When the U.S. Department of Labor specifically authorized the use of electronic media for apprenticeship-related instruction in its 2008 regulations revisions, it opened the door for growing apprenticeship around the country.
That opportunity, however, revealed a few related challenges: rural and smaller school systems are struggling to find enough students to operate classroom-based programs that, to be fiscally sound, must sustain minimum numbers of students every year. In addition, many potential apprentices from all walks of life are challenged by child- and elder-care issues that prevent them from attending classroom-based programs due to rigid schedules.
This is the crossroads where technology-driven learning removes the barriers to education, and for apprentices, the more barriers we can remove, the more easily they can fit work and school into their lives. As we strive to attract more students into the plumbing and HVAC industry, we want to leverage technology to best position our trade as the “go-to” career opportunity.
In 2009, the Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Educational Foundation launched its first learning management system. By 2016, the foundation’s program had quadrupled in size and had reached critical mass: the point at which system limitations were negatively impacting user experience and customer service. We knew we had to make a change to accommodate rapidly increasing enrollments.
In August 2017, the foundation launched its new learning platform, the PHCC Academy. The platform will host all of the foundation’s apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship courses by the end of January 2018. Additional courses will be added in 2018 and will include fast-tracked courses for plumbing and HVAC, as well as business management courses.
The PHCC Academy’s courses focus on simplifying the user experience. For example, when a student signs in and begins the courses, he will see a clear one-word instruction for the first task, followed by a link to the activity. When he completes that activity, it changes from gray to green and a check mark is placed next to it. Then the next activity is released for students to begin.
With such clear course design on the PHCC Academy, the foundation has been able to add additional content to enhance the courses, including incorporating videos and review games that mimic popular game shows.
From the administrative perspective, the PHCC Academy automates many manual processes that the old learning management system could not do. Payment processing, enrollment confirmation emails, student reminders, resetting of failed tests, monthly reporting to state chapters, completion certificates and transcripts are all examples of manual processes that have been automated on the new system.
The new PHCC Academy is a huge leap forward in leveraging technology for education in the plumbing and HVAC industry. With unlimited user licenses and strong system capabilities, over time we can create courses to meet the changing needs of the industry.