How to implement your vision

I met Rakesh Maharaj, CEO of ARMSA Consulting, for the first time in London in 2019. We discussed his requirements for a training solution for the renewable energy sector. I was immediately impressed with his thoroughness and depth of vision.

We have been working together in different projects since then. The solution we discussed in 2019 has not only materialised as a sector leading solution, ARMSA just won silver in the aNewSpring “Learning Journey of the year 2021 Award”. 

Because many lessons can be learned from ARMSA’s journey, I caught up with Rakesh and asked him to share his views.

1. Rakesh, you started the process of digital transformation of your training business a few years ago. What is the vision you had for this?

“ARMSA has always worked in the power generation sector since its inception, advising conventional power companies on how to make informed decisions in relation to their asset and safety performance. Responding to the climate change agenda saw the UK government adopt a renewable energy strategy that changed the characteristics of our sector almost overnight. With a new focus on renewable energy in the form of wind and solar power generation saw the sector transform at a mind blowing pace – not only in the UK but the world over. This created a skills gap that is nearly impossible to close using conventional methods of training and development.”

“ARMSA Academy was born as a result of that. Developing mega offshore and onshore windparks, travelling out to deeper waters, driving to poorly navigated parts of the countryside and working in some cases up to 100m above ground or sea level confirms that power generation is still a hazardous industry. Add to that a significantly leaner workforce, greater cost optimisation and rapid technical innovation not only brings new opportunity but also significant risks.”

“Our vision is to help decision-makers who develop, design, construct, operate and maintain assets make informed decisions. And we are taking it a step further. Rather than traditional training, our digital content is designed to aid decisions in the workflow. This is a new paradigm for the sector.”

2. Then a pandemic happened. Did your vision set you on the right course?

“Companies, particularly energy companies, are accustomed to traditional classroom type training given the need for intense concentration when discussing safety related matters. At the beginning of 2020, many utilities were reserved about developing their people using learning platforms – and many still are. However, what was pleasantly surprising was that independent power producers and turbine manufacturers were keen to trial our approach. One year on and we have close to 200 subscribers on our platform from countries such as Hong Kong, Chile, Spain, Italy, Denmark and the UK to name a few. The answer to your question is a resounding yes!”

3. A lot of training companies are struggling with the question: “How can we differentiate ourselves with our training delivery strategy?” How did you answer this?

“Online training is not new, and old technology did not do it many favours. Training was ‘push’ orientated and in some ways even that remains the case today. Many publications, including the HBR are extolling the virtues of ‘pull’ orientated L&D. This is easier said than done, as adult learning is so dependent upon personal motivation and driven by different learning styles. Catering for all of these can prove incredibly challenging when adopting digital solutions. But within this challenge lies the opportunity to differentiate.”

“We went to our market and asked managers what they envisioned training of the future to look like for their staff. And rather than the stock responses we are so accustomed to, we discovered that managers want their teams to work more collaboratively, cross-functionally, adopt a process stewardship approach and think more critically. In many ways, that set the tone for our differentiation.”

“Developing role specific content linked to decisions made by procurement, engineering, contract management, operations, construction and project management professionals was our starting point. But content alone does not encourage collaborative, cross functional working – and neither does it appear authentic. So we decided to segregate collaborative from individual decisions and link the same content across relevant roles involved in making joint decisions. A tedious task, involving lots of research and market testing. Adopting tools like aNewSpring also helps with the collaborative and cross-functional aspects through social discussion technology.”

“Finally, authenticity was injected by making a conscious decision to develop digital content that made us appear ‘in-the-room’ when accessed by the learner. This we achieved through building our own light board and setting up a studio.”

4. Building your own studio was definitely a bold step. Looking back, what lessons did you learn?

“We were fortunate to find Shots Media City who were prepared to partner with us on this venture. Together we designed and built the lightboard from scratch using specifications from the internet. All of this, and we ended up with raw footage. High quality post-editing is essential to develop attractive and professional content. For this we work with Finale Studios where Rick has an amazing eye for detail. Our team pulls it all together for a final quality check before the footage and transcripts are loaded onto the learning journey.”

“Building the equipment,  finding a studio that is prepared to store our massive lightboard and working out camera settings for filming in a dark environment were challenges that had to be overcome. But we are richer for the new found skills. On reflection though, the key to unlocking all of this was  surrounding ourselves with reliable professionals who are experts in their own right.”

“Would we do it again? That’s a resounding YES, too!”

5. How are your learners responding to this new way of delivering content?

“Anyone in the digital L&D environment is acutely aware of the importance of connecting with a remote audience. Learner retention is key to success of any training business. We have invested significant amounts of time and effort understanding our learners, their needs, learning styles and learning conventions. When pushed for constructive feedback, learners are happy to oblige.”

Following a recent blended training programme one of our learners commented: “The course provides insights into how the right approach to safety can help your company increase efficiency, productivity and ultimately its bottom line by prioritizing proper planning from start to finish. It really highlights how taking the time to properly understand projects and tasks from the outset can help create a safer work environment for everyone.”

And another said: “The course was very insightful, it gave me a different perspective on my roles and responsibilities. I learned some new skills relevant to my job role, I look forward to utilising these skills when the opportunity arises. Trainers presented the course very well. There were some excellent group discussions. The group tasks where enjoyable also. It is not easy to present or participate in an online course containing this amount of information, but ARMSA structured it well.”

“I suppose that this is what any digital training provider wants to hear and I want to employ them in our marketing team.”

6. What do you recommend other directors of training companies do to respond to current trends?

“Offer your customers what they need and not what they want. Whilst this is counter-intuitive to entrepreneurship, but this is the time to take the reins and lead from the front. This means getting to know your marketplace intimately and obsess over solving current and future challenges using technology. Invest in innovation. Fail fast but learn, then iterate.”

Jan Jilis van Delsen

CEO of Inmisceo Ltd 

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