COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the inevitable shift to online learning for apprentice carpenters

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By Robin MacLennan

Ontario Construction Report staff writer

Like at many businesses and organizations across Ontario, it just hasn’t been business as usual for the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades since March when the COVID-19 crisis shut down workplaces, school, venues and activities.

However, the forced shutdowns didn’t actually stop operations at the CCAT, it merely set off a new normal as far as training goes.

Theory courses have moved swiftly and smoothly from in-class delivery to online formats and learning hasn’t missed a beat. Mike Yorke, President, Carpenters District Council of Ontario says he’s not surprised at the change, just at the speediness of the shift.

Seven different courses through an online format – C of Q Exam Prep for Carpenters; Basics of Supervision; Sketch-up Pro (BIMS); WHMIS; WHMIS Refresher; Confined Spaces; Basic Occupational Health & Safety)

“I think this was definitely coming, and the virus got thing moving more quickly,” said Yorke. “Moving courses online was an obvious step for us, but it was definitely moved forward because we were looking at shutting things down otherwise.”

The transition not only allows apprentices to continue their training at home, it also saved several jobs for CCAT instructors who would otherwise have been out of work during the pandemic.

“This crisis has put us into a scenario where we have to look for options,” Yorke explained. “It was important that the technology that is available to us allowed us to shift things online fairly quickly and easily.”

A little creative thinking and the desire to continue serving as many students as possible set the wheels in motion to shift learning options for carpenters.

“It’s not the full spectrum of programs, but we are developing options and we are seeing a solid response from students,” Yorke said. “Everything has been expedited and it has allowed us to seize an opportunity that we may not have looked at for quite a while.”

“We are responding to the needs of individual students as the technology is available.”

Christina Selva, executive director at CCAT, says the new format has been well received.

“The reaction from apprentices and journey union members has been very positive,” she said.  “The word about our new courses is spreading quickly and we have had registrants from our sister Local Unions across Ontario as well.  The model has very promising possibilities for continuation and expansion in future.  The development and successful implementation of these courses has definitely proven to be the silver lining for us over this terrible COVID-19 crisis.”

The CCAT employs up to 25 instructors in peak periods, teaching classes at all levels as well as pre-apprenticeship, health and safety and continuing education. There are also three co-ordinators and six administration staff who have been keeping things running from their home during the pandemic.

While the push to move online quickly from the coronavirus restrictions and looming shutdowns, Yorke said he expects online learning is here to stay and may even grow after the crisis, with a mixture of learning options for apprentices.

“The transition went as smoothly as it could have gone when technology is involved.  We overcame a few bumps and glitches initially but it all worked out.  We chose the most user friendly platforms available so that our students would not be frustrated or discouraged,” selva said.

Students have appreciated the flexibility and the quick action to keep learning options available while some have faced reductions in work.

“Pending the government lifting of restrictions, we are planning to resume apprenticeship classes on June 29 but at less than half capacity to ensure that social distancing as well as other strict protocols are followed,” he said.

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