Training: practical into virtual19 January 2022


While many engineering courses are available online, how well, poorly or not at all do courses with practical content transfer to a virtual platform? By Steed Webzell

As the world grapples with the reality that COVID-19 is here to stay, so the need for some home working will remain. Training providers are building on existing e-learning technologies to continue educating industry. However,some courses that would conventionally require hands-on elements as part of an in-person experience, can prove more challenging. Any form of pump repair or maintenance is a case in point.

Along with its traditional face-to-face training, the British Pump Manufacturers Association (BPMA) has made available a number of interactive online pump and hose training courses delivered by experienced trainers. The key word here, it appears, is ‘interactive’.

The courses include hose thread awareness, namely providing candidates with an understanding of using a range of measuring instruments and gauges in conjunction with tabulated data to positively identify a range of fittings and adaptors. Although course participants cannot use the instruments and gauges in-person, demonstrations show the procedure, with plenty of time to ask questions and seek further advice.

Further BPMA courses include hose integrity, inspection and management, small bore tube integrity, working safely with hose and connectors, and hose assembly skills. The latter includes demonstrations of tightening connectors, as well as hose assembly routing and installation.

“When COVID-19 struck, we had to look at delivering our most popular face-to-face pump courses as live webinars, making them as close to a classroom-based experience as possible,” says Steve Smith, assistant director & operations manager, BPMA. “We previously ran these courses face-to-face three or four times a year, but in a virtual setting we run them every six weeks. The trainer tailors each live webinar to the existing skill levels of course participants. Addressing mixed skill levels is possible, but it becomes more intricate for the trainer to make sure everyone gets what they need from the course.”


Although some of the course content requires rewriting for online delivery, the biggest problem, according to Smith, is the typically lower attention span of those participating in an online learning environment.

“Initially we ran three sessions of three hours each, with each session one week apart, but we found the gap was too big,” he says. “Now, we run two half-day sessions on consecutive days, which allows for a more focused experience.”

Although performing demonstrations online serves a purpose, the BPMA is keen to point out that there is little substitute for a hands-on approach when it comes to highly practical content. “We have a new course on pump repair and maintenance and have no plans to run it virtually; it’s face-to-face,” he states. “This course has a fair bit of hands-on content. For instance, we have broken impellers and cross-sections of other failed pump parts that we want the students to handle.”

The content of the BPMA’s new pump repair and maintenance course makes it easy to see why in-person learning is essential. For instance, participants learn how to disassemble and reassemble to manufacturers’ specifications, and how to repair or replace a faulty pump with a more efficient unit. Testing, commissioning and preventative maintenance are further core aspects of the course.

On reflection, Smith says COVID-19 has taught industry that online learning was a previously underused tool. Moving forward, the BPMA’s online courses will run hand-in-hand with classroom-based content. The latter remains important for many reasons, not least because participants can learn from mentors and peers in-person. “People tend to open up more in-person than online,” says Smith. “We always seem to get more interaction in a classroom-based environment, although in theory there shouldn’t be any reason for this behavioural difference, as our maximum participation numbers – 10 online and 12 in-class – are similar.”


At Mitsubishi Electric UK, technical trainer Ben Bartle-Ross got the call-back to work after initial furlough to develop virtual training courses for the company’s heat pump customers (installers).

He states: “Can you imagine trying to find ways of giving socially-distant training to engineers? However, we needed a way to go through the backlog of engineers who we couldn’t reach because of the pandemic. We decided early on that we had to provide something engaging and worthwhile; we wanted more than just rehashed sales brochures or PowerPoint slides.” Bartle-Ross introduced mobile cameras that let him get behind and inside Mitsubishi Electric’s range of Ecodan heat pumps, as well as ones that allow for wider shots.

“After every course, we look at what went well and what can be improved,” he says. “In the early days the video could be a bit jerky, for example, and we’ve also worked hard to improve the sound.”

The primary concern was looking at how the company could make the course content feasible online, a process that ultimately led to the creation of two virtual heat pump courses that are today working well remotely. One is Ecodan design and application, where participants learn to plan for a heat pump installation and look at ways of getting the best design for each situation. The second course focuses on installation commissioning, where again, trainers can show the process and calculations needed, without getting engineers to physically touch the equipment. Both are certified and include ongoing ‘pass or fail’ questions. Up to 15 participants attend each.


“We start by introducing the Ecodan heat pump unit to explain the basics of how it works,” says Bartle-Ross. “We then show shots from a webcam where I move to different parts of our showroom and focus on actual working elements of the equipment. This makes it far more real for the viewer than simply looking at a photo or a diagram.

“In addition to the mobile cameras, it also helps to have a real whiteboard to stand in front of, because I can show how to work out heat calculations and how much heat the individual elements of a room, such as windows, will lose,” he continues. “Probably the hardest thing initially was getting engagement from online viewers but, as time went on, I found attendees understood that the more they contribute, the more they get from the course.”

Mitsubishi Electric UK now delivers all of its heat pump and air conditioning training online and is reaching more engineers than ever before. The company has completely eradicated its backlog and has trained over 2,500 engineers since it launched online courses in July 2020.

Steed Webzell

Related Companies
British Pump Manufacturers Association
Mitsubishi Electric Uk Ltd

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