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COVID-19 pushes trades trainer to virtual classrooms

Russell Hixson
COVID-19 pushes trades trainer to virtual classrooms

As health experts urge people to refrain from gathering in large numbers, digital alternatives to meeting are in the spotlight.

And while many institutions and companies are scrambling to come up with solutions, Pacific Vocational College (PVC) in Burnaby, B.C. seamlessly switched all its trades apprentice training over to virtual classrooms in less than 48 hours. 

Sandor Rethy, director of strategic initiatives at PVC, explained that the school has been exploring and building its digital learning system since early 2015.

“The first concept was to deliver our training materials electronically instead of using paper,” said Rethy. “So we created a tool for students to interact with their instructor and the material online after class.”

In 2017 the school began developing virtual classrooms where students can log in and get training wherever they are without downloading any software. When the global pandemic hit, PVC was already offering distance live training in addition to in-class training. In less than two days they were able to switch every student over to virtual classrooms. 

“It was unbelievably smooth,” said Rethy, who explained that even practical assignments like doing hand signals, tying knots and working with schematics can be done using video conferencing, photos, phones or tablets. 

Rethy explained that virtual learning allows students to learn in non-traditional ways. For example, the system also allows lectures to be recorded and viewed anytime.

“We record every single minute of every lecture and the apprentice gets access to it that evening and throughout the rest of their school year as many times as they want,” said Rethy. “The idea is to reach a lot more apprentices and have a lot more flexibility in their training options.”

Now that employers and apprentices have been forced to try alternative learning methods due to the pandemic, Rethy believes the entire industry of trades training could be catapulted forward.

“The feedback we are getting from our apprentices has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “If you can make these online interactions simple and straightforward, people will respond to them. If they are complicated and non-interactive, these things will die.”

PVC teaches piping trades apprentices through the Industry Training Authority (ITA), its only funder. Rethy said the ITA is eager to pursue more innovative training options like virtual classrooms but red tape can often get in the way with so many institutions involved. Rethy explained that when little to no funding was around to develop their online training program, PVC’s owner and founder, Rob Bradbury, simply paid for it himself. 

Rethy said currently the school has around 100 apprentices being trained in its virtual classrooms. 

“We were very fortunate. We weren’t planning for something like this, but we were working towards this and had begun to make these moves ages ago.

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