Cooperation, Technology Combine in One-of-a-Kind Training Centre

September 1 st 1997

What began as one man's vision a few years ago has become reality. Co Vanderlaan, head of the Christian Labour Association of Canada's (CLAC) Edmonton office, envisioned a facility to meet the growing training needs of CLAC's members working in the construction, retail, trucking, health, and other industries.

In today's competitive economy, jobs are continually being eliminated or redesigned and new ones created. Many require new skills or technological upgrading. For workers, it can all be a little bewildering. Not sure of what courses are available, which ones to take, or where to take them, getting the training they need is a major problem.

For employers, not having a properly trained workforce with up-to-date skills puts them at a competitive disadvantage. They, too, have realized that the available training options are limited, and, in many cases, difficult for their workers to attend.

Cooperation is key

CLAC's idea to build a training centre and develop programs with the help of employers would not be possible in a hostile labour relations environment. An adversarial relationship is characterized by a lack of trust and respect, of trying to win at the expense of the other guy. In such circumstances, it is very difficult to come together, put aside differences, and look for constructive solutions to problems of mutual concern.

Since its inception in 1952, CLAC has based its philosophy on Christian social principles. In the world of labour relations, this means adopting a cooperative approach, building trust, communicating, and having a positive attitude to workplace issues. It hasn't been easy, though. The road has been littered with failures, but there have been some stunning successes also.

The Alberta Training Centre is one of those successes. Since the Centre opened its doors in Edmonton in October 1996, close to 3,000 workers have participated in various training sessions, either in a traditional classroom setting or at a self-paced computer course. Some of the training taking place includes certified courses in first aid, hazardous material handling (WHMIS), construction safety training, as well as other work-related courses such as fibre optics splicing and testing, customer service selling, trenching and excavating, and front line supervision for working foremen.

The Centre can accommodate a wide variety of training situations. But it was specifically designed to take advantage of new technology. A key feature of the Centre, for instance, is a modern computer lab equipped with 20 Pentium processor-equipped computers. These computers are used to provide workers with self-paced training in a variety of courses. Close to 600 workers have already taken the computer-based Construction Safety Training System program.

Computer-based training allows workers to come in when it fits their schedule and progress at their own speed. Testing is done on the computer and the worker immediately receives positive feedback. More and more training is becoming computer-based, and many programs previously delivered in a formal classroom setting are being converted to self-paced computer courses.

The role of the Centre staff is to assist members, help with the development of company-specific training programs, establish curriculum requirements, hire experts in various fields to teach courses, provide basic research in training methods and issues, and generally coordinate the scheduling and use of the centre. Staff continually talk with workers, employers, training contractors, and government officials to upgrade programs and approaches and to evaluate the success of programs. The Internet is also being actively explored as a potentially rich training resource.

Assuming responsibility

What makes this Centre truly one of a kind, however, is not the courses that are offered now or in the future or even the way technology is exploited to make training better. At the heart of the success of the Alberta Training Centre is the fact that it is the product of a spirit of cooperation between the union and the many employers it negotiates with on behalf of its members.

Through a special Training Trust Fund, employers contribute on a per person hour worked basis. The fund is jointly controlled by six trustees, two each representing employers, employees, and CLAC.

The premise behind the fund is that if a company is to profit from the labour of its workers, then that company should assume some of the responsibility for the ongoing training of its workers. It can't expect workers to be solely responsible for their own training. Besides, the payback for employers makes the training investment worthwhile. A trained workforce enables a company to be truly innovative.

Cultivating a culture of continuous training requires ongoing consultation with all stakeholders—employees, employers, and union. In an adversarial labour relations setting, a venture such as the Alberta Training Centre is simply not possible.

That's why cooperation, based on mutual trust and respect for all parties, is absolutely crucial to the long-term success of the Centre. Because only in an atmosphere of cooperation can all parties pull together for the benefit of everyone.

 

Bob Barker is the Training Coordinator for the Alberta Training Centre.

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