to boost both individual and company-wide morale. Don’t neglect these seemingly basic steps in the employer-employee relationship.

Evaluate and Improve Your Training Today

While your workers may still be adjusting to a new look to their workday, now is an ideal time to implement online training strategies. Online training can help your workforce get caught up on regulatory training requirements or maybe even learn new skills without requiring large numbers of employees to congregate in one area.

It’s never a wrong time to evaluate your current safety program to protect your employees, but now is the perfect time to do so. For more than 20 years, SafetySkills has made occupational health and safety training easy, no matter your industry, job title or location. Contact SafetySkills today to see how we can help you get started on improving your safety program.

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