The Secret to Training

Thomas C Schleifer, Ph.D.

Apprentice training programs for the construction trades follow a well-established protocol. For the most part apprentices are trained on the job for three or four years before they are considered journeymen or women. Unions and “merit shop” organizations provide classroom training to supplement OJT and certify workers that have achieved a generally accepted skill level. It is at this point, however, that the real training begins. 

The Secret to Success

Success is defined as making a profit delivering projects on time, on budget, and according to the quality specifications of the owner. Assembling a team of experts who can get this done is the contractor’s primary function. This is accomplished in four progressive steps – 1. Recruiting, 2. Training, 3. Motivating 4. Retaining. A construction company is nothing more than this skilled team of tradesmen and women that provide construction services to public agencies and private owners. The secret to success is to continue training the workforce even after they have completed their initial skills training. 

Training the Willing

Too many contractors harbor the old bias that tradespeople work only for money and must be controlled and disciplined to maintain quality and efficiency. I contend that it is an error to view skilled tradesmen and women as having to do work that they would not choose to do if they had other opportunities. On the contrary, most of the trades people I have worked with over more than fifty years in construction (starting out as an apprentice myself) took pride in their skills and were good at their trades. Skilled tradesmen and women want to do the work they trained for and are skilled at.

Because of this old-fashioned bias, some organizations feel that they have to overcome an unwilling labor force and end up putting obstacles in the way of willing and eager workers. Training of a skilled labor force, therefore, should begin with recognizing this detrimental belief and removing obstacles that turn “want to” back towards “need to”. 

Removing Obstacles

Safety – It goes without saying that construction sites can be dangerous work environments. To maintain a “want to work” environment we need to make every conceivable effort to make our job sites as safe as humanly possible. We also need to devote the time, during normal working hours, to hold regular safety meetings and routinely reward positive safety records. It pays serious dividends to continuously encourage and enforce safety standards and to provide the latest safety equipment to the work force. When they feel safer on the job, productivity goes up. 

Working Conditions – The enlightened construction organization is continually looking for opportunities to make the job site more comfortable for workers; like heated and air-conditioned trailers, spotless portable toilets, organized parking, cell phone signals, food trucks where appropriate, and other job site improvements that increase the comfort of workers in all weather conditions. When you go to the trouble and expense of improving working conditions on your job sites, your skilled workers will not only “want to work” – they will want to work FOR YOU – rather than your competitor.

Tools – Supply your workforce with the latest, highest quality tools available. Don’t think you are saving money by using old tools and equipment that are unsafe, inefficient, and constantly breaking down. By utilizing the best available you not only send a quality signal to your workforce but demonstrate that you care about both their safety and productivity. If you care, they will care. (If you don’t care, they won’t care.) This is success training AND motivation.

Teamwork – Training foreman and field supervision to respect the workforce and build teams is essential to ongoing success training. When they promote working together, helping one another, and carefully coordinating the workspaces for the various trades it changes the entire culture of a job site. Shouting orders, fostering competition, playing favorites, or disrespecting lower-level apprentices and laborers does nothing but create tension on a job site and it erodes productivity. 

Your Team is Your Product

I often refer to ongoing success training of skilled workers as “the care and feeding of the workforce”. Our workers are our product. The ability of their combined skills to get the work done on time, within specifications, and on budget is all we have to sell. Assembling this team of experts is only the first step. Training them is the second step, but “success” training does not mean teaching them to install pipe, finish concrete, pull wire, or lay brick. That training gives them the skills to qualify for employment. Success training is the training that combines individual trade skills into the productive team that is in fact our company. This is the real secret to training.

Next week we talk about motivation.

For a deeper look into teams & training, read more here: TRAINING

For a broader view into labor and labor issues, read more here: LABOR AND LABOR ISSUES

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