The rush to online learning platforms over the past decade has produced manifest shortcomings in the quality of training for project managers in the AEC sector.

According to David Williams, general manager of Engineering Education Australia, members of the engineering profession feel they’ve been left sorely short-changed by online training platforms for project managers.

“I speak to a lot of big engineering companies and their HR and L&D managers, and they are bitterly disappointed by the quality of project management training over the past 10 years,” said Williams. “In the rush to go online they’ve dropped a lot of the real purpose of vocational education and training – such as the concept of RPL, or recognition of prior learning and competition.”

Williams points out that while vocational education should be a bespoke and personalized form of training that seeks to remedy specific shortcomings in the skill sets of students, this is difficult to achieve via existing online platforms.

“The whole point of vocational education and training is that if you are really competent at a particular skill or set of skills, you can be assessed in the workplace and deemed competent, and then only obtain the training you need to fill in the gaps,” he said. “This worked really well because of two things – firstly that personalised nature, and secondly the efficiency because you were basically being recognised for what you did know, and only trained in what you didn’t know.

“Online learning by nature means everyone has the same experience, and it’s cheap and scalable for the provider of that training, but it’s not leading to better outcomes in the individual students, or the companies who are paying for that training.

“It just provides generic training, delivered via Powerpoint slides so to speak, with a next button down at the bottom right hand side.”

While online training has been widely adopted by employers since the turn of the century because of its convenience, many are already disappointed by the actual outcomes for both individuals and overall work teams.

“Online training was attractive because it was cheap and accessible via the Internet. Employers thought it was great because they didn’t have have to release our engineers to engage training face to face,” said Williams. “They were burnt by the experience though, because the experience and the quality of the courses wasn’t personalised or high quality, and they learnt two things.

“Firstly, that the student or learner didn’t enjoy it – they didn’t feel as thought they learnt anything, and secondly, that there was very little sign that there was an increase in the general capability of work forces as a result of this VET spending.”

Williams believes that as a result of poor experiences with online vocational learning programs, the AEC sector is seeing a sharp rise in demand for more rigorous, reputable personalized forms of training.

“There is a massive appetite for high-quality rigorous training that is genuinely focused on outcomes, instead of tick and flick – the idea that you pay for it and everyone’s a winner,” he said. “People want reputation, personalisation, rigour – they don’t want it to be onerous, they don’t want to put staff through 10 days of training when half the individuals in that classroom already know what they’re being taught.”

According to Williams, this demand for high-quality, personalised training is already leading to changes in the way vocational training is provided for project managers while taking advantage of the best aspects of online platforms.

“You should start with the learner, identify the skills gaps, and then address those with training – instead of just putting everyone through the sausage factory, and making them engage repeat learning or training for things they already know,” he said. “If we have an online component, for example it should be live webinars as well as recorded videos, in order to provide that more personalised learning.”