By Greg Davis
While no one knew it at the time, the National Veterans’ Training Institute (NVTI) held its last in-person class on Feb. 28, 2020. As COVID-19 rapidly spread across the country, businesses and offices shut down across the nation. This shutdown introduced a completely new way of working for everyone, including NVTI. Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists and Local Veterans’ Employment Representative (LVER) staff carried out their work duties from their homes. NVTI staff and trainers were also all doing their best to maintain work responsibilities from their homes. At the time, it was unclear whether the shutdown would last two weeks or two months, but few could have predicted that it would be more than two years before NVTI staff and participants would finally meet in person again.
In the meantime, NVTI pressed forward, working to adapt to the new environmental constraints. Course developers redesigned in-person classroom curricula to be more suitable for a virtual learning environment. Trainers learned to utilize virtual interactive training methodologies such as breakout rooms and online chats. Everyone was required to make major adjustments in their approach and teaching facilitation dynamics, but within two months of the initial shutdown, and as a collective team of designers, administrative personnel, and trainers, NVTI plowed ahead.
On May 10, 2022 – 793 days after that last in-person NVTI course was held – NVTI’s 9608: DVOP Specialist Core Competency Development was delivered in-person at the home base Hilton Dallas hotel. Wanting the transition to in-person classes to be seamless, key personnel from the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL-VETS) and the NVTI team pooled their efforts to ensure a successful return to the first in-person class. Onsite representatives included Dallas Regional Administrator for Veterans’ Employment and Training (RAVET) Heather Higgins, DOL-NVTI Program Lead Brandon Webb, NVTI Facilitator Greg Davis, and additional members of the NVTI team.
In addition to the amazing leadership onsite, NVTI and VETS could not have asked for a better class of students for the first return to in-person class as they exemplified everyone’s excitement for finally meeting in person. The heightened level of excitement led to a higher level of participation, learning, and involvement from all attendees, leaving students and staff feeling satisfied with the effort to meet in person again.
“One of the biggest benefits from being in person is the ability to network with colleagues from across the country and talk through what their experiences have been like,” reported one of the participating students. She added, “This job has a high burnout rate, so having support that understands the role/job duties helps.”
Another student commented that being in person made it “easier to communicate and share resources” because being in the same room allowed for more “elaboration and continuing of conversations” that would otherwise have been cut short online. Another attendee added, “And that collaboration is fundamental to instilling the confidence and knowledge to do the job well.”
When asked about his reaction to returning to in-person classes, facilitator Greg Davis, who has been training virtually during the nationwide shutdown, reported, “It’s hard to get the timing back because the in-person class is so much more participatory than a virtual class, where attendees tend to be more reluctant to ask questions, and it’s harder to read facial expressions. But it is so great to be back in person!” All in all, staff and students considered the first return to in-person training a huge success!
While NVTI eagerly looks forward to the next in-person classes, they also recognize that not everyone is comfortable traveling and meeting in person yet. As such, NVTI will continue to offer virtual training to students who prefer to attend virtually. Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG) staff who wish to learn in person can travel to Dallas for their training, and those who prefer to participate from their home or office can attend courses virtually. As everyone continues to adjust to the new environment we live in, NVTI will honor the comfort level of each student and allow them to make whatever decision best suits their personal circumstances. To view what virtual or in-person learning opportunities are available to you, view the full NVTI class schedule at https://www.nvti.org/Training/NVTI-Class-Schedule.