This fall, the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) is expected to roll out the first online training modules sponsored by the 3M Electrical Markets Division, Austin, Texas. The two organizations worked together to develop Online Jobsite Application Examples to train all new International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) entrants into the electrical industry. Mandatory for all NJATC/IBEW/NECA apprentices, as well as all persons who receive training under the umbrella of the IBEW Construction Wireman (CW) and Construction Electrician (CE) classifications, approximately 6,000 construction wiremen and electricians per year are expected to complete the 3M Online Jobsite Application training modules, starting in 2013.

The modules are in line with NJATC’s move to a “blended learning” training model that adds an online training component to the traditional mix of book learning, classroom, and lab experience. “Basically, we're moving the homework component online,” says Marty Riesberg, NJATC director of curriculum development. “None of our classroom hours will go away, but they will be made more productive.” The modules will be built to reinforce the concepts that the instructor will have presented in the classroom.

Theory will still be covered in classroom lecture, but because the instructor will have prior access to the results of the modules, they can tailor their lessons to the needs of their students. “Really, our approach to blended learning is about making the classroom hours that much more productive and getting the students out of the classroom and into the lab where they pick up concepts much more easily,” says Riesberg. “The instructor's going to come armed with information about the students’ performance on the modules and know that the students got concepts one, two, and three, but they struggled with four, five, and six, for example” he continues. “So they can shorten the lecture time and get the students into the labs where they tend to learn better.”

The modules will replace the workbook component traditionally performed outside the classroom and will cover specific job tasks. “We're going to be going over any number of different things across the curriculum,” explains Riesberg. “The ones related to 3M product might include identifying the particular face colors for circuits within a panel or properly installing wire connectors. We evaluate topic by topic and decide where it makes the most sense to do something online.”

Furthermore, students will have access to 3M products in the lab. The official partnership between 3M and NJATC is a five-year agreement that includes the online curriculum as well as donating equipment and training materials for the modules and for use in the labs. “We believe in getting our products in the hands of users, especially when they're in the process of becoming a certified electrician,” says says Brad Blietz, 3M global business manager. “Donation of equipment is a key part of the partnership.”

Despite the corporate sponsorship, the NJATC will make sure the lessons aren’t merely product placement. “One of the things we're careful to do is not to let any of the training that we do to become commercial in nature,” says Riesberg. “There is an advantage to the training partner in seeing their product in the modules, but this isn’t something that’s going to reap benefits in this quarter's or next quarter's sales. This is really an investment in the future of the electric industry. And we couldn't be prouder to work with a company that does something like this for the electrical industry. We couldn't be happier to work with 3M.”

Over the years, 3M has worked informally with the NJATC and various local JATCs to promote industry standards, develop curriculum and training materials, and to make product available for use at local training programs. This expanded relationship will build upon this strategic collaboration. “We've been involved with the NJATC for years on a somewhat informal basis,” says Blietz. “We were really looking to increase our level of partnership with NJATC, and at the same time we went to their training partners summit last fall and they introduced a platinum strategic collaboration opportunity.”

Finally, 3M has established a scholarship for continuing education of instructors through NJATC’s National Training Institute (NTI), now in its 23rd year at the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. The four-year program at NTI provides a series of teaching courses in a condensed format, providing the eight courses that are generally needed in most states to get the teaching certificate. “The focus of NTI is to make sure that we provide instructors in the classroom that are of the highest quality,” says Riesberg.

The 3M scholarship will allow an instructor from a local NJATC that has completed the NTI program to return to training. “We realize that in our 300 programs across the country, there are journeymen that work during the day who are coming in at night to teach class,” says Riesberg. “We know they're the very best journeymen on the job that they can be but that doesn't necessarily mean they're the best instructor, especially if their training took place 20 years ago. There’s some updating they may need to go through. This scholarship will allow for one of these instructors to become an even better instructor.”