Canadian training strategies

08 May 2008

OETIO's Oakville campus

OETIO's Oakville campus

The training and development of crane and heavy equipment operators in Ontario, Canada is taken seriously and is considered to be a high priority by labour organisations, industry and government.

Compulsory certification is required to be eligible to operate mobile and tower cranes in Ontario. To meet these requirements, in-school and on-the-job training programmes are essential. Voluntary certifications for those wishing to operate heavy equipment such as bulldozers, excavators and tractor-loader-backhoes are also government approved certifications. Training for these operator trades is optional. However, most industry, government and labour organisations encourage operators to take appropriate training to ensure due diligence, to improve safety and to raise productivity.

OETIO has been instructing crane and heavy equipment operators for more than 25 years and is a major provider of these training programmes on behalf of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities of Ontario.

On-the-job training

Apprenticeship courses for mobile crane operators include 12 weeks of in-school training and 6,000 hours on-the-job training with industry. Training begins with a distance education package which can be delivered by paper-based, CD-ROM or web-based methods followed by five weeks and three two week in-school sessions over a period of about three years.

The tower crane programme is shorter with the same distance education options followed by five, two and one week in-school sessions over a period of about two years, while the apprentice is on industry work assignment for 3,000 hours of on-the-job experience. Heavy equipment apprentices follow a six-week in-school programme followed by 1,000 hours of on- the-job practical learning.

The goal of the OETIO is to graduate the most knowledgeable and skilled operators in the construction industry. As a result, management of the institute is never satisfied with the status quo and believes in continuous improvement.

Training offered at the OETIO has also proved effective in making jobsites safer, resulting in a significant decrease in fatalities, injuries and equipment repair for contractors. Statistics maintained by the Construction Safety Association of Ontario found that the number of crane and rigging fatalities declined markedly after mandatory training was introduced in 1979.

From 1969 to 1978 crane and rigging accidents accounted for 85 of 429 construction fatalities in Ontario – for a death rate of 3.95 per 100,000 workers. But from 1979 to 2004, accidents dropped significantly to 51 of 580 construction fatalities – for a death rate of 0.68 per 100,000 workers.

OETIO attributes most of its success to attention to detail in the development of competence in four key areas:

1. Client Needs Identification

The client calls the shots. There is no point designing and developing a training programme if training is not the solution to job performance issues. This is often the case when other non-training factors interfere. An inappropriate working environment, defective work instruments or equipment, misunderstood priorities, unrealistic employer expectations, among other factors, have to be ruled out before it can be established that performance deficiencies require learning through formal training programmes.

The OETIO collaborates with governments, employers and labour to ensure that its training programmes are the appropriate solutions to meet client needs. A few years ago OETIO led a pan-Canadian Project to develop 29 National Occupational Standards for operator occupations that are now recognised by Human Resources Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), the Construction Sector Council (CSC), industry and labour organizations across Canada. Since the OETIO programmes are designed to meet both national and provincial standards, operators receiving training at the OETIO acquire the credentials to work anywhere in Canada.

2. Curriculum

Curriculum is a catch-all word and is often misinterpreted. Essentially, it consists of three elements – Learning Outcomes; detailed course content; and test instruments.

• Learning Outcomes are based on the occupational standard and are what the student is expected to know and be able to do at the end of in-school and on-the-job learning.

• Detailed course content includes all of the documentation and techniques necessary to help the student acquire the knowledge and essential skills to effectively meet the requirements of the Learning Outcomes.

• Test instruments are designed to ensure that the participant is effectively measured and tested against the Occupational Standards. These include theory and demonstration of skills tests to ensure that the student is job ready.

Curriculum as defined here is available for more than 30 occupations at the OETIO and is updated at a minimum every three years or more frequently as a result of significant changes in equipment operation or the work being performed.

3. Training Aids and Facilities

In this business, training aids are extremely costly to ensure effective hands-on training. The replacement value of OETIO training aids is around $20 million and it is necessary to continue to upgrade these aids to ensure the best hands-on training. However, the evolution of cost-effective technology solutions can now provide the student with fairly sophisticated models, mini-machines and virtual reality simulation to reduce reliance on the equipment for practical training. Several of these are employed in OETIO programmes. These training aids improve initial learning effectiveness by giving the new student practice on controls and the dynamics of the machine. They reduce some wear and tear on the actual machines as students are now much smoother on controls causing less damage.

4. Instructors and Staff

The fourth cornerstone is the most important of all. The very best standards, curriculum and training aids are not worth much without competent instructors. It is unreasonable to take a top-notch operator and expect that operator will become an instantaneous competent instructor. In addition to learning the curriculum inside and out, the new instructor requires basic training in instructional techniques, curriculum design, skills evaluation, measurement and testing and coaching and mentoring. In all, this takes years of learning before an instructor can feel at ease and confident in an in-school environment. The OETIO delivers these instructor development programmes to their own and other instructors at institutes across Canada.

• For more information

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