Business in Edmonton checked in with two of Alberta’s major employers – NorQuest College and Cashco Financial – to see how they have revamped internal and external training to keep staff, students, and clients safe in the wake of COVID-19.
“The health and safety of our students and staff is our primary concern,” says NorQuest College’s President and CEO Carolyn Campbell. “That’s why we took steps early on to limit the spread of the virus before ultimately closing our doors to in-person classes and moving to an online model on March 23. Some of NorQuest’s learners have unique needs and we recognize that our wrap-around supports are critical to their success, so our faculty and staff have worked hard to ensure as seamless of a transition as possible. I’m so pleased to say that our students have shown their resilience and responded wonderfully to this challenging situation.”
Campbell continues, “Our plan for a safe reopening of the college is informed by health authorities and guided by the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw. For Fall 2020, this means a phased reopening that begins with a blended online- and in-person model, followed by a gradual return to in-person programming. Many of our in-person labs were transitioned to online seamlessly, but some were more of a challenge. For those, we’re planning to offer additional in-person labs with fewer students per lab. Our health care aide program is a perfect example where the constraints of the COVID-19 reality – additional handwashing and sanitation procedures, proper mask wearing, physical distancing, and illness identification – fit naturally into the existing training.
“We will gradually offer more in-person opportunities as safety permits, and we hope to return to a more face-to-face delivery in January 2021. Our online delivery model provides an exceptional educational experience for students, but we know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to what works best for students. Of course, this all depends on the advice of health authorities and Alberta’s response to relaunch.”
As always, NorQuest College is connecting directly with Alberta employers to ensure their programs are relevant. Now, NorQuest also wants to ensure that they quickly transition to also provide training for the pandemic-specific opportunities that will grow as the economy recovers.
“We aim to be partners in Alberta’s relaunch, and are looking for all opportunities to accelerate the province’s recovery from one of the greatest challenges in its history,” says Campbell. “Through NorQuest’s Workforce Advisory Council, we are working closely with industry to understand what skills will be in demand during and post-pandemic. Our industry partners have expressed immediate high demand for our building services worker training and family caregiver wellness training, are we are in the development of contact tracing training and pandemic-proof badges for various industries. Our Workforce Advisory Council has also identified needs for training in new technologies like artificial intelligence, and we’re in development for that kind of programming. There are lots of opportunities for us to support our workforce partners and we hope to learn more from industry about their needs coming out of the pandemic.”
NorQuest College recognizes that the pandemic and economic slowdown have impacted its learners and industry partners financially, a fact that the institution is quick to address.
“NorQuest extended tuition-free training through Landmark Group and Cougar Drilling Solutions as gifts for training employees in private, public, and non-profit organizations through our lean/project management/change management workshop. We also launched a free, five-webinar series on psychological safety and inclusion with a focus on the pandemic. The series is called Coming Together While Staying Apart. These are short, 20-minute webinars that were developed by NorQuest’s Colbourne Institute in partnership with Creating People Power and can be viewed on NorQuest’s continuing education website.”
Another very essential service is banking and financial services. Cashco, in particular, works with underbanked/underserved populations; it has been suggested by early evidence that the more vulnerable among us (be it economically, physically, or medically disadvantaged) are at higher risk from COVID-19 complications. Cashco had to not only protect its coast-to-coast team, it had to quickly address its 21,000 + clients and the immediate impact to their daily lives.
“Our first priority is always the safety of our people and the safety of our clients. We were unsure how the pandemic would spread, so we made the decision to immediately close our physical doors to our clients but continue to offer our services online and over the phone,” Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Courtney Johnston-Naumann says. “Our entire team knew that suspending all of our services was not an option; some of our clients would need us now more than ever and we had an obligation to be available to them. However, closing our doors did mean that there were some disruption to services (such as cheque cashing) that had to be suspended, and other services modified or reduced due to the current situation. This was because these services required in-person transactions.”
Johnston-Naumann continues, “We quickly developed new ways to be there for our clients virtually. This included the implementation of a chat function on our website so that our clients could service themselves when possible, and if they needed live help, they would be connected to one of our trusted advisors.
“Furthermore, our entrepreneurial spirit led us to quickly test a QLess solution in our busiest location with a tailor-made approach to facilitate the client experience. By eliminating long line-ups, speeding up transactions and using this tool to help re-direct traffic to softer times, we were able to quickly satisfy customer needs while maintaining safety. We are proud to say, the QLess test was hugely successful and is currently being implemented into the rest of our 57-branch network.”
When the doors opened, internal and customer-forward training quickly evolved again.
“We went to work on how we were going to safely welcome clients back into our branches,” Johnston-Naumann shares. “What seemed like overnight, we had plexiglass, physical distancing markers, and sanitization stations installed in all of our branches across Canada. Our executive team worked every day on a reopening strategy and made sure we had proper policies developed or refined for our people. The entire time we looked to the leadership of our provincial and federal governments and health authorities to ensure that we were doing everything safely and responsibly. Our staff members had the option of either going back to a physical branch or working remotely; we need our staff to know they’re safe where they work.”
To keep the staff informed of new protocols, Cashco took, once again, to technology.
“We communicate with our staff in many ways: via email, a virtual hub we call the Water Cooler, a weekly company-wide meeting held by our CEO Tim Latimer, a monthly newsletter, a daily video from our COO Raymond Wilson, and more. We also provide training through Cashco University. This learning management system allows us to develop, assign, and monitor training for our employees. Each team member going back to a physical branch was trained on all matters of health and safety, specifically related to COVID-19.”
As for the clients, “Our educational programs have already begun to shift! Our team has been reaching out to our clients to educate them about debt consolidation, budgeting, and other financial advice in response to their personal financial impact during COVID-19. We revised our budgeting tool and guidelines to reflect a CERB income.
“As the economy re-opens, recovers and shifts business practices to accommodate consumer behaviors, Cashco is fully on board to learn from societal changes and will certainly welcome innovative methods to facilitate both financial hope and relief products in order to service our clients best today, tomorrow and in the future.”
From learning as a student, to learning new company polices to learning how to safely access services, training has undergone a massive shift. Thanks to technology and innovators that are quick to adapt to change, the necessary training we need remains accessible, and has the potential to positively change how we learn in post-secondary, in our places of business, and through our own initiative.