The Value of Online Training
Written by Andrew R. Reitnauer MSFE, CSCSA   

IN THE CURRENT FORENSIC SCIENCE FIELD, there has been an increase in the number of entry-level practitioners and students, in part, due to the CSI Effect and the proliferation of collegiate forensic science programs. Likewise, current practitioners have an obligation to progressively increase their knowledge, skills, and abilities through continuing education.

Over the past decade, we have seen some landmark publications, such as the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Report and the 2016 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which have called for, among other recommendations, a need for research, training, and certification within the forensic science disciplines. As a part of this growing trend, students and practitioners alike have an evolving requirement to build their qualifications as competent forensic scientists.

Forensic Science Students

Often, upon graduation from their institution, students enrolled in a forensic science program face a dilemma. They have just completed the requirements of their university in order to obtain the degree that is now the educational requirement by the forensic-laboratory system. However, finding employment within that field may be tricky: In a 2016 study, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicted the addition of 2,600 new forensic science positions over the next ten years, through 2026 (Figure 1). While that amounts to a 17-percent increase, much faster than the growth rate for all other occupations, DataUSA reported that in a single year (2016), 3,243 degrees were awarded within forensic science and technology.

Figure 1. The number of positions for forensic science technicians was expected to grow 17% from 2016 to 2026—an increase of about 2,600 new jobs. Figure courtesy U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections Program.

One method for graduates to make themselves desirable candidates to prospective employers is through participation in various training opportunities, thus increasing their knowledge and qualifications prior to the start of employment.

One way to achieve this status is through the involvement of forensic organizations. Members are given access to peer-reviewed journals, networking opportunities, conferences, and other training sessions. Current trends, novel examination methods, and quality research topics are offered through this outlet. As these new methodologies are publicized and reviewed by members of the forensic science community, all exposed to the method are granted access to new information that can be used within the laboratory system. Through awareness and involvement, students can be assured of their exposure to current trends as they move forward.

Current Practitioners

Those employed within the forensic science field are tasked with maintaining current knowledge and abilities of the latest methods and advancements within their discipline. Often, laboratories are responsible for ensuring a certain level of continuing education annually for all members of the laboratory system. In addition, those preparing for a discipline-specific certification examination, or renewing their current certification, must also document a certain number of continuing education credits, as determined by the certifying body.

As the professional-development requirements evolve, and casework demands continue to increase, laboratories will be tasked with identifying additional resources to continue the development of their practitioners. In order to meet the needs of the laboratory mission and their customers, practitioners will have to fulfil their continuing education needs while maintaining casework efficiency—resulting in strained operations within laboratory sections.

In addition, disciplines will also have new examiners who must be trained to casework competency levels, requiring extensive training—both in-house and outside training—in order to meet the demands of the laboratory, the accrediting body, and the forensic discipline in which they practice.

In order to meet the needs of the trainee, and maintaining casework output, laboratories may also benefit from the use of distance-training programs to help develop the skills and abilities of their examiners, according to the best-practice model employed by the outside trainer. Through the utilization of this training model, the laboratory could also save valuable time and resources, allowing for the continued effective and efficient examination of cases with the current staff of analysts.

Online Training

Another outlet for current and aspiring forensic scientists is through participation in online training. While some sessions may not be recognized as “formal training” by the various forensic science organizations and certification programs, the knowledge and skills that may be gained through this type of participation is invaluable.

In today’s laboratory system, we have been exposed to a growing requirement for ongoing education and training, while simultaneously witnessing a decline in training budgets. As travel expenses are growing for participants enrolled in offsite classes, some larger agencies may be able to hold onsite training for their employees within the confines of the agency for a reduced rate. However, other agencies may not have the ability to hold training classes in their facility, nor have the funds available to properly fund travel for the training needs of their staff. One potential solution to this issue is the recognition and support of online training opportunities as a form of continuing education.

The online training platform could be delivered in two different formats. The first is through a live webinar or presentation format, where the participants can actively interact with the instructor. The second is through the delivery of pre-recorded sessions and exercises, viewed or completed on-demand, according to the schedule of the practitioner or student. Through this training format, the participant may be allowed to participate in a training session, gain valuable knowledge and increased ability, while being able to maintain current workloads. This type of training also creates reduced demand on training budgets for the laboratory, and is offered at an affordable rate for the forensic science students, as travel needs have been eliminated and tuition rates may be lower.

Online or distance-training providers should also contact various outlets and organizations within the forensic science community in order to establish programs that are recognized as continuing education for practitioners. By establishing the validity and reputation of these types of training opportunities, laboratories and institutions may be able to increase support of the developmental possibilities for the members of the forensic science field. In a similar comparison to an online degree program offered by a university, the scope of the value gained through the training program should not be curtailed by the limitations of a classroom setting.

By encouraging and accepting this type of training program, the forensic science laboratory could save budgetary resources, maintain casework efficiency, and allow for the proper training of new scientists by allowing them to complete training in the confines of their laboratory, and allowing the senior staff to remain focused upon their casework-examination duties. This type of development training also develops students’ qualifications so that they may assist a prospective employer through the application of their acquired knowledge to the mission of the laboratory, and thereby increases the efficiency and effectiveness of laboratory personnel.

About the Author

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it with Delta Forensics, LLC is a practicing forensic scientist with 12 years of experience as a latent print examiner and senior crime scene responder. As a technical leader and primary trainer within his laboratories, Reitnauer is responsible for procedure development, and development of the evidence processing program. He is an ASCLD/LAB-approved internal auditor for laboratory standards. To date, he has examined evidence in over 15,000 cases, 100 crime scenes and has been qualified as an expert witness in courtroom proceedings approximately 80 times.


This article appared in the Fall 2018 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.
Click here to read the full issue.


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