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In an interview with CIO Applications, Zack Parnell, President and CEO of Industrial Training International explains how the company’s continuous improvement of curriculum, technology, and talent have proven instrumental in developing dynamic solutions that solve their customers’ challenges.
Give us a brief overview on Industrial Training International and how is the company keeping up with the latest technology trends in training?
Founded in 1986 by Mike and Darlene Parnell, Industrial Training International has been a technology-enabled organization since its inception. Throughout the company’s journey, ITI has always been quick to adopt new technologies into its training programs and business processes well before its peers in the industry. My father, Mike, began leveraging digital read-out dynamometers and weighing systems in hands-on training courses in the 1980s. The company made the switch to tablet PCs in the mid-2000s as we found on-screen annotation to be far more engaging in the classroom than slide decks. We like to experiment with new technological innovations as they become available in order to garner real-time feedback from our customers. Based on their direct input, we are able to quickly to implement what best benefits them and forgo that which does not improve the learning experience.
Our company culture seems to attract lifelong learners who are eager and willing to try new things. We exist in a space which currently faces fairly significant set of macroeconomic challenges – there’s a shrinking skilled labor pool in most developed countries, a lack of interest in heavy lift and construction from the upcoming generation, and we must not overlook the fact that machine learning is expected to automate a lot of routine-manual and routine-cognitive jobs over the next 10 years. So, needless to say, we believe we must find better ways to deliver workforce development solutions in order to solve this tidal wave of challenges. Our industry depends on it.
We are incredibly proud to have been one of the first training organizations to successfully deploy virtual reality training back in early 2017. Recently we’ve been investing time and energyinaugmented reality (AR) headsets, as we believe AR and head-mounted tablets – like RealWear’s HMT-1 – will prove vital to front-line workers. We can bring additional value to our customers if we are helping not only in the classroom but also on the factory floor.
One of the ways ITI remains ahead of the curve is by bringing our customers into the development process with us. We closely engage with several customer user groups who keep us apprised of their challenges. We then build programs and utilize technology to deliver the optimal solution. We continuously engage with front-line workers, technical experts, maintenance mechanics and equipment managers, who help us innovate every step of the way. By incorporating the customer voice into the design process, we are able to leverage feedback that we may not have otherwise even considered.
Elaborate on the company’s unique training products and the functionalities that you deliver. How has the latest technology impacted the training process of personnel related to equipment handling?
The people managing, maintaining, and operating cranes and other forms of heavy equipment have a paramount responsibility. The machinery is expensive, and the work activity is typically being conducted over or around even more highly valued plant equipment and most importantly – people. In this space, managers examine risk as a function of both the probability and the severity of a potential incident.
While we believe instructor-led training and online learning courses will continue to create significant value for a long-time to come, virtual reality simulation will rethink how we go about engaging in education and learning
We have developed mobile, tower and overhead crane simulators with our partner Serious Labs that can be utilized to screen candidates, train apprentices, cross-train overhead crane operators (who typically have other job responsibilities), and conduct standardized testing. By collaborating with some of the leading names in the crane manufacturing industry such as Liebherr, Tadano, Terex, Link-Belt, and Broderson, ITI has developed operator training simulators for tower cranes, rough terrain cranes, boom trucks, overhead cranes, and carry deck cranes.
Additionally, we have developed simulations for hazard awareness and crane inspection, and I’m excited to share that we are in the process of launching our first maintenance-related module.
We’re proud of adopting VR quickly, but we are also excited about the business model innovation we’ve brought to the space. Crane simulators have been around for decades, yet that have remained far outside most user’s budgets as they were priced like you were actually buying a new crane with a one-time investment! We like to think we coined the phrase “simulation-as-a-service”, although I’m sure we weren’t the first, to offer simulations through a common SaaS model, bringing the cost to a tenth of similar stations, while improving the user experience 10X with VR!
The adoption of VR technology has improved the experience that crane simulators provide, as the immersion level delivered by VR headsets is far greater than that offered by flat screens. Additionally, once we’ve helped jump-start an organization’s VR hardware adoption, we can provide so many more learning experiences for them that just couldn’t be done well on a flat-screen like technician training, hazard awareness, and inspection. Furthermore, we are counseling customers on how to add additional VR training modules to their hardware that we do not provide so that they can maximize the use cases of their hardware stations.
Beyond the simulation solutions, we ourselves have been customers of learning management systems for quite some time, and we have watched as the space has evolved. These systems are becoming much more robust with solid features such as learning path management and xAPI which can integrate experiential learning events into user learning paths like a VR experiences. We continue to see significant growth in organizations moving a lot of their classroom-only training online. But we also see growth in our instructor-led training course business at customer locations and at our 10 plus training centers – when training needs to be hands-on or collaborative with unique assets, live training will create value for a long, long time.
Is there a specific process that you follow while engaging with your clients and delivering the solutions according to their requirements? What factor steers you ahead of your competition?
One thing I learned in watching my parents work with a variety of customers over the years was that sometimes the most difficult part of solving a problem, is in fact defining what the problem actually is. A “one size fits all” approach, rarely works. Today we are able to help our customers achieve this via our custom-built skills and risk assessment tool on our website, iti.com.
Through filling out the assessment, the answers given by the customers provide an overview of the activities that are performed and their current correlating incident rates. By selecting a specific job title, customers are then able to apply learning objectives, the risks encountered, and the skills required to perform the job effectively. Based on the information obtained from the assessment, the ITI team understands the challenges faced by the customers and creates a corporate training strategy that meets their specific requirements – leveraging any of our solutions or services.
We offer a differentiated set of capabilities and solutions – namely a large technical team of subject-matter experts, an internal content and simulation development team, and an external equipment simulation development partner in Serious Labs. This strategy has created over 1,000 hours of learning content across every medium.
Can you share customer success stories that highlight the benefits Industrial Training International has brought to its clients?
One of our customers, a leading US-based engineering and construction company, Bechtel, faced a challenge in screening their crane operator candidates. They were looking for an efficient way to screen candidates for their competency. They had come across ITI’s VR crane simulator and wanted to deploy the solution in their stations worldwide for candidate screening. ITI worked with Bechtel’s equipment operations team and innovation team, led by CIO David Wilson, to develop crane operator simulations on a larger scale, by adding in different types of cranes. The teams helped ITI on the business model, the design of the software and hardware, and even collaborated with various crane manufacturers to assist ITI in building the product further.
This perfectly describes the advantages of co-developing a solution with an organization’s innovation team and testing it within their enterprise before commercializing it on a global level. ITI has also worked alongside several other companies in the heavy industries and manufacturing space like Los Alamos National Labs, Nucor steel, General Electric, and ExxonMobil in the development of innovative solutions.
How does the future look for Industrial Training International in terms of its offerings?
We are receiving much more demand from customers to establish standardized learning pathsfor various roles including stages such as candidate screening, learning and development, experienced logged, and standardized assessment. On the testing front, ANSI 17024 is the North American standard for performance testing, and we are developing these exams in virtual reality.
We feel that both simulated and actual experience will be more and more important to capture and document for employers. There is a lot of efficiency to gain, and redundant training to eliminate, if employers andworkers can rely on simulated and actual work experience records. So, we are also working on that in our learning experience system and mobile applications. All the while, we still have a great deal of online and simulation content to create over the coming years.