No longer niche: online learning becomes staple for employee training

Unless you were hiding under a rock, which you may wish you had been at the time, you are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the way many of us do business. Not only did we have to get creative in the way we served our customers, but the whole social distancing mandate created a huge paradigm shift in the way we train our employees. Online learning became the norm. Our calendars filled with meetings that looked a lot more like The Brady Bunch intro or Hollywood Squares than anything to which we were accustomed. (Boy that dated me, didn’t it?) Webinars, team meetings, safety briefings, and even conferences and trade shows were thrust into a virtual world. Training employees was certainly no exception.

Although learning online existed long before the COVID era, the new culture we embraced looked to online training as many face-to-face opportunities fell by the wayside. And, for many reasons in addition to necessity, companies slowly discovered the value of utilizing technology in all facets of educating their workforce. Here are a few examples:

Convenience. The availability, or lack of dependable workers has been a common challenge of employers across industry lines. This makes having employees off the counter, out of the yard, or not making sales calls for a day or more nearly impossible. The convenience of online learning during break times, before or after work, or even at home has been a game changer. Many platforms allow for users to pause during a session and pick back up where they left off.

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Customized courses. Although nothing can replace the interaction of a live class, it’s challenging to cover the unique needs of each participant in a one-size-fits-all format. After assessing the training needs of an employee, it’s much easier to tailor training via an online platform because you can take a cafeteria-style approach and handpick courses best suited for each person. And, because they aren’t tied up for days at a time in one particular workshop, they can often sit through multiple classes on a variety of subjects during that same period of time. It simply makes better business sense to use each employee’s time wisely as they accomplish the task of enhancing their skillset.

Content. In the LBM industry, there are a slew of topics on which employees need to be trained. Having a catalog of content from which to choose can make online learning an appealing option. Some platforms even give employers

insight into which questions a student missed on a post-course exam. This can be an important tool used to identify any training deficits in onboarding or continuing education offerings within the company.

To address the need for online training for its members, the Construction Suppliers Association (CSA) partnered with the Western Building Material Association (WBMA) to create Foundation—an online learning platform developed specifically for the LBM industry. The system debuted last year with six different modules focusing on product knowledge for the residential construction process, project selling, lumber basics including lumber math, as well as understanding the fundamentals of profit and loss. Additional modules include a primer on the onboarding process.

Consisting of eight modules and step-by-step guidance on the take-off process, a blueprint reading/take off training course is taught by industry veteran Casey Voorhees of WBMA. After registering, students receive a box of materials including a full-size set of plans, scales, worksheets, and assignments as well as a comprehensive workbook with formulas, common abbreviations, and forms to use when doing a take-off.

Foundation has also teamed up with lumber industry associations to offer discounted rates to their members through an affiliate group program. In addition to CSA and WBMA, seven other industry groups have signed on and are now promoting the platform to their memberships.

Although the pandemic may have been a catalyst for increased use of technology, alternative learning methods have been trending online for years. Whether for convenience, customization or a wider array of content, online learning is no longer a fallback choice; instead, it is becoming the norm and it’s exciting to imagine where we can go from here.

Katie Bodiford is the executive vice president of the Construction Suppliers Association and is a director of Foundation. For more information on the recently released Basic Estimating course or any of the modules on Foundation LMS, visit

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