How CIET Turned its Business Model Upside Down in Just 11 Days – A COVID-19 Case Study


Mathieu Côte  Executive Director, CIET


I have decided to write this article hoping that it will (1) be a good read in these trying times and (2) hopefully spur others to generate ideas on how to transform and adapt their business models to the current unprecedented situation.


While the impact on the Canadian Institute for Energy Training (CIET) activities has been profound, our thoughts go out to the many businesses and employees across Canada who have lost their jobs due to the crisis. We feel fortunate to at least have the opportunity to be working hard to find solutions and make alternative plans – an opportunity that people in many sectors currently just do not have.


Mathieu Côte

Executive Director



“Clouds Gathered before the Storm” – Participants Started Asking About COVID-19

When we first felt the direct impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic (because then it was not yet declared as a pandemic) on Monday, March 9, 2020, we had no idea how much it would impact CIET or people’s personal and professional lives around the world just a few days later.


On Wednesday, March 11, I was on a business trip meeting some partners and clients. Quite a part of our meeting ended up being devoted to discussions about COVID-19, including about the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) had officially declared it as a pandemic that day. Again, the breadth of the disruption to come was still unknown and seemed distant.


CIET Energy Efficiency Training Workshop


On Thursday, March 12, the Quebec provincial government announced banning gatherings of 250 people or more. Although fortunately we have never allowed that many participants to attend any of our training sessions to ensure their high quality, this ban could serve as a good indicator of what was to come. However, on that day, we still thought that it would be reasonable and fine to go ahead and deliver our numerous in-person training sessions originally planned for the spring semester across Canada. Our busiest period of the year had just started with a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) course being delivered in Toronto that week.

“Lightning Struck for the First Time” – A First Course Was Cancelled

On the afternoon of Friday, March 13, we learned that a course originally scheduled to start on Tuesday, March 17 had to be cancelled because some newly issued federal directives applied to our client, who thus had no choice but to cancel it. It was a 3-day private course that should have been delivered on site in Ottawa. Right after this incident, CIET and our trainer, Stephen Dixon, decided that it would be at least worth scrambling to offer a Certified RETScreen® Expert (CRE) training session to fill each of these freed-up dates experimenting with a full-day virtual real-time classroom for the first time. And we did just that. We took several measures to ensure that the virtual training experience was to be at least on par with what our participants, partners, clients and we ourselves would expect from CIET. On the first day, we first found ways to ease participants into using the GoToMeeting system (we later chose GoToTraining to carry all our future virtual courses). Then, we had two instructors deliver the training and help participants with the exercises; in the meantime, they were both available on their cell phones answering questions during the exercises and assignments. We set aside some time towards the end of each training day for Q&A to accommodate those participants who felt uneasy about “digitally interrupting” the trainer during the course.


Asking for Feedback for the New Virtual Delivery


To ensure that we were on the right track with our virtual training plan, we sent out a survey after the very first day of virtual training to find out what should be modified and improved and then made some adjustments based on the feedback received. We were pleased to learn that the use of GoToMeeting, opportunities allowed to interact with the trainers, and the sound and visual quality received positive reviews from the participants, as highlighted in the following survey results summary charts.



CIET virtual course

CIET virtual course


Actually, we felt quite encouraged by not only these results but also the participants’ positive comments received at the end of the 3-day training, as shown below.


“I would prefer classroom experience and interaction; however, under the current circumstances, this has worked great. Thank you.”


“Not much to add. Worked out very well given the short notice for the online course. Great job!”


 “Excellent course. Great effort and outcome for the delivery team to pull this off given the current COVID-19 crisis and the short timeline for decision/actions. Congratulations!”


“Well done. Delivery went smoother than expected given the circumstances. Experienced some minor connection issues, but able to fully follow along.”

“Should Lightning Strike Again” – Creating a New Line of Business (We Have Deferred All Our In-person Spring Courses)

This first experiment with virtual training showed that our approach was effective and appropriate. So, we decided to offer more virtual delivery. By March 16, we managed to inform all the registered participants that all the in-person courses originally planned for the dates before April 10 were deferred.


By March 19, our entire team was working from home on modifying all the necessary aspects so as to be able to release a modified spring training calendar to be implemented using virtual real-time classrooms. This work included:


  • Talking to all our trainers to explain how we had delivered the CRE virtually and to confirm whether they would be up for the challenge (All of them were!).
  • Reassigning the training sessions and the delivery dates to our trainers for virtual delivery, thus allowing CIET to alternate the trainers from one day to the next to make things more dynamic.
  • Quickly contacting the participants registered for our next upcoming course, a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) training session scheduled to start on March 30 in Calgary to inform them about our new virtual training approach and to confirm whether they would still attend. Of all the registered participants, 80% confirmed their attendance, 13% rescheduled it to another virtual CEM session in April and only 1 person cancelled it (due to the unfortunate job loss).
  • Ordering higher-quality microphones and webcams for the trainers who needed them.
  • Confirming that partners, such as IESO in Ontario and Energy Efficiency Alberta were maintaining their training incentives for courses delivered to participants in their respective regions, even for those courses delivered virtually.
  • Finding ways to conduct exams through remote proctoring.
  • Modifying our website content to introduce the virtual courses included in our calendar and our modified policies.
  • Testing multiple virtual training systems, selecting one most appropriate for our needs (GoToTraining) and securing corporate licences.
  • Developing interactive content (questions, polls, etc.) to make the virtual courses lively and appealing.
  • Preparing marketing materials to announce our new virtual training calendar to individual learners and partners and respond to their questions.

“The Clouds are Clearing Off” – Launching the New Training Options

On Tuesday, March 24, CIET reached a major milestone by announcing on our website, through social media, and via e-blast that we were to launch more than a dozen virtual real-time classroom courses for this spring. Visits to our website spiked almost instantaneously!

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So, for the last few days, we have been ironing out all the details of our virtual training plan, contacting current and prospective participants to explain CIET’s virtual training approach and handling all logistical details for the upcoming courses. Although these are difficult times, virtual training could bring some silver linings to you, our participants, because you would be able to:

  • Participate in training from the comfort of your home;
  • Register for a course to be hosted in another province without having to travel there;
  • Have more access to trainers, who will be available for Q&A towards the end of each training day;
  • Plan to take your exam when it is convenient for you and have more time to study (for the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) certification programs)!


“The Sky Is Blue!” – The First Virtual CEM Session Went off to a Great Start

A Certified Energy Manager (CEM) session had originally been scheduled to take place on site and in person in Calgary from March 30 through April 3. To transform it into our first virtually delivered CEM session, CIET and our trainers had to put much effort into its planning and “virtual makeover” (so to speak) because it was a 5-day densely packed session with much content to be covered. So, we started the course on Monday March 30th with great anticipation; and it went very well. As it turned out, our worries about potential IT problems and glitches linked to virtual training were uncalled-for, as shown in the following delivery-quality survey results summary.


ciet virtual cem survey

Galvanized by this positive feedback, we at CIET are now forging ahead at full throttle to organize and promote the virtual delivery of the remainder of our training calendar!


Finally, I would like to thank our wonderful and capable CIET team members and trainers for their commitment and effort over the past few days in turning a “virtual-classroom-based training calendar” from a vision into solid reality. Thank you, our valued partners and clients, for your continued support and trust for our new virtual delivery model.


I hope that you and your loved ones stay safe and sound. We look forward to seeing you soon, whether in our virtual classrooms or in person when things get back to normal – because they will!


#everythingwillbealright ?


Mathieu Côte

Executive Director

Canadian Institute for Energy Training (CIET)

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