The changing face of aviation training


Far from being a steady-condition industry, the field of air transport encounters environmental conditions that change quickly and unpredictably. Global aviation agencies, states, industry enterprises and academia actively work to react to the uncertain, complex and ambiguous surroundings that wrap the industry. One of the biggest concerns that haunts aviation organizations is a shortage of aviation professionals. The anticipated response to this ever-changing situation involves trying to predict the future by addressing early-warning pointers and identifying market and technology trends.

Over the past two decades, air transport has evolved as a technology-dependable industry that relies on highly qualified professionals for its continuous development. With air traffic anticipated to double by 2035, the talent gap remains a persistent challenge to aviation. Related impediments are found in recruiting, engaging and retaining the talent needed to sustain operations.

To address this talent gap, global aviation agencies are focusing on helping the industry attract and develop a massive workforce to support the growth in air traffic. ICAO continues to engage with states, industry and academia on a global training standardization model. The main objectives of the model will be to facilitate the effective implementation of training, to reduce costs, to upgrade quality, to increase efficiencies and to generate synergies between un-harmonized world countries.

When implementing this strategic initiative in civil aviation training policies there are persistent obstacles. Challenges include insufficient funding, shortages of experts and qualified instructors, insufficient specialized equipment, non-recognition of certificates between countries and a lack of harmonization of licensing requirements.

Adding to the challenges is the changing nature of training needs. Training needs are shifting. The inability to keep up with the pace of transformation will put specific skills and competence at risk of being obsolete. Consequently, the training models that are used to create and support these skills will become irrelevant.

What worked yesterday, simply won’t work tomorrow

Corporate training has evolved over the years from classroom to personal computers to eLearning and to digital. Each evolution has been triggered by technology and economic changes. As calls for re-thinking the competencies of the future get louder, little is being exchanged on the learning philosophy and design paradigms that constitute the mental-model behind the whole learning process.

Research performed by “Oreilly Learning” and “Linkedin Learning” on +4000 companies revealed that today’s primary challenge for high performing organizations is that employees do not have time for learning. More than 50 per cent of the employees of the studied organizations want to learn at work, at their own pace and based on needs. Additionally, “The Center for Creative Leadership” through its research on experiences that impact executive development, found that 70 per cent of workplace learning comes from real, on-the-job experiences, compared to only about 10 per cent that comes from formal, structured training programmes. This has changed the learning game for corporations, making them think hard about how to make learning continuous in order to retain their best talent.

Traditional rules of pedagogy are no longer helpful in achieving learning objectives for the professionals in fast-paced industries. While the existing learning formats and learning management systems (LMS) make sense, they have to be inventively incorporated in changing contexts. It helps to introduce an innovative design thinking learning philosophy which focuses on the learning experience and aims at embedding learning into the platforms used by the organizations. According to Josh Bersin in “Learning in the Flow of Work”, this is where all the digital learning is likely to go. Systems can coach and train employees to be more effective on the job.

A new age of digital learning

The digital world changed the dynamics of education and the ways learners consume training. A new age of digital learning is quickly being incorporated in highly regulated industries, including aviation. Taking advantage of the benefits of digital learning platforms is extremely important when considering how to attract and retain the up-and-coming millennial workforce.

Airlines, airports and other air transport-related businesses have to train large numbers of employees and have to make sure that their employees complete a long list of compulsory and compliance training. And that is not all – the completed training has to be effective. Employees have to be able to apply the knowledge and skills acquired on-the-job and are expected to deliver results.

With the application of safety and operational training as one example, there are now adaptive learning solutions that deliver small 2-3 minute videos each day when an operator checks into work. This learning is carefully curated, spaced, and designed to deliver an outcome – the employee answers questions to give the system enough information to decide what learning should come next.

Forward-looking airlines are fetching training solutions that are scalable and cost-effective. With the anticipated large-scale waves of pilot retirements, filling the vacancies as efficiently as possible without bottle-necks and high training and education costs, is a priority.

To keep pace with the tides of change, airline learning and development (L&D) professionals are drifting away from conventional training programmes to instead team up with innovative learning companies. The latter takes advantage of the twenty years of technology infrastructure built and also adds the principles of spaced learning, designed repetition, practice, and competency-driven recommendations right into an employee’s work environment. Custom-created digital learning programmes are diverse and they cover different corporate training areas like flight simulators, mechanics, stations, dispatch and collaboration management systems.

In the context of digital learning, IATA has acknowledged the changing face of training and strives to keep ahead of this change. IATA has been working to develop innovative training solutions that will help aviation learning and development decision-makers meet the new demands. The new learning solutions integrate technology-enabled interactive platforms in the training portfolio to make learning more intuitive and engaging. IATA’s new era of aviation digital training features eLearning products, gamification programmes (Airline Manager 2 app.), simulation software and virtual reality ground operations training (RampVR).

Tech-empowered learning helps improve training RoI

Improving RoI is one of the principal goals of all training initiatives. This will only be reached if learning outcomes are achieved and the costs incurred in delivering the training are well explained. According to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report, more than 50 per cent of the participating global leading companies’ CEOs and HR executives are worried about the disruption in the corporate learning environment. In fact, those high-level executives are trying hard to justify that the investment that has been made in procuring and administering LMS in their organizations, has met its intended goal.

It is agreed that traditional classroom training and the distribution of reading material to employees does not help achieve quality training output. Nevertheless, it is worth looking into the idea that a significant number of companies consider that the LMS falls short of delivering learning and has instead become a system that helps track completion and manage compliance. As all efforts in terms of time and money go in vain, this is alarming for businesses.

With technology infiltrating the lives of people and organizations worldwide, the era of digital microlearning is now taking control. This type of learning suits the rapidly moving digital age because it integrates on-demand learning with long-form education. That’s not all, microlearning is an agile tool that can be used throughout different stages across the learning lifecycle. From pre-training engagement and training provision to training reinforcement and performance measurement analytics.

Microlearning allows for training to be delivered on mobile devices across geographies in short and specific nuggets. A nugget can be an instructional video, an eLearning quiz, a quick simulation, a podcast or a demo to help the employee grasp a concept. It could be a specific set of instructions to help get the job done.

The digital-based learning ecosystem saves a lot of infrastructural costs related to classroom training expenses, trainer fees and transport costs. More importantly, it is time-saving – particularly when it comes to planning training sessions and running training events. Additionally, the material is flexible and recyclable. In a short time, it can be reused and updated to be included in existing modules. Learners receive auto-generated notifications for each content update. A higher RoI is achieved due to cost savings, increased trainee engagement and more effective training deliverables.

The rich analytics feature of microlearning enables organizations to have a comprehensible picture of learner engagement, achievement rates and employee performance. This information is important when used to advance and refine training programmes for the dual benefit of the employees and the organization. It helps find answers about the trending query of whether learning actually is taking place and is being followed by an improvement in individual and organizational performance.

The air transport industry’s main players and the wide array of stakeholders should take advantage of the endless scope for creativity and flexibility in using microlearning tools. Aviation organizations need to harness the benefit of microlearning in every stage of the learning value chain in order to reap the benefits of a higher RoI and successful training completion.

About the author
Dr. Nadine Itani is Executive Director of the Middle East Aviation Research Centre