How the COVID Pandemic Has Broadened The Skills Gap and Increased the Need for Skills Development Training (And What To Do About It)

Back in the years and even decades before the COVID-19 pandemic dominated much of what we talk and think about, employers and learning & development experts used to talk a lot about the skills gap and how to create and provide training to help employees develop those needed skills.

And to be honest, that skill gap didn’t go away with COVID, and in fact in several ways, COVID brought with it an ever greater need to help people develop new job skills.

We talked about this a little bit in a recorded discussion with learning professional Dr. Stella Lee, COVID-19 Presents Challenge to L&D to “Step Up,” not so long ago. Go check out that discussion, because as usual, Dr. Lee’s on point and provides some great tips about all this.

In this article, we’re going to list a few ways COVID-19 has made this skills gap issue more problematic and give you some tips for creating performance interventions and training solutions to help workers develop those skills quickly, efficiently, and reliably.


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OSHA Released New Temporary Enforcement Guidance for Tight-Fitting PAPRs During COVID-19

The Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing (go get your flu shots, friends!), and while many people are sadly without work or are working from home, quite a few Americans are indeed working “at work” and safety professionals are doing everything in their power to keep everyone safe and healthy.

OSHA’s been busy too, as you’d guess. Since the pandemic started here in the US back in February/March or so of 2020, they’ve created a series of temporary guidances for employers dealing with unique COVID-related challenges. And just recently–on October 2, 2020, to be exact–they released another.

The new OSHA guidance is called Temporary Enforcement Guidance – Tight-Fitting Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) Used During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic. We’ll point out some key points below, but as always we encourage you to read the entire OSHA guidance and get the words straight from the regulator’s mouth/pen/keyboard.

What Respirators Does This New Guidance Apply To?

Here’s what OSHA says on this: “It applies to tight-fitting PAPRs, approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), when used for protection against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19…”

What Workers Does This New Guidance Apply To?

Again, here’s OSHA: “…healthcare personnel or any other workers in high or very high exposure risk activities (e.g., emergency responders, mortuary workers, laboratory workers)…”

What Are the Underlying Reasons for this Temporary Enforcement Guidance?

It’s driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, but also by teh resulting shortage of N95 respirators and supplies for fit-testing. Here’s how OSHA puts it: “…because of supply shortages of both disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) and fit-testing supplies (e.g., Bitrex™, isoamyl acetate) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

You should also pay attention to this statement by OSHA: “This memorandum outlines a new enforcement discretion policy to permit the use of NIOSH-approved tight-fitting PAPRs, because of their positive-pressure design, for protection against SARS-CoV-2 when initial and/or annual fit-testing is infeasible due to respirator and fit-testing supply shortages.  This guidance applies only to fit-testing of NIOSH-approved tight-fitting PAPRs used as a contingency capacity strategy2 when performing job tasks with high or very high occupational exposure risk to SARS-CoV-2.”

When Does This NOT Apply?

But hey, don’t think this means you can do whatever you want whenever you want. In particular, OSHA notes this temporary enforcement guidance DOESN’T APPLY in the following circumstances:

  • PAPRs that have not been approved by NIOSH;
  • PAPRs used by any workers with low or medium exposure risk to SARS-CoV-2;
  • PAPRs used by any workers for protection against airborne hazards other than SARS-CoV-2 (e.g., chemical hazards); and
  • Loose-fitting hooded PAPRs that do not require fit-testing.

Where Can You Learn More about OSHA’s Efforts Re: COVID-19?

They’ve got an entire page full of information and guidances. Check them all out here: OSHA COVID-19 Safety and Health Topic Page.


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LMS Basics: Can You Use an LMS to Track Safety Training Completions, Due Dates, Expirations, and Recurrent Safety Training?

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Many people are quite familiar with learning management systems (LMS), what they can do, and how you can use them at work. However, other people are still new to the idea of a learning management system, and they often ask us how they might be able to use an LMS at their workplace.

We have conversations like this with safety mangers and other people tasked with delivering, tracking, and reporting on safety and health training at their workplace, especially when it it comes to safety training that fulfills compliance requirements from organizations like OSHA or other regulators.

The short answer is that yes, many learning management systems can do that kind of stuff to help you out with your safety training. Of course, no LMS is exactly like another, and each has their own features. So some LMS may do everything a safety manager wants, whereas other LMS may miss out on a few of those safety/compliance-specific features because they focus on some other aspect of workplace learning and performance improvement.

The Convergence LMS was designed in close consultation with manufacturing and industrial clients, often including their safety managers. We designed our LMS with their needs in mind, and they’ve been battle-testing it out in the field, running our LMS through their EHS training compliance requirement challenges and letting us know when we needed tweaks or new features not just to hit that bottom floor of safety training compliance but improve overall safety at their organization while also making the LMS and safety training administration easier and easier. So, thanks to them for working with us on this for more than a decade, and lucky you for coming to us now looking for help with your safety training needs.

We’ll briefly explain a little more about how an LMS can help with your safety training needs and challenges below. And of course, we invite you to contact us with questions about using an LMS for safety training or anything having to do with safety training (we sell pretty cool 3D-animated online safety and health training courses, too, by the way).

If you’re really serious about getting some online safety training at your workplace, in addition to this article, you might find the two resources below very helpful:

Now let’s get on with our quick overview of using an LMS for these safety training assignment and tracking issues we just discussed.


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Blended Learning Basics: Using Asynchronous and Synchronous Training Activities

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Many studies have shown that blended learning experiences tend to lead to better instructional outcomes–more learning, more knowledge acquisition, more skill development, better transfer to the job, etc. For more on this, including some quotes, studies, and meta-studies about blended learning effectiveness from the US Department of Education, learning researcher Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark, and learning researcher Dr. Will Thalheimer, see our Guide to Blended Learning Strategies.

But of course, learning design professionals shouldn’t just blend willy-nilly. You should have a reason for choosing to select the different training delivery methods you use in each learning blend.

There are multiple different ways to think about how to choose the right training delivery methods for the right learning activities in your learning blend. One of them is to think of when the learners will benefit from an asynchronous learning experience and when they’ll benefit from a synchronous learning experience. (Quick note for those not used to the jargon: an “asynchronous” learning experience means the learner is completing the learning experience alone–think of something like reading a book or completing a self-paced elearning course–and a “synchronous” learning experience means the learner is completing the learning experience with an instructor and other learners–think of a traditional instructor-led classroom training session or a virtual classroom completed online).

To help give you some ideas of how to use asynchronous and synchronous learning activities in a learning blend, we checked out a great recent series of articles on blended learning and synchronous/asynchronous activities written by our good friend, the learning researcher Dr. Patti Shank. Dr. Shank wrote these five articles for eLearning Industry–you can find the first article on synchronous and asynchronous learning here and then continue to read the rest.

We’re going to give you some of the highlights on Dr. Shank’s five-article series on asynchronous and synchronous activities in blended learning programs in the article below, although of course we invite you to read all the articles.

And if you’re curious, check out some of our earlier collaborations with Dr. Shank on other important learning topics:

Now let’s learn a little more about when to best use asynchronous and synchronous learning events.


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New Courses Released: Facilities Maintenance Online Training Library

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Although we publicized this in different ways when it happened, we’re late here at the Convergence Training blog announcing that Vector Solutions, including Convergence Training and RedVector, made a major course release of Facilities Maintenance online training courses this year.

Our new Commercial Facilities Maintenance online training library includes 69 individual courses running over a total of 23 hours and separated into 16 different related series of courses.

Here’s a quick overview video that you might enjoy:

Below is a list of the online training courses in this new Commercial Facilities Maintenance online training library. Let us know if you’d like to learn more about these courses or our LMS for delivering them. Click to contact Convergence Training or RedVector.

We’ve got additional descriptions of each course for you below.

Also, if you want to dig a little deeper into some good ideas for improving your facilities maintenance training programs, check out our record, on-demand webinar explaining how Vector Solutions joined forces with our partners at CBRE to help them build a best-in-class facilities maintenance training program for CBRE and their maintenance techs.


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Guide to Online Training for Electrical Transmission & Distribution

Online Training for Electrical Transmission & Distribution Guide

If you’re looking to implement online training for your electrical transmission & distribution workforce, this is the guide for you. We explain tech and terms; walk you through criteria for online training courses for T&D, learning management systems for administering your training, and online training providers; discuss ways to blend training for more effective learning; and much more.

We encourage you to download the guide, ask us any questions you may have, and of course check out our series of online training courses for the electrical transmission & distribution industry.

And a quick heads-up: we’ve got a surprise new training offering for the T&D sector coming soon, so come back in just a little while to see what the excitement is all about. It will be worth it, we promise.


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Safety of Work, Safety Work & Safety Clutter: Talking with David Provan

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Australian safety professional David Provan is an interesting voice in occupational safety, and recently I read two interesting papers he has co-authored: Safety Work v. Safety of Work and Safety Clutter.

I liked those articles so much we asked David to join us at the first-ever, inaugural meeting of the Portland, Oregon (USA) Safety Differently Book Club. David graciously accepted and he knocked it out of the park, talking about all of these topics with local safety professionals while an adult beverage or two were consumed here in the PNW. So thanks to David for that.

That conversation was so enlightening, I dug deep and asked David if he’d do a recorded discussion on the same basic ideas so we could present it to people who weren’t in the Safety Differently Book Club, and he kindly agreed. And the video below is the official record of that discussion.

We’d like to thank David again, we hope you give this talk a listen and find it useful, and we encourage you to drop your thoughts into the comments section below.

I plan on adding some related links and a transcript below at some point soon. Until then, enjoy the video and thanks for being patient with me!

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Complicated Systems, Complex Systems, Emergence & Systems Thinking in Safety: Talking with Adam Johns

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In this recorded video discussion with English safety professional Adam Johns, we talk about two big issues in organizational performance improvement (in general) that are big concerns in occupational safety as well: systems and complexity.

Our workplaces are made up of multiple systems, which is why systems thinking is so important when you’re trying to create improvements or solve problems. We  introduce this issue in our Systems Thinking for Workplace Performance Improvement article and it’s also something we discuss in our ATD Human Performance Improvement Model article.

Additionally, our workplaces are complex, particularly because they are sociotechnical systems, meaning machines and humans interact. This is different than just being complicated, in the way that a machine can be complicated. That’s because even though a machine is complicated, you can predict what it will do accurately, but when you add humans (and collections of humans, such as departments or organizations or multiple organizations), things become unpredictable. This can lead to what people refer to as emergence.

I’ve been familiar with Adam Johns for some time, but when I read his article on Complicated and Complex Systems in Safety Management, I knew I wanted to talk through this stuff with him. He was gracious enough to accept, sharing his time and knowledge, and the video below is the fruit of that. Thanks to Adam!

And we hope you enjoy the discussion. Let us know your thoughts.

Note: I’ll get workin’ on adding relevant links and a transcript for this discussion shortly! Thanks for being patient with me until then.

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Human Performance Improvement (HPI) Basics: Gilbert’s Behavioral Engineering Model (BEM)

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Human Performance Improvement, or HPI, is the field of study dedicated to creating methods that allow us to better (1) identify workplace problems, (2) analyze their cause(s), (3) come up with interventions that will lead to meaningful performance improvements, and (4) evaluate those interventions to make sure they were successful and to check to see if they created unintended negative consequences.

HPI is both a systematic method and a systemic method for workplace performance improvement. When we say that HPI is systematic, we mean the various HPI models present a sequential, step-by-step process the HPI professional can use to work through the performance problem identification and solution process listed in brief above. There are numerous systematic HPI models for doing this, and in this article, we’re going to discuss one of those–Thomas Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model, also known as BEM. We’ve already discussed a few other systematic HPI models, including the ATD HPI model and the Rummler/Brache Nine Variables HPI model.

When we say that HPI is systemic, we mean it takes into account the interrelationship between different components of different systems at the workplace. Here’s how William Rothwell, Carolyn Hohne, and Stephen King put that in their book Human Performance Improvement: Building Practitioner Performance: “This open-systems phenomenon has been likened to a spider web, in which force applied to one part tends to echo, resound, and reverberate throughout the web.”

And one last point to keep in mind: the HPI method is driven by data, and the HPI practitioner should be too. HPI has its roots in engineering, and accordingly it has a built-in demand for collecting and analyzing data at all stages throughout the HPI process (instead of merely hoping, relying on hunches, or simply not thinking about it). This demand for data goes back at least to Edward Deming (download our Deming’s 14 Points of Management infographic here).

For those of you wondering, human performance improvement (HPI) is also known as human performance technology (HPT). It’s sad that we live in a world where we can’t have nice things and we have multiple names and acronyms for the same idea, but that’s the world we live in. But don’t let this confuse you–if one person is talking about HPI and another is talking about HPT, they’re talking about the same stuff! 🙂


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COVID-19 Presents a Need and Opportunity for L&D to “Step Up Their Game” — Talking with Dr. Stella Lee

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I recently caught an article our friend Dr. Stella Lee wrote about how the COVID-19 pandemic presented a need and opportunity for learning and development departments and professionals around the world–and certainly in Canada, where Dr. Lee lives, and in the US, where Vector Solutions is–to “step up their game” to help workers reskill and upskill.

There’s nothing new about L&D having an opportunity to help people reskill and upskill. That need has been going on for quite some time due to major changes in our national economies. We’ve got older workers retiring and possibly moving into consulting roles; we’ve got younger workers coming in to take their place in the workforce; we’ve got large numbers of workers who recently migrated to their new home countries; and we’ve got a lot of people who’s old job doesn’t exist or isn’t as in-demand in our modern economies who need to develop newer, more in-demand job skills.

But Dr. Lee’s right: COVID-19 did heighten this issue even more, and in that sense created an even greater opportunity and need for L&D to step in and help out. In some cases, people lost their jobs, perhaps permanently, and they need to develop new skills to step into new jobs. Likewise, in some cases people lost hours or are otherwise underemployed. In yet other cases, people have moved into different positions already but need help developing those skills (Dr. Lee tells a good story about librarians making a change like this). A LOT of us at work could use some help learning to use a lot of the new digital communication and collaboration tools that we’re using more effectively. Classroom trainers could use some help becoming better virtual trainers. And of course a lot of folks need new digital job skills for new careers.

For repeat readers/viewers here at the Convergence Training blog, you may remember earlier discussions with Dr. Lee about Hackathons and Digital Disruptions in L&D, both of which I really enjoyed. Check ’em out if they’re new to you!

And with no further ado, please enjoy our recorded discussion with Dr. Lee, below.  We wanted to publish this discussion now, but check back and we’ll begin adding some links to resources mentioned in the video and a transcript as well (busy, busy, busy!).

Many thanks to Dr. Lee, of course. Check her company out at Paradox Learning. 

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Instructional Design Basics: 3 Types of Cognitive Load & How They Affect Learning and Learning Design

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From time to time, we run an article in our Instructional Design Basics series to help you learning designers out there (whatever you call yourself…instructional designers, learning experience designers, learning engineers, etc.) better understand how people learn and/or how to design, develop, and deliver learning experiences that have a better chance of helping employees learn, acquiring essential knowledge and (most importantly) developing necessary job skills.

In this Instructional Design Basics article, we’re going to look at the issue of cognitive load. In particular, we’ll look at three different types of cognitive load–intrinsic, germane, and extraneous–so you can see what types of cognitive load you want employees to undergo during a learning experience, which ones you don’t, and how to design and deliver your learning experiences accordingly.

We’ll start with a quick intro to how people process new information and begin the experience of learning.


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Human Performance Improvement (HPI) Basics: The Rummler & Brache “Nine Variables” Model

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Vector Solutions (remember, Convergence Training is part of Vector Solutions) is dedicated to helping our customers improve their workplace performance.

Sometimes, that means we’ll help by providing training materials or products to our customers. Because sometimes, like when a new employee is hired, or is moved into a new job position, or when a process changes or a company introduces a new product, or when there’s a training requirement for compliance, training can really help.

But as helpful as training can be, sometimes it’s not the whole solution and still other times it’s not part of the solution at all. And that’s OK, because we can’t all be all things in all occasions. That’s true of people and it’s true for training as well.

And that’s where something like Human Performance Improvement, or HPI, comes in. HPI, as defined by one HPI practitioner, is “a systematic process of discovering and analyzing important human performance gaps, planning for future improvements in human performance, designing and developing cost-effective and ethically justifiable interventions to close performance gaps, implementing the interventions, and evaluating the financial and non-financial results” (Rothwell, 2000).

Although there are many different definitions of HPI, they generally have explicitly or implicitly include some of the key elements from Rothwell’s definition above. HPI is both systematic and systemic; it’s evidence-based; and it includes a consideration of many different performance interventions (not just training).

In this article, we’re going to continue our series of articles explaining key aspects and issues in HPI by talking about Geary Rummler, the Rummler-Brache Three Levels of Performance Model for HPI, the Three Needs for HPI, and the Rummler-Brache “Nine Variables” model for HPI.


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