E is not for Easy

20 March 2008

Education, in any form, is an investment in human capital that pays dividends far beyond the balance sheet. In the realm of safe crane operation, service and maintenance, and even sales, training is critical - whether training an operator how to safely operate a crane; training a service technician on how to service a machine; or even training a sales person how to sell the attributes of a new unit.

Until the last 15 years, crane industry training has mainly been initiated at the manufacturer level, with distributors and end users the main recipients of the training offered. However, today training is everyone's responsibility, especially when it comes to the assurance of expert and safe crane operation, and competent crane service and maintenance.

All the major crane manufacturers offer training schools for distributors and customers, investing large-scale budgets in setting up training facilities and offering comprehensive training schools across the country. The goal is to train as many people as quickly and efficiently as possible, which is why E-training has become a leading avenue.

While construction equipment manufacturers, such as John Deere, Caterpillar and Komatsu, have been on the forefront of initiating E-training for their customers, crane manufacturers are just now getting on the bandwagon. Recently, Manitowoc began offering four E-training courses, a package that offers roughly 15 hours of training for the entry level technician.

“So far, we have only done some basic level E-training,” says John Alexander, director of training and technical publications for Manitowoc CraneCare. “These courses cover basic hydraulics and electronics.”

Response has been strong, Alexander says, and more than 230 people have passed the tests. He says there would have been better response had they invested in translation of the content early on as there has been interest in the E-training courses by companies in Latin America and China.

“Most of our volume has been in the States but we have significant interest in other countries and we are working on the translation now,” he says.

Additional feedback has suggested that Manitowoc's basic E-training courses are too difficult, an issue that Alexander can rationalize. “There have been a few bumps in the road,” he says. “There have been a few people who have said the courses are too difficult. But that's OK in my mind. It shouldn't be easy. These products are very complex and the training content needs to be complex and challenging.”

The beauty of Manitowoc's E-training has been that it allows the training group to spend less time on the basics and theory, and more time doing the hands-on crane function. “Typically, when the student would come to factory schools, we would spend part of the time going over the basics of hydraulics and electrical theory,” Alexander says. “Now these people can learn that part online and when they come to the factory we don't need to spend the time on the basics. There's more value being able to get right to the function of the crane.”

But Alexander stresses that the package being offered is “not the end of the road,” but rather the beginning.

He views these courses as building blocks to the overall curriculum, and that the courses are intended as a supplement to the factory schools, not to replace them in any way.

Manitowoc, however, has approached a “step two” in the process of E-training, with development underway on more product-specific E-training. “We will approach a phase two level which is more product specific around the cranes themselves and that go beyond general theory and principle,” he says.

The cost of developing these courses is still pretty significant, but it's an investment that will continue to evolve. “We recently spent $200,000 on test benches to help students when they come to factory schools,” says Alexander. “We are heavily investing in our training to make it better.” Other training entities are looking at ways to employ internet and computer-based training in their curriculums.

Graham Brent, executive director of the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators, (NCCCO) says that like any training, the quality of E-training and internet-based training likely varies. He also said that thus far, crane certification will remain a proctored process.

“Crane operator certification via the internet is not a viable proposition at the present time unless it is proctored as a written exam would be,” he says. “NCCCO's computer-based testing, will be, in fact, proctored in order that all the usual security protocols are followed.”


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