Ouch, am I really that old and set in my ways that I deserve such a jab from one of my children? Oh sure, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a regulatory geek, a Dangerous Goods nerd, and if I wrote it, then I guess I’m a geek and a nerd, too. But, there’s an electronics chain in the USA that sends their “Geek Squad” to set up your computers, routers, stereos and televisions for you if you’re too ‘last century’ to do it yourself. So geeks fit quite well into the 21st century. Maybe, if I’m a regulatory geek, then my child is wrong, and I’m firmly in this millennium, not mired in the last. So, what is different about DG this century than last?

Good question, what is different about DG this century?

Is it new Dangerous Goods? Well, our identification numbers are well past UN3000, having achieved at least UN3496 now. But, that’s not really new, we’ve been adding new chemicals and articles to our DG lists for decades.

Is it Harmonization? No, the USA’s HM-181 was last century, ADR’s losing marginals was last century, and IMO deleting the divisions of Class 3 was last century.

Is it Electronics and Technology? e-Shipping papers from US railroads were achieved last century. e-Shipping papers for other modes, especially directly from shippers, are still largely a goal unattained yet. And e-Response, with gee-whiz technology such as RFID tags are still emerging.

Is it e-Training? Oh, hell yes. Not last century’s PowerPoint and CD’s, but Webinars and Web-based training! Now, lemme tell you, I train, and I’ve been looking at it. When I say looking at it, I really mean trying them out, from both sides, delivering and receiving.

I’ve saved travel costs, both mine and my students, by conducting training via Webinar. There were slides posted on a computer in one city, slides that were simultaneously viewed in a dozen or more cities across the continent. There were questions asked and questions answered, with a moderated discussion that didn’t stray too far off topic nor last too long. When it was over, no one had to worry if she or he had enough cash to tip the taxi driver who would drive them to the airport, and no one had to spend unproductive hours on an airplane ride back home. Students got to e-mail in the test they took afterwards, an all electronic test that didn’t kill any trees by having to print it. The students (at least two) were able to guess at answers on the e-test, even though they hadn’t paid attention during the webinar, per their own e-mail cover notes. Why, even students that didn’t sign up for the Webinar, and didn’t attend the Webinar, were able to receive copies of the e-test from other students, get less than 50% of the questions correct, and still submit it seeking credit for the training!

But that’s not the only side of a Webinar I’ve been on, since I’ve ‘attended’ a few. I took one with live audience participation, a conference call via telephone accompanying the drawings and slides that were being displayed on everyone’s computer screens. The call was on speakerphone, leaving my hands free to take notes, when my boss approached my desk, told me to mute the call, and proceeded to discuss a work-related issue that could have waited two more days, not just the 20 minutes of Webinar left. I didn’t even attempt to take the test for that one.

Or there was the well-attended Webinar, so well attended that we didn’t have live participation, since too many people breathing into their telephones creates way too much background noise. During this Webinar, which also happened to address some transitional requirements, all questions were typed in, and saved until the end of the presentation. At one point the presenter talked about a particular requirement, which he said would be in effect “after” January 1st. Actually, the requirement was already in place, and I’m fairly certain the presenter meant to say it would be in effect ‘until’ January 1st. I immediately typed in a question seeking clarification, but my question didn’t get read promptly. So, 40 minutes into a 30 minute Webinar, the presenter finished the main presentation, and announced that he would address all the questions. But he had to wait for several long, long moments, because his phone was alive with dozens of beeps, as a significant portion of the audience hung up their phones and disconnected from the Webinar. I believe that only about 1/3 of the attendees were still on when the presenter eventually clarified, “it is not a new provision, it is now in effect, and must be complied with until January”. I think that although this was an informational Webinar, and not official training, it is quite possible that compliance was put at risk for some ‘attendees’.

Or there was the time the employee in the cube across from me won at least three games of Solitaire, and lost quite a few too, during a Webinar.

Hang on a moment, my waist is buzzing. <pause> Okay, thanks, I’m back. Now that I run my own business, this Blackberry has been quite valuable. I receive phone calls everywhere, even once on a plane when I forgot to turn it off. Oops. I can also receive and respond to urgent e-mails while away from my computer. I even got texted about a flight cancellation during a break in a live face-to-face class I was conducting. The text gave me time to find an alternate flight, time I wouldn’t have had if I’d waited until after the class concluded. And did you know a Blackberry can connect to the Web? Well, during the Webinar I ‘attended’ while waiting for a flight at the airport, the screen images were so small I couldn’t see all the details. But I don’t need to know all the details, do I? Do I?

I’ve learned a lot from Webinars. I’ve gained a wealth of valuable DG-related information. I’ve also learned that if I need to ensure details are learned and understood during initial training, it’s still hard to beat face-to-face classroom training.

I’m in the 21st century all right, just not ready to accept that everything old is worthless and everything new is ‘da bomb’ and ‘all that’.

Written 8/12/2010 for HCB Magazine