An innovative solution for snowfighter training

John A. Anderson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and ALS Doctoral Coordinator
Department of Sociology
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

No public works director should send workers out to clear ice and snow without first providing proper training. Training is probably the single best investment available, but often overlooked. Large agencies can afford their own training staff to conduct winter maintenance instruction, and smaller agencies often train using "champions" from their experienced crews. In the U.S. all agencies and departments have access to snowfighter training and training materials from their state Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP). The Federal Highway Administration subsidizes at least one LTAP center in each state. In Canada, many APWA/CPWA chapters sponsor affordable snowfighter training.

The tough job of training just got easier. This past summer, at the National LTAP Association meeting in Chicago, a new tool for snowfighter trainers was unveiled. It was developed in partnership with the Salt Institute (SI), whose popular Sensible Salting program has been used for training winter maintenance operators over the past 35 years. The new training not only incorporates and updates the basic Sensible Salting materials; it also includes a full array of related winter maintenance topics resulting in a comprehensive training package. Best of all, the new tool delivers to trainers a package allowing them to personalize and readily customize the materials for workshops and presentations that might require a different training emphasis or slant.

Imagine you're a winter maintenance trainer and you have 500 slides and numerous videos. Now imagine you need to create a one-day program for next week, a quick one-hour presentation tomorrow addressing key equipment issues, a safety review program for field personnel, a presentation on deicing chemicals for engineers and another for administrators, a half-day program on plowing techniques, and then your boss sends you off to another part of the state that uses different equipment and materials.

Wow, you have a lot of work ahead of you and tomorrow's the first session! Not only that, you probably have other things to do than prepare for training. Even with all the materials in digital format, you will probably have to make a few modifications, select the right materials for the audience, stay within time constraints, arrange some logical presentation order, determine which slides go with what videos, and decide on how much detail you should address. The challenges are daunting, yet this is exactly what many trainers do, and redo, time after time.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could magically duplicate, select, and organize your slides and videos into unique presentations within just a couple of minutes? Well, that's exactly what this new tool can do.

All of the training materials together form a full snowfighting library and the new point and click training management tool quickly places materials at the trainer's fingertips. The tool allows an instructor to generate customized training programs complete with a learning outline, a safety review module, and helpful statistics such as the number of slides selected, video viewing times, and—perhaps most importantly—estimated times for conducting the training, which are adjustable as needed.

The training materials in this library offer an introduction to winter maintenance and then quickly move into the importance of winter operations, winter planning and organization, materials for winter operations (including liquids), equipment for winter operations, and winter maintenance operations. A separate safety review session also exists. The entire package includes hundreds of slides and video clips all organized into a comprehensive training taxonomy.

The materials are arranged in small files that cover specific training topics. Nearly every slide includes instructor notes and many topics link via a mouse click to short learning videos or "drill down" through technical details. With all materials formatted in Microsoft's PowerPoint, a trainer can easily modify the existing slides and add new photos, new terminology, and even additional slides as technologies advance. The training program allows an instructor to present extra information on the fly, quickly move to related topics, and easily navigate by clicking on buttons.

A team of experienced winter maintenance trainers developed this tool. Some of the nation's leading snowfighting trainers then further refined the training materials. The program provides a solution to real-world challenges facing instructors with a need to train different audiences in a specific field of technology.

Most trainers are practitioners who find themselves limited to using presentation programs like PowerPoint. At the same time, training developers and instructional designers, although adept at using the latest developer toolboxes and learning theories, frequently don't have the substantive or practical knowledge to build meaningful in-depth training applications. Putting developers and practitioners together is often expensive and challenging. They think differently, speak differently, and have different interpretations of what successful training looks like.

Keeping abreast of advancing technology, ever-changing audiences, needs for different levels of knowledge, ongoing pressures to hold down costs, and continually expanding services all present an overwhelming challenge. No wonder trainers have little time, energy and funds to advance material development skills and no wonder training developers have trouble creating affordable, meaningful and lasting training programs.

This new tool gives trainers a well-defined training taxonomy, a comprehensive library of snowfighting materials, and increased flexibility for better meeting the ever-growing needs of their unique audiences.

For more information, contact your LTAP center or the SI at http://www.saltinstitute.org/snowfighting.