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Zane Balode: Head over heels in love with the airport

Keep on learning no matter your age! It’s great fitness for your brain. As long as you are still learning, you cannot age!

Zane Balode

Short bio

I have been working at Riga Airport for more than 20 years, and I am still head over heels in love with the airport, aeroplanes and the airfield. I have extensive work experience in airfield operations – I have been an air traffic controller, an airport tour manager, as well as a flight control manager and Head of the Apron Movement Coordination Department. For the last 5 years, I have been sharing my experience and knowledge with the Airport employees and our cooperation partners by working as an instructor at Riga International Airport Training Centre.

My EPALE

Riga International Airport Training Centre provides training for the employees of the company, as well as both Latvian and foreign industry professionals. All of the instructors have practical experience in the aviation fields in which we provide training. Furthermore, we have also undergone training in international aviation instructor organisations. We have been following the operations of EPALE since 2018. We have participated in several events, and we attend learning workshops and make use of the resources in order to improve our knowledge and skills, as well as gain ideas and tools for adult training.

My Story

Once upon a time, in the long-ago beginning of 2020, all Riga International Airport Training Centre training activities were held in person. The employees would sit, listen, take note, ask questions, discuss, learn and take tests in paper format – all in a physical classroom. Sometimes a group would have 10 employees, while at other times numbers even reached 40. The instructor had face-to-face contact with everyone – sometimes some people needed to be told to keep the noise down, while others needed extra encouragement or help. The end of the course did not mean the end of work for the instructor – each test had to be marked, the points and percentages had to be tallied, and the tests had to be signed and submitted so that each employee who had passed would be able to obtain their personal pass, airport driving licence or other professional qualification. The days flew by.

Riga Airport

Then came 12 March 2020. Due to the pandemic declared in the country, in-person training was no longer an option. Now what? How are we going to work? Is there really going to be no training at all?

And then the announcement came – we’ll be working remotely by using MS Teams! We had a month to learn everything. The IT department was about to reach breaking point, as everyone needed their help. However, as it turned out, we had colleagues who already had IT skills! They learnt how to use MS Teams and prepared a small manual. They patiently walked around, teaching, explaining things and supporting everyone. Nevertheless, it’s still all Greek to me. I’m scared that I’ll press the wrong button.

Where do I create that invitation? How do I talk... can they hear me at all? They can't! Dammit, now what? Oh, I have to switch on the microphone and turn on the camera right here... And can they see the presentation? Where’s that Share button supposed to be? It’s not here... Oh, found it! Can they actually see? Oh, everyone’s telling me that they can...

The course is done – and so is my voice. Oh, it turns out that I can even whisper – they will hear me anyway... Time for the next course. Everything’s the same, except for the colleague in the background supporting me – helping to connect everything correctly, motioning to me that I can speak quieter... Controlling my voice is my biggest challenge, as I subconsciously want to reach out to each and every learner.

Oh, and what about the tests? After all, there is a mandatory test after each course. A colleague has found Classmarker, where you can prepare electronic tests! All of us work non-stop to transfer dozens of tests to the new environment. This is a great tool! It manages the marking and percentage calculations all on its own and even shows the employee whether they have passed, as well as any mistakes they have made. As for printing, it is smart enough to understand that it isn’t necessary to print the whole test (paper, after all, should be used sparingly!); the tool only prints the first page. I just need to sign the page and submit it to the training coordinator.

A new discovery: MS Teams only works well internally – it does not recognise e-mails from external company employees, sometimes they bounce or are ignored altogether... Now what? As it turns out, there’s this platform called ZOOM – yes, let’s use that! Oh, no – more learning? And the wonderful colleagues come to the rescue again – they’ve already explored and learnt everything, once more standing right beside me and teaching – an invitation?

You have to do this, a presentation? You need do that, place the link to the test in the chat box... now where is that blasted chat? No, I’ve just about had it! I want to work with real people!

For all our denial and stubbornness, we cannot simply erase the pandemic. The situation has forced us to learn, change, adapt, think and create exciting remote learning courses, so that employees are not only able to understand what they have learnt but they are also able to put their knowledge into practice when carrying out their direct responsibilities. A wise man once said, “Keep on learning no matter your age! It’s great fitness for your brain. As long as you are still learning, you cannot age!”

Conclusions
  • The employees’ wellbeing has to be taken into account. This was both a challenge and an opportunity to appreciate colleagues, as well as provide and receive support.
  • Technical equipment (lighting, sound, workplace layout and design) plays a crucial role in the wellbeing of both the instructor and the participants. We carried out research and tests, as well as seized the opportunity to apply state-of-the-art technology solutions in order to improve the quality of training.
  • The situation facilitated intergenerational cooperation. It applies to life at home as well – children taught their parents and grandparents. 100% of our employees underwent rapid “digitalisation” regardless of their age and field, as all of our employees are required to have training regularly.
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