Ready for the future of infrastructure

How do you make sure that students of infrastructure technology at a secondary education level (Dutch MBO, senior secondary vocational education and training) take their training and complete it with motivation and pleasure? Right! You make it practice-oriented, visual and flexible.

The new BLEI.academy of the BLEI Foundation (Branchesamenwerking Leermiddelen en Examenproducten Infratechniek, the Sectoral Cooperation Learning Resources and Exam Products Infrastructure Technology) kicked off this week.

We interviewed Wim Cobbenhagen, the manager of the BLEI Foundation, about underground infrastructure, technicians in training, and how a good infrastructure training helps the Netherlands move forward. 

Marleen Swart-Garretsen
Marleen Swart-Garretsen Marketing Communication Specialist

Wim, could you tell us something about yourself and about your role at BLEI? What do you do?

“I would rather tell you more about the academy than about myself, but why not. I worked in underground infrastructure for almost thirty years, and today I’m the manager of the BLEI Foundation. To put it in a nutshell: I see to it, together with a team of course, that students of infrastructure technology are trained well and in a uniform manner, using this uniform training and examination among other things for MBO in the Netherlands.

We make sure that water runs from the tap, that we can switch on the light, that the gas heaters keep on burning, that everybody can make phone calls and use the Internet, and that people using the heat-distribution grid can heat their homes. In short, that we maintain the high level of our advanced networks in the Netherlands, for the level is truly high. Everybody thinks it’s normal that everything is available to us 24 hours a day, but it takes quite an effort.” 

What is your major challenge?

“That we have the proper training material. Some of the boys and girls want to work with their hands; they don’t want to be bored with theory. Some have entered from another career background, people of forty or fifty years old. They do have a technical MBO diploma, but they are not specialised in infrastructure technology yet. They are told: ‘You can work with us, but it involves going back to school.’ We should be able to offer these people a more specific training programme.  

We also have to be ready for the energy transition. Currently, electricity is mostly generated in power stations. With more solar panels and wind turbines, electricity will come from multiple locations. The grid can’t handle that. It’s now going from high capacity to very low, but maybe it has to be just as high. And we don’t know what will be happening to gas. Will we have to do without altogether, or will there be another type of gas? Of course, this will have an effect on the learning tracks.” 

What would you like to achieve with the new training programme?

“We want to achieve a training programme that makes students enthusiastic and proud to work in infrastructure technology, a programme that motivates them to learn.”

How does the new academy contribute to this?

“The new training programme is still a central starting place for all infrastructure students, but it will be a lot more visual. Too much text doesn’t work for these technicians. They need theory that fits in with the level of the programme – more practice. It has to be more easily accessible as well. No big modules, but short bits, learning bites. 

They can choose what they want to do and when. For instance, if they have already worked outside on connecting a newly built home, they do not need to go back to the workshop to learn how to connect a home to the water main.

We also move from a fixed learning schedule to a flexible schedule. The technicians link their learning material to the activities they perform on a normal working day. In this way, we are ready for the future of infrastructure technology.”

What do you like best of the new Academy?

“The work placement book! It’s going to be an app, but now it’s a thick book with items that need to be ticked off. They need it continuously to record and be able to show their skills, but the book is often outside and gets wet. We will soon be using an online work placement checklist. It’s great that it’s going to be used now and that it only takes a few clicks.

The app will help the technicians make their final report. By answering questions, a report is generated.”

Final question: what would make you really happy?

If everything will be completed in time, so before the new school year. Normally, we have about 800 new students per year. Under the present circumstances, we just don’t know. But one thing is certain: we will need a lot of good technicians in the next few years. At least a multiple of this number! 

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