SAN ANTONIO - The U.S. Army Environmental Command offers courses to ensure Army environmental professionals worldwide remain trained and mission-certified during COVID-19.
Environmental work continues on Army installations to avoid noncompliance, violations and penalties associated with more than 100 environmental laws, statutes and executive orders. Keeping up to date on certifications and environmental requirements is a constant challenge made even more difficult when health protection measures are in place that limit travel and therefore training opportunities.
USAEC’s workforce development team routinely looks for ways to improve the environmental training program to ensure it meets the needs of environmental professionals throughout the Army. Surveys of garrison environmental professionals showed there was a consistent percentage of staff that just could not break away from their location to travel for training. Typically, the demands of the job were cited as the reason. All this, plus budget cuts and travel budget caps had the WFD team looking for solutions to minimize environmental training travel and costs.
The USAEC WFD team purchased licenses for Adobe Connect online hosting service and began transitioning USAEC-provided training to distance learning in 2019.
“What we set out to do was modernize and expand our reach through distance learning,” said Amanda Kraus, USAEC’s Workforce Development team lead and Adobe Connect coordinator.
Distance learning enabled courses to be broken down into smaller and often more focused pieces. Those who could not break away from work to attend a 5-day course, find multiple smaller distance learning alternatives more appealing.
“At the end of the day, distance learning allows us to reach a much bigger percentage of our population,” said Dave Giffin, U.S. Army Installation Management Command’s G-4 Environmental Division chief.
“We began switching to distance learning where possible more than a year ago to reduce travel costs associated with training so the Army could better fund its modernization efforts,” Giffin said. “That early transition really set us up for success and allowed us to continue to train our environmental staffs across the globe during COVID-19.”
“Our distance learning efforts have been tested by recent events and far surpassed goals for this year with more to come. The online platform allows us to offer live, and with recording features, on-demand training that learners can access from any internet enabled device wherever they are in the world from home or workplace,” Kraus said.
USAEC is the Army’s program manager for the environmental restoration program known as cleanup. Since some training courses were developed by USAEC staff, the cleanup program management training, environmental and disposal liabilities course, and Army Environmental System training for reporting cleanup status and costs to complete were the first courses to transition to the new platform.
Since then the WFD team has worked with other contracted training providers to plan and prepare more environmental training for the distance learning platform.
In 2018, one distance learning class was held. In 2019, that number grew to five. And in 2020, the team had initially scheduled 19 distance learning and 41 onsite courses. With travel restrictions in place because of COVID-19, distance learning classes became the only available source of training and since March 17, USAEC has scheduled and conducted 40 distance learning courses. Seventeen more are planned through September in response to continued travel restrictions.
“COVID-19 became a forcing function to ramp up our distance learning portfolio,” said Janet Kim, USAEC’s deputy to the commander. “While distance learning is a great alternative for now, there are cases where in-person instruction is most effective. Once personnel are allowed to travel, we plan to balance the training catalog between distance learning and in-person classes to provide the most effective learning environment for our workforce.”
The U.S. Army Installation Management Command centrally funds, and USAEC manages the environmental training program for installation environmental staff for 67 Army installations in the U.S. and overseas.
The training program managed by USAEC consists of both internal employee professional development and external environmental training, primarily for IMCOM environmental professionals, but offered to all military environmental professionals when space is available.
Now that IMCOM has become a subordinate of Army Materiel Command, the WFD team is including the much broader AMC industrial base workforce into the environmental training program. Environmental staff at industrial base locations are typically limited to one individual at the plant, arsenal or organization, so travel is often constrained. The distance learning option also helps integrate the AMC environmental professionals with the IMCOM team.
“As we continue to refine our courses and adapt to student needs, an employee in Korea, for example, who’s unable to participate in the training live, could easily receive a URL from us and watch a pre-recorded, two-hour distance learning session on an emerging technology solution and still receive the relevant professional instruction offered in-person,” said Giffin.