GSES learning design manager Belinda Lam keeps an eye on graduates so that courses are always relevant.
Tell us about your background and how you ended up at GSES?
I studied renewable energy engineering at the University of NSW. In my final year I applied for a three-month internship at GSES and was offered a full-time position after that. UNSW is one of the few universities in Australia that offer an undergraduate degree in renewables; most of the people at GSES graduated from UNSW.
What made you choose renewables as a career?
I’m the only girl in my family and engineering was never really an option for me; my parents might have expected me to become a doctor or teacher or nurse, something like that. Even when I was choosing my subjects in Year 12, at an all-girls school, engineering was never really talked about. But I was speaking to a friend who was studying a PV degree at the time and he explained the difference between the PV degree and renewables degree. I thought it sounded really interesting.
You are the learning design manager at GSES. What does that involve?
Working in training involves a lot of things: content creation, compliance, management. I’ve become passionate about content creation and the different ways content can be delivered to students. Our solar design and install course is a little different in that it’s a mix of self-paced online learning and three-days face-to-face installation training, whereas some others involve taking a week off work to get it done in five days or so.
What have you learned about the solar industry that has surprised you?
It’s a big industry and a young industry at the same time. Things are constantly changing and improving. When I started a few years ago things were very different to how they are now. A lot of the people I talk to in the industry are really passionate about it, especially some of those who have been around since the very early days. It’s inspiring.
Is it hard to work on training content when the technology is changing so quickly?
That’s one of the struggles, just making sure that our content is being kept up to date with the changing products and that we are creating content that is relevant to our students and not outdated by the time they get out into the field.
What goes into designing new content and creating new courses?
Sometimes there will be updates to the Australian Standards, in which case we have to update all our content. An example of a non-compulsory update would be where we might have an informal conversation with a student or students about how they found a course and get ideas about other things they might be interested in learning.
Can you give an example?
At the moment we’re working on an install for designers course, which is both a need and a want expressed by some students. Some people might be designing systems without knowing much about the practical hands-on side of things; they might not be an electrician, for example. A course in this area might help them understand what an electrician has to deal with day to day, and that should allow them to be better at designing systems.
How do you know if courses are effective?
We get in touch with graduates after a few months and find out if they’re putting what they’ve learned to use in the field. We always ask for feedback from students, whether it be positive or negative. Negative can sometimes be more helpful, because you know what you need to change to be constantly improving your content.
What negative feedback have you had?
It’s usually about the admin side of things or scheduling online and practical components. A lot of people are keen to get in and get the course done. We understand that, but we have found if students complete self-learning first they will learn a lot more. If they rush through just to get their accreditation they may not absorb all the information. That’s where people have issues; they might design a poorer system or skip steps – which is definitely not what we want.
Are students grumpy or nice?
I think they’re lovely. I’ve had lots of interesting and funny conversations with them. Occasionally I sit in on practical sessions and have a good chat with them. They’re usually very down to earth. They love a laugh, which makes for a good time.