Online Apprentice Training: Working in IEC Chapters

InsightsPic_GradComptr.gifA number of IEC chapters have been implementing online apprenticeship training. While such endeavors always present challenges, they can end up being highly successful. IEC Atlanta and IEC-Dakotas are two such examples.

IEC Atlanta

IEC Atlanta recently introduced an online apprenticeship training program. “We recognized that many students who were attending our classroom program had to travel long distances more often to complete work assignments,” reports Todd Hawkins, training director for the chapter. “In other words, they weren't always working locally, so it became more and more difficult for them to attend on-site training sessions. As a result, we decided to create an online program to help them stay engaged in the training."

Niel Dawson, IEC Atlanta's executive director, started the program and it then became Hawkins' job as training director to coordinate the creation of the program. “We started by working with our local Apprenticeship & Training Committee,” states Hawkins. “From there, we got instructors, contractors, and other partner members involved to discuss how the program would work, what the platform would be, and how we would create the content.”

The team also looked at how other organizations were doing online training programs through tech- nology such as WebEx. “We found that a lot of it was done through PowerPoint delivery from an instructor, so we designed PowerPoints based on the lesson plans,” said Hawkins.

IEC Atlanta's online apprenticeship program utilizes an integrated training model to train appren- tices in real-time, at times and locations that are convenient for them. The program provides live virtual instruction, using dedicated instructors. Classes are scheduled one evening per week, just as they are for on-site training. The web-based program allows apprentices to see their instructor, watch live demonstrations, and ask real-time questions with voice-over Internet  protocol.  Instructors  are also available for individual questions prior to each class.

Since hands-on training is a vital part of the program, labs are required four times per year for four hours at a time, and are conducted according to a prescribed format that directly relates to the curriculum. IEC Atlanta has lab locations throughout the state.

And although there are built-in safeguards to assure that students are acquiring the necessary skill sets and competencies, the program also features proctored four-hour exams. To take these exams, online apprentices are required to travel to a pre-assigned location, which in most cases will be the same location as the hands-on lab.

The program follows IEC National's curriculum. As a result, students who currently attend on-site training are able to seamlessly shift to online training, using the same books, instructional methods, and curriculum. In addition, the program is certified by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), meaning that it meets the federal Davis-Bacon Wage requirements.

Contractor responsibilities? A contractor must be willing to sponsor the apprentice for the online program, ensure that the apprentice has adequate computing and internet access, allow the apprentice to travel to the lab and testing location at the prescribed times, and may be required to assist in proctoring the exams. In return, the contractor is kept informed of the apprentice's attendance record and grades each semester.

“We have heard from many students who really enjoy the program,” states Hawkins. “They say that the instructors have really gone out of their way to make the content understandable.”

Despite the success of the program, it is not without  its  challenges, which the chapter continually seeks ways to address.

One challenge is that it can be difficult to connect with people you can't see in a classroom. “For example, instructors can't see the students’ body language,” notes Hawkins. “In addition, a lot of students a