Training techniques in the USA are internationally recognised, with crane operators around the world seeking to certify themselves to US standards. Euan Youdale spoke to Mike Parnell at Industrial Training International, Inc. (ITI) and LD Stutes at North American Crane Bureau (NACB), both based in the USA, about the training industry there and its future.
IC: How has technology changed the way that training is carried out?
Parnell: New crane types and electronic devices have provided a number of aids to the operator not available 10 to 15 years ago. Computerised displays in the crane cab can help create limited lifting zones for restricted work sites, outrigger loading information, dual hook loads, etc. New spreader bar designs, custom lifting devices and associated hardware have helped reduce headroom and minimised some of the free rigging approach - this effort has reduced some of the risk associated with load loss.
New light weight synthetic slings have reduced gross load weight and permitted easier handling and storage of rigging. Dynamometers and load cells are being used in more standard operations than ever before and these devices provide a constant alert to the lead riggers and operators as to weights and rigging tensions. Remote control systems have helped the operators of self erecting tower cranes and articulating boom cranes get a better view of the operation due to proximity.
Stutes: As early pioneers in crane training simulators, the owners on NACB have been able to separate the organisation into one that utilises simulators to not only enhance training, but make training more effective. Operators coming through training having been exposed to simulation training, consistently perform at a higher level than the equal who has not utilised a simulator in training. Due to recognised improvement in learned skills, we went on to develop the Personal Desktop Simulator that is now not only being used by NACB Mobile Trainers, but in many varied training scenarios due to its portability.
IC: How will technology change training in the future?
Parnell: Training companies will need to ensure that their trainers stay current with the technology. A case in point: ITI sent a trainer to the US distribution dealer for Spyder mini crawler cranes to receive 'factory equivalent' training, in preparation for a special programme requested by a client. At every turn, training companies will need to understand the benefits and limitations of the new types of equipment to guide client personnel through the decision making process of suitability for the tasks at hand.
Stutes: We're seeing the development of hand-sized apps, and tablet apps that can and will be used in training. NACB is cutting through with these currently. I can see the potential of technology playing an even more critical role with these apps. As the cost of tablets reduces and training applications mature, I know that we'll utilise them in our training. Technology and simulation training is in many fields now due its learning benefits. Not only have the skilled trades adopted simulation training, the medical field is also using it. Also, with technology, we're enticing the younger generation into the field; so technology will actually shape the future.
IC: How has legislation and standards shaped training over the last few years?
Parnell: In the last 10 years, nearly all Federal legislation and national standards have included a provision for employee training as pertains to the use, operation and inspection of the load handling equipment in regular use at their site. In some cases training has become mandatory, and some voluntary, based on the circumstances. In nearly every case after an accident, the federal or state regulation officers are asking for the training records and content to evaluate the quality and depth of the information as provided (or not provided) for the subject employees.
Stutes: It is an organisation's leadership that shapes training. I think that in some cases legislation and standards have helped change the shape of what some training organisations are doing. New crane standards are bringing to the surface a much needed recognition of how important these stated skills are. It's easy for us to think that we don't want an inexperienced hospital surgeon working on us, but are we okay with an inexperienced crane operator who's lifting hundreds of thousands of pounds around us. We assured that it's properly secure and being moved by technical equipment that is sound and understood by the operator? This occurs every day, all day.
IC: Which types of cranes are seeing the greatest level of training advancement?
Parnell: We are seeing an equal amount of mobile and overhead crane training requests. Very little for tower cranes since they are especially construction related in most cases and that end of the economy is still lagging. A particular upturn in self erecting tower cranes and articulating boom cranes for small project work and material delivery is gaining momentum.
Stutes: There is such a large amount of mobile crane usage that exists out there, that NACB naturally see its greatest benefit from advancing our training in this area. The overhead cranes are an enduring part of NACB-IES business as well. America was built on manufacturing and our manufacturing continues. It's nice to see energised interest in the overhead bridge crane currently. The tower cranes are soft here in the US. We have placed more tower crane simulators across the globe than here in the US. Hopefully that will change soon.
IC: How do you see this changing over the next few years?
Parnell: We will see more training needs in the upper end of the business; lift planning and lift director type work. Advanced and master rigger is also on the increase. Most training is, of course, for the folks between the labourer pool and the engineer and, in many cases, for folks who have received little to no formal training for load handling; whether for vertical lifting or horizontal machinery moving (maintenance employees).
Stutes: People will either be forward thinking and increase their awareness and training now to meet the new standards, and make their employees safer, or they will wait until the last minute to do it. At that time, as has happened in certain states in the US, there will be a crunch and the demand will be a real burden on organisation like NACB to keep up with the training demands. Change is a hard word for a lot of people to understand. If they truly stepped back to see this change, and the real long-term benefits, the change would be embraced; embraced by everyone except certain attorneys.
IC: How has the economy affected the development of training?
Parnell: The best training companies are staying aggressive in finding better ways to deliver technical skills training at a lower cost to the employer. That can be through e-learning, accelerated intermediate programmes or hands-on programmes with effective field training; all in an effort to minimise the employee's time away from the job.
Stutes: When income slows, organisations necessarily trim expenses. Training is a natural area where managers feel they can trim to survive, and the reality of it is that they probably can, in the short term. The organisations that deal with NACB typically are forward thinking organisations that understand that even though you might temporarily reduce spending to fuel production and growth, you need to invest in ensuring that people are properly trained. Effective training not only keeps employees more productive, but helps avoid the potential death-nell of a catastrophe. In the end, the economy will never destroy the DNA of training, for it is the blood that keeps industry alive. Without training, we would truly perish.