To the unskilled outsider, working as a pool and spa professional might look easy. In their eyes, there’s only so much that needs to be done when installing equipment and maintaining aquatic recreational settings. Indeed, when a pool and spa professional is doing their work right, the consumer enjoys the water without care.

Those in the field, though, are well aware of how difficult it can be to keep up with all the latest developments in the pool and spa industry, be they adjustments in regulations or fast-changing upgrades in technology. This challenge is compounded by a lack of readily available time to devote to professional-development efforts. Time in the classroom is sure to cut into work in the field, and that, after all, is where the money gets made.

These are the concerns The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals took into account when developing its latest round of upgrades to existing educational tools. In an industry increasingly enlivened by complex, constantly evolving needs and drivers, the revamped courses and associated reference materials are designed to meet pool and spa professionals where they’re at — quite literally. By doing so, APSP knew it could spark the improvements that will keep business healthy.

“We want to enhance the skills and careers of everyone across the aquatics industry with the training we offer,” says Silvia Uribe, director of education with APSP.

Taking Training Online

A major challenge in the past has been simply carving out the time to engage in concerted training opportunities, many of them staged at trade shows or other locations well away from the pool and spa professional’s place of business.

“Time is critical for pool and spa professionals,” says Alex Antoniou, director of product development at APSP. “So for them to commit to traveling — if the class is not in their area — means spending a day getting somewhere, then spending several days in the classroom. They could be out of the field doing their work for a week or more, in some cases as much as two weeks.”

APSP solved this by developing a portfolio of courses that can be taken online. Designed to work with any device that can connect to the internet, such as a computer, tablet or phone, the courses hone in on a wide swath of topics and cover nearly every professional role, from installation to maintenance to general operation.

“To give the pool and spa professional the ability to continue to work, to continue to make a living, while at the same time being able to go through these courses in the evenings, the weekends, whatever the case may be, I think it’s a tremendous benefit to them,” Antoniou says.

Five different online courses have been developed and implemented by APSP. The first to launch were courses for the CMS (Certified Pool & Spa Maintenance Specialist), the CHTT (Certified Hot Tub Technician) and the PPSO (Professional Pool and Spa Operator). Building upon and improving similar education tools used previously, the courses all fulfill specific demands for those in the industry, including critical recertification needs.

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In recent months, these education tools have been joined by a brand-new learning program for the CST (Certified Pool and Spa Service Technician) and the unique PSCC (Pool and Spa Construction Course).

In developing the online courses, APSP convened committees to review manuals, adding the latest information available in the industry. Anyone taking the new courses will get these updated manuals. The organization incorporated feedback from members, health officials, students who’ve taken other courses, instructors and others working in the field.

“It’s a model created for the industry, by the industry,” notes Uribe.

Targeted Learning

Another aspect of ongoing professional development that can create nettlesome time management issues is the length of the courses themselves. Often designed with little thought for the markedly different knowledge bases of the novice and the veteran — not to mention the legion of people existing somewhere in between the two extremes — classes need to cover a lot of ground.

The comprehensive nature of those courses invariably means that some are stuck going over material they already know well. Sometimes the information can serve as a valuable refresher, but it’s often merely redundant.

With their online courses, APSP has come up with a solution to the dilemma of students with varying needs.

“In some cases, people may have a certain skill set already in their repertoire, and they’re just looking for some gap training,” Antoniou says. “Maybe they’re missing the skills and knowledge about installing and working with pumps, so why not just give them the ability to take the module that deals with servicing and installing pumps? Why force them to go through an entire course that could take them 15, 20 hours just to get that little bit of knowledge they need?”

All of the online courses are designed to be modular. Participants can sign up for the entire program or select only the segments that speak to their specific interests. For example, the CMS course is broken in 12 modules, and the CST course — the longest of the five programs — has 14 modules. A complete course is available for anyone interested in it, but students can also pick and choose among its component pieces, essentially assembling an abridged version that better suits them.

And the fundamental interface at the e-learning portal is designed to help users determine which modules will be most beneficial before they get too deep into the class.

“At the start of every course, there’s an introductory module,”  Antoniou explains. “The introductory modules go through how a student would navigate through the course, and go through the different modules and units within that course. So it gives them a high-level view and forecast of what that course is all about. And those introductory modules are free.”

With a solid map of what’s ahead, students can decide if they’re interested in the full course or simply chunks of it. As a result, participants avoid paying for learning they don’t want or need.

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In all instances, the learning is self-guided. Although some courses suggest a certain amount of time should be set aside when working through the material, participants determine how quickly they move through the lessons. Since it’s expected that users will pop into the courses in a myriad of times and places, the platform also accommodates the sort of start-stop usage that is likely when progress is being made during stray down moments.

“With our courses, a student can pick up from the place they stopped at any time,” Uribe says.

Customization 
and Check-Ins

In addition to the individual user, APSP developed the new online courses with consideration for how companies might use them to offer ongoing professional development opportunities to employees.

The digital accessibility is obviously in place no matter who is accessing the coursework, but some additional enhancements are available for organizations. APSP offers custom branded e-learning portals, allowing industry firms to add logos and tweak other design elements to make the platform match a company’s style.

Since managers are likely to have a vested interest in seeing how staff is faring in the classes, APSP has created an interface that allows for exactly that. Managerial rights can be given to companies, allowing for pinpoint monitoring using an intuitive dashboard. Completion dates, final scores on exams and other information are at the ready.

“It makes the learning happen more efficiently,” Antoniou says. “Companies don’t have to worry about sending people to classes. They can just enroll employees in online courses and then track their progress through the admin side of the learning management system.”

To support companies opting for this route, admin training is available through APSP. They’ll make sure managers have command over all the system’s tools, including the array of helpful reports that can be generated.

Different Styles, Different Solutions

“We understand that online classes aren’t for everybody,” Uribe concedes.

Although adeptness with online interfaces is widespread, the pool and spa industry is multigenerational. Some members of the old guard might be less inclined to click their way through digital prompts and quizzes. There’s also the matter of the highly technical work inherent to the field, meaning even internet whizzes could have a preference for more tactile learning in which they get a chance to actually handle the motors, pumps and other gear they’re studying.

APSP is committed to the online courses, but is also maintaining other avenues for learning as well. The sessions routinely staged at trade shows and other industry gatherings will continue, as will classes that participants can physically attend.

In addition to valuable time with a seasoned instructor, on-site classes allow participants to interact with other pool and spa professionals. A wealth of information is available through those connections, and APSP doesn’t want that option to disappear completely.

At times, APSP is also prepared to combine the onsite and distance learning methodologies.

“We’re planning on offering a hybrid format, and we are in fact already offering that with the PPSO course,” Uribe says. “What that means is a student takes an online course, and then they will attend a face-to-face class with an instructor where they will review some of the material. They will engage in some hands-on practice there, and then take the examination for certification.”

Uribe pledges the hybrid format option will eventually be available for all courses.

Continual Improvement

The format of the classes is interactive and engaging, employing videos and other more-dynamic elements to liven up experience for users. Without sacrificing the integrity of the content, APSP has carried the coursework well away from the tedious grind of working through technical manuals.

“We use educational technology principles to provide the information in segments that deliver the basic and the fundamental information that a student needs — without putting pages and pages and pages of information online,” says Uribe.

As a bonus, the electronic format makes it easier for APSP to make adjustments to course material to reflect up-to-the-minute technological advances or regulatory changes. Once they swap out the right slide in a module, the course is as current as the daily news.

“We can make changes on the fly,” Antoniou says.

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All of these benefits are by design, reflecting APSP’s commitment to supporting the industry with tools that enhance effectiveness, efficiency and safety. In giving the pool and spa professional easy access to education tools, APSP is strengthening the entire field. It makes for better outcomes all around.

“We understand the more educated our service and repair technicians are, the better service they can offer to their customers,” Uribe says. “By doing this, we ensure we offer a safe aquatic environment.”