2020 Best Practices
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2020 Best Practices
TD Magazine

All Together Now

Monday, July 20, 2020

Collaboration is the common thread among these organizations whose certification programs helped achieve business goals.

A growing number of companies are implementing certification programs to address and monitor critical skills gaps. Four in particular harnessed expertise within and beyond their organizations to build successful standards-based certification programs that responded to the need to develop new technical and safety-related skills. These programs not only reached thousands of learners but also achieved substantial, far-reaching business outcomes.


Developing programs of this scale is a tremendous undertaking, requiring hundreds if not thousands of hours. Companies can optimize their time by collaborating with those who have expertise to contribute to the project. For example, China Mobile, a domestic telecommunications operator, enlisted help from within—vice presidents of training, IT staff, and HR and training experts from across the entire company—to build a certification program to train its technicians.

Similarly, public utility firm State Grid Corporation of China built a cooperative research and development team with its equipment department, the Electric Power Research Institute, and four provincial companies to construct a competency model. In addition, the International Association of Drilling Contractors and the Aviation Institute of Maintenance likewise established partnerships with organizations to develop award-winning certification programs.

Advanced technology calls for qualified staff

When 4G wireless communication technology was made available for commercial use in China in 2014, it posed a substantial opportunity for China Mobile. The company was in the unfavorable position of having access to this advanced technology without enough qualified maintenance technicians to support it. Because China Mobile did not have a standardized training program on 4G network maintenance, only 11 percent of its 40,000 technicians were qualified to maintain them.

As a result, the telecom company's wireless access rate was low and continued to decline each year. To increase technicians' maintenance skill readiness and overall 4G network access rate, it developed a blended training and skills certification program.

The program is based on newly developed skill standards that focus on seven specialties and 24 subspecialties, each with up to five levels of difficulty. These levels serve as incentives for the certification program by creating clear promotion paths for technicians. Between 2014 and 2018, 96 percent of technicians participated in the program, resulting in a 62 percent increase in maintenance technicians' skill readiness—for a total of 73 percent of technicians now qualified to maintain 4G networks. In that same time period, the wireless access rate stabilized at 99 percent.

Technology advancements also led State Grid Corporation of China to developing a certification program for its technicians. As the power supplier for more than 1.1 billion people in China, the organization's core business is investing in, constructing, and operating power grids.

Power is transmitted via transmission lines, and advancements in technology resulted in a growing use in ultra-high voltage transmission lines. The structure of UHV lines is more complex and—to avoid disruptive power shutdowns—requires maintenance while the lines are live, which calls for skilled technicians to perform the potentially dangerous task.

That's why in 2015, the utility company created and executed a plan to train 1,000 technicians over a three- to five-year period. State Grid Corporation designed a 10-day training and certification curriculum that comprised 24 hours of knowledge-focused instruction, 30 hours of skill-focused instruction, and six hours of assessment.

From 2016 to 2018, the company trained 1,047 technicians who now carry out more than 300 live operations of UHV transmission lines annually—saving more than 3,200 hours of outage that would have occurred if the lines had to be shut down for maintenance. More importantly, the company reported not a single fatality or equipment damage accident in that timeframe. Creating a comprehensive certification program on UHV transmission lines has enabled the State Grid Corporation of China to build its internal capability to keep pace with its use of advanced technology.

Safety first

Like the utility firm, which developed a training program to keep its employees safe, the International Association of Drilling Contractors also sought a program that would help keep the number of accidents low. A global nonprofit trade association representing the oil and gas drilling industry, the organization brought together business experts and subject matter experts from every angle of the industry to contribute to the development of a new standard for safety.

The association succeeded by creating a blended certification program that linked learning goals to business needs. One of its primary areas of focus is improving drilling safety and environmental protection. The organization developed training standards related to promoting safety and accredits training providers to deliver training to those standards.


After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident in which a blowout caused a 210-million-gallon oil spill, a safety improvement process was needed for blowout prevention (also called well control) on drilling rigs. Thus, the association convened hundreds of industry leaders and experts to develop a new training and assessment standard for well control.

In 2015, the organization launched a comprehensive new training and certification program for drilling rig crew personnel with well control responsibilities. An essential program component is the robust database that houses 3,500 exam questions, each of which is tied to a learning objective. The database provides crucial analytics, including knowledge gap analyses for each participant and test question analyses.

To date, the International Association of Drilling Contractors has trained more than 170,000 people and accredited 162 training companies to deliver the program. In addition, anecdotal data indicates that the number of accidents has decreased, and no blowout-related deaths have been reported.

Curtailing a talent shortage

With the airline industry facing a dire shortage of aircraft mechanics, the need for Federal Aviation Administration–certified mechanics is essential. The Aviation Institute of Maintenance is a US aviation maintenance school that prepares graduates to sit for the certification exams required to become an FAA-certified mechanic. The challenge, however, was that graduates at several of the institute's campuses had lower-than-average pass rates on certification exams and an increased reluctance to even sit for the exams.

That led the school to partner with Fulcrum Labs to develop an artificial intelligence–powered certification prep program that delivered personalized, adaptive learning that enabled students to determine their own pace and cross the finish line to become certified mechanics. A significant shift in the program included mimicking the certification exam experience so the content, format, and terminology were less daunting on exam day.

The new program was so successful that the school has fully integrated it into the curriculum, instead of introducing it to graduates as they begin their exam prep. The Aviation Institute of Maintenance has seen its certification pass rate increase from 79 percent to more than 90 percent and reports a 25 percent increase in graduates sitting for the exam. By providing personalized, adaptive learning and exposure to the exam experience, the institute achieved its goal of boosting students' confidence and ability to pass the certification exam.

View the entire list of 2020 Excellence in Practice Award winners.

About the Author

Wendy Gates Corbett, CPLP, is the president of Refresher Training, a company that redesigns presentations and materials for independent consultants and small businesses. She speaks locally, regionally, and nationally about the power of visuals and presenting powerfully with presence. She is author of the TD at Work5 Questions for Great Presentation Visuals,” co-author of two Infolines on designing and delivering live virtual training, and a contributing author of three books: 101 Ways to Make Learning More Active Beyond the Classroom, 101 More Ways to Make Training Active, and SCORE! For Webinar Training: Super Closers, Openers, Revisiters, Energizers.

Wendy served on the of the ATD-Research Triangle Area Chapter’s board of directors for nine years and is a past member of ATD’s global board of directors. She was a Speaker Coach and the Slide Designer for TEDxRaleigh 2016. She is a charter member of the Presentation Guild and Black Women in Business and currently serves as a board advisor for both Black Women in Business and the Business Alliance in Raleigh. She was named a 2016 Emerging Leader by Emerging Women NC for her ability to lead with compassion and integrity.

Wendy Gates Corbett, CPTD, works with leaders at all organizational levels to create cultures where employees are fully seen, heard, and valued. She champions that through her research and professional global speaking, via her consulting work, and as an adjunct professor of leadership at Duke University. She is also a contributing author of ATD’s Handbook for Training and Talent Development and served as a subject matter expert for the Inclusion section of the Talent Development Body of Knowledge. Her book, The Energy of Belonging: 75 Ideas to Spark Workplace Community, published in early 2024.

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