Burke Shire Council's innovative staff training in a four-month COVID lockdown has been celebrated by the state's local government sector at a gala award ceremony on the Gold Coast on Tuesday.
When the shire was locked down for three months after March, Council turned to virtual reality as a way to ensure training operations were not impacted.
Council partnered with VR training specialist Next World Enterprises on the ambitious project which has now won the 2020 Butch Lenton Bush Council Innovation Award at the 124th Local Government Association of Queensland Annual Conference.
The award is named after former Winton Shire Council Mayor Graeme "Butch" Lenton, so it was fitting current Winton Mayor Greg Baskett accepted it on behalf of Burke Shire Council Mayor Ernie Camp.
In a virtual acceptance speech, Burke Shire Council CEO Clare Keenan said that "extraordinary times called for extraordinary solutions" to the everyday training requirements of staff.
"COVID-19 hit us hard here in Burke Shire,our borders were completely closed, and flights were suspended for four months, which triggered unprecedented challenges," Ms Keenan said.
"We needed ongoing staff training, in particular, to ensure our workers were safe on the job, so we put our hand up to participate in a pilot virtual reality work, health and safety training solution with Brisbane start-up Next World Enterprises."
The success of the project furthers Council's reputation as being an early adopter of technology after it led an initiative to bring high-speed broadband internet "with performance better than Sydney" to the region.
The Next World Enterprises solution provides VR training that accurately reflects the reality of workplace situations, and Ms Keenan praised staff for embracing the technology with an open mind and willingness to learn.
Next World CEO and founder Michael O'Reilly said they were proud to have a hand in Council's award win and the implementation of Next World VR was critical for organisations wanting effective and affordable employee training.
"This award pays tribute to Burke Shire's ahead-of-the-game thinking and early adoption of our new-age training - we couldn't be prouder of our partnership," Mr O'Reilly said.
"For decades, councils and businesses like Burke Shire have relied on the likes of eLearning and onsite training which requires extensive travel, time, and funds to keep employees safe and educated.
"This partnership is a perfect example of how Next World allows workers to learn from anywhere, whether it be in their homes or way out on in the middle of Queensland - it really is the future."
Mayor Ernie Camp said Council would consult with the community on how to best use the $10,000 prizemoney that accompanied the award, but suggested part could be spent on offering free VR training to residents and Council had also identified a potential benefit VR training could deliver to the Gulf's primary production sector.
"It is an exciting, innovative opportunity for our staff, driven by our staff," Cr Camp said.
"Our remote location, combined with the high cost of airfares in remote and regional areas of Queensland, makes access to face-to-face training challenging. "Burke Shire is desirous to expand this way of learning beyond our workforce - to our communities, our region and across our state.
"By enabling simultaneous, interactive engagement with a wide audience, we increase the value to, and depth of knowledge of, the training program and participants."
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