Adam Smith is the managing director of the Association of Industrial Truck Trainers, one of the UK's leading accrediting bodies for training providers.
As an accrediting body for industrial truck trainers, it is AITT's role to ensure that instructors are delivering appropriate, relevant training to operators, so that they learn how to use trucks safely and in accordance with best practice. And, because ours is a member organisation, all our efforts are focused on delivering the best possible service rather than the highest return to owners or shareholders.
In reality, the materials handling industry has been changing for some time, long before COVID. Greater demand on supply chains over the years has already led to technological advancements designed to make operations faster and more efficient. But what do these changes mean for those who operate equipment and the companies who train them?
Operators will remain integral
AITT recently hosted an online conference where we discussed the changes happening in the market and what we think this means for the future of transport training. We brought together speakers from various sides of the industry and it raised some interesting themes.
The most notable takeaway is the integral role of truck operators. There is a time and place for automation, for example, where repetitive tasks form the core of operations within a warehouse. But operators will always be needed for loading/unloading tasks, for instance. Training by accredited, experienced providers will therefore always be essential, as operators cannot be replaced.
Remote vs. in-person training
Technology does, however, have a part to play within operator training itself.
For example, the pandemic gave rise to video-conferencing and, in some aspects of training, these direct forms of online communications can be suitable. Similarly, e-learning could play a greater role in the future, as it offers delegates the chance to study at a time and place that suits them.
However, the fundamental aspect of basic forklift training is the need to ensure the individual has the skills and confidence to operate safely and efficiently. That is impossible to achieve online. Instructors must be able to build a rapport with operators, and this is only truly possible in face-to-face, practical training sessions.
Where it is appropriate, e-learning requires a robust online system that works well, which can be difficult and expensive for a company to create, and delegates must have access to their own devices for studying, which may not always be possible.
Despite this, remote learning is a hot topic and there is a demand for it, so, over time, we will no doubt see options for more sophisticated platforms that could certainly aid the theory side of lift truck operator training. At AITT, we will be investigating this in future to see if it is a viable long-term option, not just for training providers but also the customer as well.
Another way that technology is transforming training is the digitalisation of documents.
We all have an environmental responsibility, and I believe we will see a big shift towards paper-free documentation in our industry, which ultimately is a very positive thing.
At AITT, we have just launched digital instructor forms that are free to our members.
It makes life easier for instructors as they can conduct theory tests more quickly and easily, plus the operators can receive their certificates electronically and much faster than waiting for the post.
Digital documentation also facilitates pre-use checks as operators can review checklists on their devices, which can then be monitored by managers.
Learn the basics
When it comes to training aids, again there is a time and a place for technology.
Some modern training aids, like virtual reality consoles, can help operators become familiar with equipment and build their confidence, but they should only be used as an adjunct to practical training.
Basic training conducted in person with an instructor cannot be replaced in any way. Operators will learn in a way that they cannot do virtually, no matter how realistic the kit is.
It is the same situation with forklift modifications. For example, there are features that can be added to a truck to make tasks easier, such as aisle locators. But if the manufacturer changes the truck, there is the risk that the operator could have become too dependent on that feature, and finds that they cannot do the task by themselves. We cannot teach operators based on new technology that may be removed at some point, so they have to be confident in their core skills.
Add-on features can be helpful during basic training if they enhance the operator's ability, such as fork levellers which attach to a mast, but there are only a few limited instances where this is the case.
With training, we always talk about the fundamentals. Take all the gadgets off, teach the operator the basics, and go from there.
Training in the long term
We are living through ever-changing circumstances, but there are many opportunities to adapt and succeed. Operators will remain integral to materials handling in the vast majority of operations and even though they may work in partnership with automated systems, there will be no substitution for the duties they perform.
It will, therefore, be essential for training providers to continue delivering in-depth, accredited training in line with the highest industry standards. AITT members for example, receive guidance, resources and ongoing advice to help them keep up with industry developments, including how to deliver COVID-secure training. By sharing information through our network, we hope to improve the effectiveness of training for the good of the industry, both now and in the long term.
To watch the presentations delivered as part of AITT's online conference, visit the website here