Travel Safety eLearning: A Reasonable and Practicable Alternative to In-Person Travel Risk Mitigation
During a recent call with the security director of a large multinational organization, the discussion turned to the current state of business travel, which he expects to recover by mid-2021. On one hand, the company saved hundreds of millions of dollars slated for the 2020 travel budget due to quarantines, lockdowns, and a shift to widespread remote work, resulting in a desire to dawdle towards travel returning to “normal.” Nevertheless, despite the importance of travel to the organization’s profitability, the security director was embarrassed that travel safety training is not provided to all the organization’s business travelers.
The fundamental purpose of travel safety training is to prepare the traveler for the likely risks they might face while on the road. While COVID-19 restrictions stalled travel programs, business travelers post-pandemic are likely to face more risks, increasing the need for education. A travel safety program can be much more than just risk training, capable of reinforcing an employer’s travel risk management (TRM) policies and procedures. It should also provide information and support about planning, assistance, and resources available to employees during all stages of a trip.
In many countries, such training is mandated, with companies’ duty of care stemming from workplace health and safety legislation. These laws require that companies identify and assess risks in the course of work, establish policies about such risks, and provide employees with information or mitigation training.
Beyond legislation and government bodies, companies should also consider other regulatory organizations. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is developing a new standard that will detail the measures an organization should have in place to support travelers, including travel risk training.
Training usually includes the caveated phrase, “in a reasonably practicable way,” which impacts day-to-day travel risks. If a company has thousands of travelers, providing a half-day face-to-face briefing for every employee traveling is not practicable or, for many, necessary. Conversely, an automated email highlighting destination information and some risks—which may or may not be read—falls short of reasonable.
Offering a bridge between these two extremes, especially in the present environment, eLearning provides a powerful tool that is both reasonable and practicable. A short foundational travel safety course, covering the most common risks a traveler may face and how to mitigate them, is relatively easy to deploy; in fact, many organizations already have the infrastructure to host eLearning courses. Additionally, a company can make eLearning courses mandatory as a prerequisite for business travel, while still being flexible for employees as they can access the course at any time or day.
There are many benefits to eLearning over traditional in-person sessions, even outside of dealing with a pandemic. Perhaps most significant is the ability to scale the program, allowing for companies with thousands of travelers to save a considerable amount on time, money, and manhours. Those taking the course can also self-pace, which is often more efficient than relying on an individual instructor.
Another benefit from a virtual program is its ability to conserve personnel time, freeing up a security team and its members to concentrate on providing customized briefings for higher risk travel and additional or specialized training as needed.
For the fundamental aspects of these security courses, many of the basic habits and risk mitigation measures can be taught just as effectively using eLearning, especially with animations that can simultaneously engage and instruct students.
These virtual courses can introduce the learner to the existing safety framework that helps them plan trips, supports personal risks assessments, and provides updates on who to call in case of an emergency or incident while on the road. A quiz can easily be added as a knowledge check and records maintained for compliance and for any future audits. Quizzes can also be structured so that a student is forced to review the entire session until the student passes the test.
When considering which courses to provide employees, ideally it should be customized to reflect the organization’s travel risk management program. Instead of the generic message instructing someone to an emergency services number, the company’s procedures can be reinforced with instructions to “Call the GSOC at +1-XXX-XXX-XXXX.” The courses can also provide employees with a link to a list about which hotels have been vetted in locations where travel is common, or links to other relevant resources. Another example of customization is when an employee’s personal risk assessment flags any queries, the eLearning program can direct him or her to follow up with the security department.
For example, after completing the virtual training, an LGBTQ traveler should understand that on top of researching general travel risks, he or she should also determine whether the travel destination has LGBTQ risks, especially if homosexuality or a similar status is illegal in that location. The travel program should inform employees that if there are additional risks involved for an upcoming trip, he or she can reach out to the appropriate manager, the organization’s D&I network, or the security department for more advice to help them develop and implement mitigation measures or provide alternative, safe options that will still achieve the travel objectives.
A basic course shouldn’t be a one-size fits all package; if most of an organization’s travelers are unlikely to go where kidnapping is common, this topic probably doesn’t need to be included in the course—if and when necessary, it can be covered separately. A fundamental course should, however, feature institutionally identified risks. One hypothetical example is a mining infrastructure company whose employees travel to remote locations across the world—making natural disaster awareness and standards on air travel and ground transportation of high importance to them. Comparatively, a financial or banking corporation sending travelers to metropolitan branch locations may focus more on local criminal statistics or indicators of civil unrest instead of natural disasters.
Once content is decided on, consider the look and feel of the course. Making it appear similar to existing internal communications styles can reinforce the brand of the security department and the organization. A course appearing altogether different from internal branding may confuse employees, turning them off from valuable information for an upcoming trip.
Customizing eLearning can also be easy, allowing for reinforcement of a company’s policies and procedures throughout the courses. Comparatively, during an in-person session, an instructor may be unfamiliar with organizational support and assistance details. With eLearning these can be built into training, and organizations can also provide referenced resources with links for instant additional information.
Virtual training can also be customized by providing the courses in multiple languages or subtitles where applicable—finding travel safety experts in all necessary languages may be incredibly tricky in contrast.
The costs do not have to be huge, especially for an off-the-rack, customizable solution that can be tailored to look like an organization’s bespoke offering. Specialist companies have a library of modules for various requirements, and the content will have been tried and tested by previous clients. Importantly, course providers should be able to provide maintenance at renewal time, so content is updated in response to any changing risks. Creating an eLearning solution from scratch can be incredibly resource-intensive in terms of people, time, and money—especially if you want it to be media rich.
Whilst eLearning provides an excellent means to train a large number of employees on the basics of a travel safety program, it will never eliminate the need for instructor-led training, especially for higher-risk destinations or for specific traveler profile briefings. An instructor with in-depth knowledge of a destination or with a similar profile or background as some employees tasked with traveling can hone a course by talking about personal experiences—customizing the session for an audience, with detailed information about specific locations, the common risks there, and best practices to follow. Instructors are also likely to be able to incorporate cultural and busines etiquette lessons, and, importantly, he or she will have a range of case studies to help bring the course to life. An instructor can also field questions to ease any apprehensions an attendee may have about an upcoming trip.
Time to Reassess
As we continue through this low-travel period, it is an excellent time to appraise your travel risk management program and the travel safety training offered to employees. Before travel starts again in earnest, a short, engaging eLearning course can remind business travelers how to plan wisely using the systems, tools, and processes that already exist to support them. It can also provide a timely reminder after a year at home of the probable day-to-day travel risks, such as increased petty crime and bribery, and how to mitigate them.
On the phone with the security director, he opined that when the pandemic comes under control and the C-suite pushes for its sales staff to hit the road again, they will back the measures and budgets to make this possible. He added that such training would extend past COVID safety and that the business case and budget request for travel risk training would finally be heard and approved.
Saul Shanagher is the director of beTravelwise. He developed a passion for travel safety training after working at International SOS and Control Risks, first as a regional training manager and then as their global head of travel security training. Helping business travelers stay safe perfectly combines a professional career in equal parts comprising international travel, training, and security. He developed a deep understanding of risk management and training to mitigate risk during an extensive security and military career. Leading youth volunteers on jungle expeditions taught him to make risk-related training more accessible and engaging.