All change

01 March 2021

With the COVID-19 pandemic forming the backdrop, Ian Moore explores the importance of online training when it comes to raising the bar on competency and goes on to outline what the future of fire safety training could look like

THE FIRE Industry Association (FIA) is the largest fire protection-focused Trade Association in Europe with over 950 members. We restrict our membership to those that have achieved – or are on a path towards attaining – third party certification to ensure that we only represent professional companies. We’re a not-for-profit organisation and the pre-eminent provider of fire safety-centric training here in the UK.

Our overriding objective is to promote, improve and perfect fire safety. We achieve this through a variety of ways, notably so by offering professional advancement through education, technical support and guidance delivered to our members and the public. In addition, we promote and shape legislation and the professional standards of the fire industry through close liaison with central Government and official bodies, as well as other key stakeholders.

Further to this, as an organisation we have a proud history of improving fire safety by investing in relevant research projects.

The last 12 months and more has been one of the most unprecedented periods in recent memory with the pandemic and Brexit impacting billions of people around the world. Despite the changes that have happened in our industry, our drive to raise the bar on competency has been – and will always remain – at the heart of what we do.

While the fire industry is going through a period of transformational change, it’s crucial to have a respected, strong and unbiased voice that’s committed to guiding that industry towards being safer, better and more competent. At the FIA, we’ve consistently been that voice securing key worker status for fire professionals, setting up the EWS-1 Forms portal to play our part in solving the cladding crisis and contributing significantly to the Fire Safety Bill and Building Safety Bill consultations, etc.

Transition period

We’re proud of what we were able to achieve in 2020. Arguably, tansitioning our industry-recognised classroom training to the online environment has exacted the biggest benefit for our industry. It has enabled thousands of fire sector professionals to continue their personal development and improve their own levels of competency at a time when being restricted to the four walls of their own home is the required norm.

Raising the bar on competency is a key tenet of everything we’ve done, are doing and will continue to do. Issued in 2018, Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety that followed the Grenfell Tower tragedy sought to begin setting right years of systemic negligence that led to the devastating deaths of 72 people on that night in June 2017. In Dame Judith’s report is a particular focus on the term ‘competency’. It’s mentioned over 100 times, but what exactly is ‘competency’?

“A competent person must have sufficient knowledge, experience and skills needed to meet the requirements of the job. What’s more, a competent person must have an awareness of their own limitations and will endeavour to seek to update their knowledge in line with changes in standards, regulations and legislation.”

Training remains a crucial element for improving a person’s knowledge and reinforcing their day-to-day experience with up-to-date theory. The requirements remain the same whether or not there’s a global pandemic in play because competent professionals are essential at all times when the focus is trained on working with life safety systems.

Online training

The FIA welcomed Dame Judith Hackitt’s report as, in one form or another, we’ve been offering industry-leading training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) sessions for the last few decades. In 2020, like many we necessarily had to change the way in which we work, adapting to the needs of the industry and allowing individuals to continue their training such that they can raise their own competency levels.

We took immediate action at the beginning of the COVID-induced lockdown, and continued that action as the pandemic evolved into periods of lockdown and isolation. We clearly identified the need to adapt the delivery methods of our training in order to cater for the millions of people working from home.

The first lockdown announced on 23 March 2020 inevitably led to the cancellation of all of our classroom courses. It was a decision taken knowing that we had no online training capability at that time. Just one week later, on Monday 30 March at 10.00 am to be exact, we launched our first online training course. A great achievement in such a short timescale. Almost 12 months later and we’ve now run upwards of 145 online courses with almost 1,400 fire professionals taking part in them.

The same was true for our online CPD sessions. Within two short weeks, we had a sizeable portfolio of material written and delivered. Since March last year, we’ve trained over 2,500 delegates in over 70 CPD sessions covering a broad range of topics within the fire safety industry. Bear in mind this doesn’t include the 17 FIA member companies and their numerous CPD sessions which have been given the FIA CPD certification ‘stamp of approval’.

Following on from our switch to online training, we’ve continued not only to deliver the existing courses, but by listening to our delegates, members and the industry, we’ve also developed and launched five new courses in the last 12 months. We’re now pleased to offer our members and the wider industry 22 different training courses and 11 CPD sessions, all of them available online and reflecting the breadth of the fire safety industry.

Advantages of digital

Aside from the obvious benefit of online training allowing professionals to continue to raise their own level of competency in a national lockdown scenario, there are a whole host of additional benefits to be realised by fire professionals who choose to take their training in the online environment.

To take part in classroom-based training, you would need a mode of transport (if you lived far away from a Training Centre, which the majority of delegates do), accommodation (if the training course lasts for longer than one day) and food and drink (charged to the employer by way of expenses). For online training, you need two things: a computer and an Internet connection. Online training opens up possibilities for fire professionals to access our industry-leading courses, allowing us to expand our role in terms of improving fire safety on a global scale.

Those costs mentioned do add up for employers and cause additional headaches for those who want to train their staff. Our research on the cost savings to be gained through online training has found that the average cost of fuel for one delegate travelling by van is £11. On average, one delegate’s hour is worth £17. Therefore, the opportunity cost of travelling for 2 hours and 15 minutes (ie the average distance for our delegates) to Hampton and back home again is £38.

Moving to online training can save individuals £49 per session in travel costs alone. Money aside, delegates are also able to save the time they would have spent travelling to and from training. With many now able to train remotely, this reclaimed time is proving just as valuable as the cost savings to delegates.

Further, for employers who book multiple delegates on several online training courses, they can benefit from a significant reduction in both cost and time. Our members have told us that they’re appreciative of these savings and have put them to good use in their businesses at this crucial time.

Like our members, we actively try and reduce our environmental impact where possible and, as a by-product of transitioning our training and CPD sessions to the online space, we’ve made great progress in doing exactly that. For example, the average environmental impact of a class of delegates travelling was 1.3 tonnes of CO₂ which, over a year is equivalent to 6,951 homes’ energy use for the same period. The industry’s recent shift to online training has allowed both ourselves and our delegates to do more in reducing our impact on the climate and play an active part in the fight against global warming.

Crediting the trainers

The success of our online training is, in large part, due to the clear majority of fire professionals seamlessly moving to online training with us. This is testament to their adaptability, resilience and passion to learn.

It would be remiss not to heap huge credit and praise on the technical team members and trainers who deliver that training and the CPD sessions on a day-to-day basis. They’ve been instrumental in trying to find the best ways in which to present the training in these difficult times.

Providing online training has been both a challenge and an opportunity driven by necessity. The results achieved with online training have been fantastic and challenge preconceived ideas with regards to the efficacy of online instruction. At least in part, this is due to our industry-recognised trainers using the same knowledge and training materials to educate delegates through a different medium. However, that’s really where the similarities end for online and classroom training.

The FIA’s trainers feel that the techniques required for teaching online require a different skill set which needs to be developed and improved from one online course to the next. Most things are still achievable through technology, such as showing visual aids and using a virtual whiteboard, although with online training it’s more difficult to keep an eye on the delegates and judge their body language and energy levels.

In the online environment, trainers need to work harder to encourage participation and maintain engagement with the subject matter among trainees. We’ve found the use of Q&A sessions to be crucial for delegate engagement.

It’s important to remember that everybody will respond differently to the training provided, especially so when it comes to online training, so trainers themselves must always appreciate the dedication and commitment that training demands from the delegates.

What lies ahead?

The ‘new normal’ is a phrase on the lips of many (as is ‘you are on mute’), with people around the globe now beginning to thinking about what the world will look like in the wake of COVID-19.

From the individual lessons we’ve all learned throughout the pandemic, it’s difficult to say what we will remember and what we might forget. Speaking from our perspective as an education provider, it appears that the online provision of training is here to stay in one form or another.

Moving forward, we will look to provide our industry-leading training in a classroom, online and in a hybrid of both that will render learning accessible to all delegates. As yet, we don’t know the balance of how we’ll deliver our training in the future. However, it’s clear that the industry’s acceptance of online training continues to allow us to raise the bar on competency through delivering world-class training by whatever means necessary.

Ian Moore is CEO of the Fire Industry Association (