Add virtual learning to your training program

January 28, 2021 By    

Online learning has a bad reputation, most recently from the pandemic-driven rush to virtual instruction without adequate materials, equipment or training. Don’t be fooled by the reputation or horror stories. There’s some truth to them, but virtual learning done right can be as good as or better than in-person instruction, especially when combined with hands-on experiential learning.

Because online training should be an important part of your operation, I’m going to tackle it in two installments. This column focuses on the benefits of online learning and why you should consider it. My next column will address some of the details of how to get started.

For many small marketers, there are two kinds of training. First, there’s industry and safety-based training such as the Propane Education & Research Council’s (PERC) Certified Employee Training Program.

The second kind of training is marketer specific. It might include training on chemical inventory, or the security action plan. Most of the training content for these topics is too company-specific to lend itself to mass-produced training materials.

Traditional training

It’s easy to see why marketers struggle with these two types of training. Consider what might happen if a marketer hires a new customer service representative (CSR) who’s new to the industry:

Industry training: Many marketers with small operations depend on CSRs to be knowledgeable about a number of facets of the business. After all, how can they function on the phone with a customer if they aren’t familiar with propane? How can they work with their team in the field if they don’t know the basics of propane delivery and service? And what do they do if something happens at the plant while the delivery drivers and service technicians are in the field?

Addressing these training needs might involve enrollment in these courses:

  • OSHA and DOT Training
  • Basic Principles and Practices of Propane (1.0)
  • Bobtail and Cylinder Delivery Operations (2.2/2.4)
  • Basic Plant Operations
  • Handling Safety-Related Phone Calls
  • Office Personnel Safety Basics

Marketer-specific training: If your new CSR still isn’t overwhelmed, let’s not forget they also need some additional, company-specific training on topics such as safety policy, security action plans, emergency action plans, and software, phones and company policies.

The time commitment for industry training alone adds up to at least 80 hours, plus two or three overnight stays, travel to and from the training, and big blocks of time out of the office.

Online training

Now, let’s re-envision this picture through the lens of online training:

Time and cost savings: Your company’s checking account will be spared the expense of overnight stays, meal and travel expenses. It’s also worth noting that most employees prefer not to travel and spend nights away from home.

Efficiency: New employees and their employers often experience unwanted downtime. The phones are busy, the drivers and service technicians are busy, and your new CSR isn’t yet ready for prime time. This downtime becomes training time when the courses are online and broken down into stand-alone modules. Ten hours of downtime in one-hour pockets becomes 10 hours of DOT/OSHA training completed with an online training program.

Improved learning achievement: Classroom training combined with hands-on experience is proven to be more effective at achieving proficiency in learning outcomes, knowledge retention and engagement. Your employee will learn more, retain more and enjoy it more if they consume training in bite-sized chunks and apply what they’ve learned with appropriate supervision.

At this point, a marketer might wonder where they can find affordable online training. Look no further than the PERC website ( and its Learning Center, launched in 2019 and upgraded significantly in October.

The Learning Center is a terrific resource for propane marketers – why is the subject of my next column. Until then, I encourage you to visit the PERC website and view these recordings:

Christopher Caywood is a co-owner of Caywood Propane Gas Inc. 

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