Nuclear Industry Embraces Advanced E-Learning

Westinghouse Electric Company’s Progressive Training Vision Westinghouse has provided training services to the nuclear industry for more than 40 years. During that time, the company’s training philosophy has evolved to better meet the learning needs of both its external nuclear customers and its own employees. Today, Westinghouse’s Corporate University is the heart of the company’s training activities. Established about two-and-a-half years ago, it provides the vehicle for determining the training needs of its customers and then developing the learning approach to best satisfy these needs. “We’ve gone through the initial stages of examining the needs of the organization to structure the university in a way that best supports the employees and the business areas of Westinghouse,” says Mike Corrigan, leader of the Design Services Group. “We have done a lot of work up front to communicate to the organization that we are here to help provide the best training and learning solutions possible. Overall, the organization has embraced the university to the point that people are involving it in more, and earlier in projects.” Traditionally, Westinghouse has used a combination of classroom and hands-on delivery to accomplish its training mission. It offers student-centered, nuclear technology training programs that incorporate advanced educational techniques to achieve its customers’ competency-based learning objectives. Its classrooms feature advanced audio-visual equipment and computer-based training terminals. A nuclear power plant control room simulator and associated equipment allows students to gain hands-on experience in a simulated performance environment. More than 10 years ago, Pam Aigner, the director of online learning programs for Westinghouse, recognized that this already strong portfolio of delivery methods could be enhanced through the use of online learning. Since then, the company has become a nuclear industry leader in the delivery of blended online learning.   E-LEARNING AT WESTINGHOUSE Westinghouse views online blended learning as an equal player in its training delivery portfolio, capable of providing training that is at least equivalent to traditional face-to-face training and in some cases superior. The global nature of its operations provides unique training challenges: e-learning provides a business solution for situations in which face-to-face training is not possible because of diverse locations, time zone differences, shift work and plant operations schedules. The governing training philosophy emphasizes building relationships with customers in order to truly understand their training needs. These relationships then allow Westinghouse trainers to determine if a training solution is appropriate and whether that solution should be e-learning or face-to-face delivery. The training provided by Westinghouse’s Corporate University is nuclear-centric, with the focus of the training is on how that system functions in the context of an integrated nuclear power plant. Similarly, Westinghouse does not simply conduct leadership training. It develops leaders who are prepared to work effectively in the nuclear industry. The company calls this focus “Nuclearning.” The corporate university, which serves both internal and external audiences, plays a central role in enforcing this philosophy and ensuring that it is consistently applied. To a large extent, the Nuclearning philosophy differentiates Westinghouse training from its competition. Training can be synchronous (instructor-led classroom, lecture-based Webcasts, virtual classroom activities, video conferencing, laptop simulators), asynchronous (self-paced Web-based, instructor-facilitates online, multimedia-enhanced job aids, podcasts, videos, knowledge management portal, computer models), or some combination of both. The idea is to move training beyond the classroom and make it a part of the day-today life of the student. Communities of learning begin to form during formal classroom or online programs and then continue to grow in the workplace. “Learning is a process, not just an event,” say the learning leaders at Westinghouse. The university facilitates company-wide e-learning. It identifies knowledge gaps and then develops e-learning programs to close them. When a training program already exists, the university‘s trainers look for ways to improve these programs and adapt them for online delivery if appropriate. The goal is to create a fluid workforce by creating programs that can be applied company-wide. The college structure of the university, with product line managers serving as deans, ensures that the “voice of the business” is always part of the training and learning process. This helps ensure that training remains focused on performance and that it is relevant to the business. New technology — specifically mobile devices — are just beginning to enter the training process. Most employees are provided with laptop computers. Instructors and students sometimes receive iPads or other tablet devices. “Our first class produced a ton of printing costs, and we found that if we just loaded iPads with all our training material, and provided each student with them while they were in training, we saved a lot,” says Rick Paese, e-learning project manager for Startup and Operations Support. Adds John Bartocci, operations training instructor for the AP1000 training group: “In New Plant Training, instead of just plain laptops, we actually equipped all our trainers with tablet PCs.” Existing training programs have not yet been modified to take advantage of mobile elearning, but training-on-demand and virtual training are top priorities for the coming year. “We are beginning to look at how we can use mobile and social learning within our industry,” notes Aigner. “With the security concerns in the nuclear industry, we work with our current infrastructure and Information Technology security teams to implement our technical solutions. In the next couple of years, we expect these trends to be a major area of growth. Westinghouse’s Corporate University will drive this change.” EVALUATION AND ASSESSMENT The nuclear industry is committed to the Systematic Approach to Training (SAT) methodology. Nuclear customer, regulatory and oversight organizations have made SAT an integral part of all industry training activities. “For our training programs, the evaluation part of the SAT process is probably the most important, and it really doesn’t end,” notes Paese. “We send out engineers into the field. We constantly ask them for feedback, any operating experiences, or any lessons learned to continually find new ways to train them before we send them out to the next job. We have a lessons-learned database and active communication with trainees, so we do have a system in place.” Aigner says that the feedback process is very elaborate: “We take feedback from students, instructors and customer report cards. We make any improvements that are necessary, but we also continually follow up with the customer after the training event to get anecdotal evidence on improvement in performance or any gaps we need to address. “As far as quantitative metrics,” she continues, “we’re also beginning to implement pre- and post-testing several months after a training event has ended. Then we want to measure knowledge retention by giving another exam six months after the training has been completed. One of the interesting observations so far is that retraining-level students have to get on a regular schedule, because many of them have not had training for many years, and pre-tests show that their knowledge base has degraded significantly. But once the training is implemented, we then see a big spike in test results.” Adds Corrigan: “One aspect that the university is focusing on for the upcoming year is to create a better understanding of how the internal training initiatives are impacting the business groups or regions. Ultimately, all training initiatives should be directly linked to business needs.” This is also where the relationship part of Nuclearning becomes important. By leveraging its customer relationships, Westinghouse training can gain a deeper understanding of the operational and business goals of its customers. This understanding allows Westinghouse to tightly identify desired training outcomes and to begin the difficult task of measuring the performance and business impacts of training. Training professionals believe that developing the ability to measure training impact at an operational and business level must be one of its next major focus areas. CHALLENGES Certainly, there are complications and frustrations. For instance, there are the challenges of managing the cultural change associated with the greater use of e-learning, including setting expectations with students and their managers about what is required to be a successful e-learning student. This applies to both internal students and to utility customer students. Attacking this issue requires online instructors to be coaches and cheerleaders for both their students and their students’ managers. Online instructors must be able to work closely with their online students, recognize their issues, and help them develop their learning skills. Additionally, there is the challenge of getting all instructors, in all locations, to think of themselves as part of Westinghouse’s Corporate University. Convincing instructors and line management that a center-led organization can be as responsive to local needs as a decentralized organization is not always easy. “In creating a center-led organization, minimal resources have been added,” says Aigner. “The challenge is to get the right people in the right place, keeping in mind that each person needs multiple skill sets.” At Westinghouse, these and other challenges will occupy a large part of the training staff’s time. Solving these issues will also require a commitment to developing the skill set of the instructors. Again, the university will play a critical role in meeting these challenges. IT PAYS OFF Besides being named to Elearning! magazine’s “Learning! 100” list last year, Westinghouse Electric has also won other training awards, specifically: >>Pittsburgh Human Resources Association award in the “People” category; >>2011 CUBIC Award as runner-up in the “Best New Corporate University” category; and >>2011 Corporate University Xchange award for “Exemplary Practice in Alignment.” “We have seen evidence of better working knowledge, increased post-training information retention, better integration and synthesis of information, increased problem-solving efficiency, better communication skills, and improvements to procedures as a result of our blended training methods,” Aigner concludes. Aigner and her fellow learning professionals appreciate the recognition that comes with awards but they know that the real payoff for training is improved performance for Westinghouse and for its customers. They believe that they are seeing both. Handling Change at Westinghouse Westinghouse representatives were asked to list the most important contributing factors to the great learning culture at Westinghouse, and they all agreed that change management was key. Here’s how they responded: “My group spends a lot of time managing change with our customers,” says Pam Aigner. “That takes leadership from the Westinghouse and customer training organizations. If you have a group of students who are not as comfortable with online learning technology, for example, they may be resistant to its adoption. At the same time, our industry is experiencing some demographic shifts, as a significant percentage of employees are either new to the workforce or nearing retirement, which has added additional challenges. So the need for training has really increased exponentially.” Part of Westinghouse Corporate University’s change management is communicating and better understanding the preferred training modalities within the company’s various groups. “We are actively trying to figure out what we can do to make training and learning initiatives both effective and efficient. There is definitely an element of change management required for some employees and customers to recognize the benefits of alternative modes of training,” Mike Corrigan says. Adds Aigner: “Our training programs are devised in a certain way based on the outcomes that we want to have. So we spend a lot of time discussing expectations up front, not just as far as what the students are expected to do, but also their management. Although some of the training takes place online, we find it very important to convey to management they wouldn’t interrupt instructor-led training, so they shouldn’t interrupt students in an online class.” And the training/learning groups also have to manage their own change. “We’re constantly getting pushback from managers and customers not wanting to give their employees as much time in training as we would like, because it eats up their time on their normal job,” says Rick Paese. “We’ve constantly tried to better our product and make training more efficient with Webcasts and computer-based training. And we’ve done that well.” About Westinghouse… Westinghouse Electric Company, a group company of Toshiba Corp., is the world’s pioneering nuclear energy company. In 1957, Westinghouse supplied the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, the first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses. Today, Westinghouse technology is the basis for approximately one-half of the world’s operating nuclear plants. The company and its approximately 14,000 employees continue their industry leadership by providing engineering and services for customers around the world. The Westinghouse AP1000 reactor is the first Generation III+ reactor design to receive final design approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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