The Information Kaleidoscope

So I know what you’re thinking; why is she writing about a kaleidoscope and how is this relevant to anything in the excavation industry?

 

Well, for me, it draws a good parallel. A kaleidoscope symbolizes anything that changes constantly.
The information we are serving our customers is constantly changing. What is important for awareness and education one day can be different the next. For example, there was once a time where failure to notify regarding an intended excavation was the number one cause for damages. Now, national and state statistics show us that it is unsafe digging practices that threaten the safety of our underground facilities, and communities. Therefore, we must shift our outreach and education strategies. Information is not the only thing that is changing, though, and probably not even the most important. With advancements in technology, changes in society, and the workforce, the way we need to present information is also constantly changing.
 
This is why we at Dig Safely New York feel it is important to build new learning environments for the excavation industry.  As an organization, we’ve been working towards this goal for years. We are always looking for new ways to connect our audiences with the information necessary to reduce damages and increase safety.
 
To begin, we always go back to understanding the difference between education and awareness. What is education? When you read the word, you might visualize a classroom full of students, or a school bus, or even a campus. While those visualizations are relevant, they do not embody the essence of education.
 
Education is a process of imparting fundamental knowledge and the tools to use those fundamentals, to grow and expand beyond the base concept. At Dig Safely New York, I like to tell our educators (field representatives), that their goal is to teach not tell. There is a big difference.
 
Awareness on the other hand is often achieved through education, training, or life experience. The goal of awareness is to change culture sensitivity to a given topic or issue. Essentially, awareness connects people to the consequences of their actions, creating a shift in thinking that inspires behavior change. Individuals achieve understanding in their own context, and then are guided, shaped, and supported with materials and education tailored to them.
 
Why are these definitions important?
 
It’s because at Dig Safely New York, we believe that many organizations are trying to generate awareness through short, interesting, effective and on-going messaging, without facilitating the proper education that should come first. What people may think is an awareness campaign, is actually brand awareness.
 
There is an inherit difference between brand awareness and awareness. I guarantee nearly every person that reads this can name all six of the companies displayed, simply by their logo because they have generated excellent brand awareness and recognition. But do you know what these companies’ missions are? Business goals? Company values? Culture?  What are these companies doing to drive their mission?
 
At Dig Safely New York, we know that the majority of people in our service areas can recognize our logo, as well as the national 811 logo. They might even be able to recite the phrase, “call before you dig,” or “know what’s below.” But then what? To us, that does not help someone get through the complex process of the one-call system.
 
The first step in creating a shift in thinking that inspires behavior change (awareness) is education. We also assess how can we best educate the diverse workforce we call the excavation community, as well as the general public (also known in our industry as the homeowner). This is a massive target audience that requires different approaches.
 
 
I believe this starts with the excavation community. If we can educate the excavation community and engrain them into our safety culture, they will become the educators for all our other target markets.
 
Through research, trial and error, and constant self-assessment, we have found there are three types of learning, or learning methods, that work best for everyone. 
 
Since there is no way to identify which type of learning works best for each individual we as an organization see on a daily basis, we have found that the combination of all three styles will enhance comprehension.
 
We did just that in 2015 (end of May), when we launched a program that took over a year to build—the Dig Safely New York Certified Excavator Program in Safe Digging Best Practices. As a small nonprofit, with limited resources, this ground-up build of an in-depth educational curriculum was something that the organization saw as necessary given all our data analysis, state information like budget allocation, independently published reports on the construction industry in New York, increasing call and location request volume, and more. For context, over the last two years, more than half a trillion dollars has been allocated from New York State Executive Budgets for infrastructure investments.
 
After the launch of the Dig Safely New York Certified Excavator Program (CEP) in Safe Digging Best Practices, we began investing in technology, developing our online educational platform.
 
We did this for three reasons.
 
1. To further the reach of the program. Again, we are a small nonprofit and have a large service area to cover. We cannot be everywhere all at once, and once we saw the demand for this in-depth education growing, we knew we needed to develop an online tool to facilitate it.
 
2. Today’s society revolves around technology. And even though we have identified that there is a gap between our target audiences and the utilization of technology, if we do not bring technology to them and teach them how to use it, who will? Although many individuals are obviously skilled at immersing technology tools into their lives outside the “classroom,” they still fall far short in understanding technology’s value in learning. We consider this like training an excavator on a new piece of equipment that has integrated technology. Once we teach them how to use our online tools, the fear of the unknown is reduced, and they are more comfortable with self-serve education.
 
3. Technology integrated into our educational curriculums gives us the opportunity to assess ourselves and the education we offer.  It is not always the student that is unteachable. We need to assess ourselves and our curriculum to ensure we are offering the best possible resources to further comprehension.
 
Every student whether taking our CEP class in-person or online, takes their final exam using our learning management software. We have a question pool of about 120 questions, in which 20 are randomly served to the student based on topic. Using the software, we are able to pull reports on the questions and it will tell us how many times the question was answered, how it was answered, and assesses the level of difficulty of the question based on that information. Additionally, the system assesses the questions based on the students who scored very well and those that did not, to give us an idea if people are guessing to answer the questions, or if they are answering because they have achieved comprehension. This technology allows us to look back at the resources being taught relevant to any specific question to ensure we are doing everything we can to properly educate the end-user on the topic.
 
The Dig Safely New York Certified Excavator Program in Safe Digging Best Practices has been sculpted and tweaked since 2015 to flexibly deliver quality, in-depth training. The interactive combines the various learning styles, including audio, visual, and hands-on, to offer exercises that allow participants to apply their knowledge into situations and obstacles that are often encountered in the field—a type of experiential learning.
 
Until a couple months ago, this was a voluntary program that we launched. Due to this, we had to come up with a strategy for one of the most important questions -- how do you get excavators that for the most part have no industry-regulated training standards but are inundated with training requirements from their organizations to take a lengthy program
at freewill?
 
My answer is marketing. Not only do participants establish or refresh their in-depth knowledge on the law and best practices of safe digging to prevent damages to underground facilities, but also to brand themselves or their companies.

 
We built web pages around the program, targeted advertising for web and social media, and continued to promote the Certified Excavator Program as a sort of elite educational class and standard. Remember, we are working to cultivate a safety culture, one in which those that go through our program become safety ambassadors for Dig Safely New York, then spreading the safety messages and lifestyles to homeowners and other stakeholders in the field.
 
We try to give our excavators the tools and resources they need to win bids, customers, and give them a sense of pride. Our advertising targets emotion and what is important to them. It is a branding tool for resumes and serves as bragging rights in the industry. We are trying to set a new standard using this class, and classes we have on the horizon, to have our excavation community ingrained into the safety culture. Using the tools and resources from us after becoming certified, they can now set themselves apart from other contractors trying to win customers, and share information about how they care about the safety of their customers, their community, their employees, and more.
 
So, what kind of success have we seen?
 
In the first months of its launch, we had 309 excavators become certified from June through November 2015. From there, we saw it becoming a little more popular. In 2016, 943 people took the program through 55 classes. In 2017, another 1,130 people became certified.
 
Through each passing year, the value of the certified program began resonating with our member utilities, excavation companies, trade schools, and even some safety-conscious individuals.
In 2018, 1,639 people became certified. The end of 2018 was also unique, though. As we continued to grow, promote and show the strength of the program, more and more entities took notice. As a result, on November 5, 2018, the governor of NYS signed an amendment to our business law that governs excavation, which requires specific groups of excavators to receive approved training through their local one-call center. The training deemed appropriate for Dig Safely New York was this Certified Excavator Program. The bill that was signed gives excavators that need to comply until May 4, 2019, to receive the training.
 
As a result of this, in January 2019, 1,392 excavators were trained through the Certified Excavator Program courses (online and in-person). In February 2019, another 1,816 certified excavators successfully completed the program.
 
Due to the high demand and limited educators on staff, we turned our 2019 Annual Excavator Safety Seminars into a hybrid Certified Excavator Program experience. The curriculum was offered during the seminars, and those that wanted to complete the certification would have to sign up and take the exam on their own following that day’s attendance. 
 
This resulted in 4,936 attendees at our nine (9) seminars within three weeks of March, of which more than 3,600 signed up to complete the certification. As of March 31, 2019, we have more than 8,600 certified excavators in our service area.
 
While it’s been a challenging and continuously evolving process, Dig Safely New York established this Certified Excavator Program in an effort to increase comprehensive and situational-based educational opportunities for excavators in the industry. Through data analysis over a five-year period, Dig Safely New York can show that increasing education, increases location requests, and decreases damages. In August 2018, Dig Safely New York uncovered that total damages, from member utilities that report damages to Dig Safely New York, was 46% less than in 2017, year-to-date.
 
The way we’ve approached the Certified Excavator Program has expanded our thoughts into what is possible to bring to the excavation industry. From technology to new curriculum that will increase safety in the field, we have as an organization been going down the path of, “what else can we do to further comprehension, reach, and safety.” Three  years in the making, and we are just beginning to build a safety culture in our communities.
 
And now, we are embarking on a new endeavor—The Dig Safely New York Center for Damage Prevention—our new headquarters and training center located at 6706 Collamer Road, East Syracuse, NY 13057.
 
The Dig Safely New York Center for Damage Prevention is a new facility on a four-acre property. This facility consists of a state-of-the-art one-call and training center to accommodate for the current and future growth of the organization, meet current and future industry needs, and further the reach and depth of education provided to industry professionals. The training center will provide year-round access to classes, certifications, demonstrations, as well as be used as an indoor test bed for the research and development of damage prevention and damage detection technologies, underground facility locating technologies, smart infrastructure technologies, excavation technologies, and more.
 

The new building is more than 21,000 square feet, with more than 5,000 of that being the indoor training area. Although Dig Safely New York already trains between 13,000 and 16,000 excavators a year on safe digging best practices through its various educational opportunities, the new facility will allow us to expand on educational offerings, furthering our mission to prevent underground utility damages and keep communities safe through vital education and preparedness.
 
That is what makes this new building amazing. Training on safe digging best practices, heavy equipment operation, hand digging alternatives, emergency response procedures, underground utility line locating, and more, are essential to those in and going into the construction industry. The issue in New York State, though, is a common one in the Northeast. With the construction season being in the spring through fall, companies cannot afford to send their employees to training instead of to job sites. For this reason, Dig Safely New York has taken its commitment to education and has invested in this new facility.
 
We do not pretend to have all the answers, and we are constantly looking at ways to improve our processes and offerings. We are simply opening our minds and looking at different ways to approach essential education. We are leveraging technology for self-assessment, educational assessment, and data analysis to become more proactive. We are using the “what’s in it for me” and emotional marketing approaches to create a safety culture in our service areas and drive awareness for the overall goal of reducing damages and getting everyone home safely each day and night. We are embracing our name—because there’s a reason they call it Dig Safely New York.
 
Sincerely,
Aimee Milks—Marketing & Public Relations Manager
Dig Safely New York Inc.
 
Download a pdf version of this letter from our 2018 Annual Report. Click Here