Sound Business Management: Overcoming Training Ego

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Everyone talks about training and what a great thing it is, but do you really do it and has your organization adapted to today’s marketplace? As frustrating as employees may be, you can’t run a contracting organization without them. Yes, there have been lots of changes in the contracting world (the Internet, cell phones, better accounting programs, etc.), but good work is done by good people. Apprenticeship has declined over the years, but many of the mindsets still exist. A “young people have to pay their dues” attitude still exists. While it may be fun to send helpers after left-handed monkey wrenches and seem like a rite of passage to make them perform menial tasks day after day, we need more craftspeople. We can’t run the risk of boring or running off good people just because of unrealistic practices and trade egos.

What do I mean by trade egos? It takes years to learn a craft. If I am a craftsperson and you ask me to train some rookie, my first inclination is to think about the years it took to learn my craft. In my mind, there is no way I can teach someone in a few weeks or months to do what I do. What experienced craftspeople forget is that day in and day out, contracting can be very repetitive. How long does it take a helper to learn how to set a toilet if we are doing a hotel with 200 rooms? Or how long does it take to learn how to roll a wall with paint or nail a shingle? Not very long. Does setting a toilet make you a plumber or nailing a shingle make you a roofer? Of course not, but these trade skills do make helpers much more productive. Let’s be honest: If I can’t show a helper in a few days how to do one of these tasks he or she is never going to be able to learn the trade.

It is important to remember that you pay craftspeople for what they know, not necessarily for what they do every day. You have to make this clear to foremen when you ask them to teach someone a trade. A knowledgeable foreman or craftsperson still does many tasks in a given day that can be easily taught, but that does not mean the foreman is not valuable. A nurse or intern can perform numerous medical procedures, but if something goes wrong, I want an experienced doctor as part of the team.

Start your training process by identifying tasks that are repetitive. For a painter this might be rolling a wall or cutting in a corner using basic brush strokes. For a roofer, it might be nailing shingles or rolling out underlayment. Focus on production items that are the norm, not the exception. This allows you to get the most bang for your buck as you train your new recruit.

Next, schedule some training that focuses on a single task. Consider staying after work for an hour or two and just having the person learn this task by doing it over and over. You would be surprised how practice makes perfect. Or as Vince Lombardi, the famous football coach, said “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Use technology to help you. Use a smartphone to show a video of someone doing the task correctly and fast. Then as the new recruit is learning, show that person what he or she looks like and coach him or her through the process.

Tie pay into skill. Try to tier your pay scale so there are different grades of skill and activity. Have a set of skills a person must learn before he or she will receive a raise. Keep it simple and realistic.

Try reviewing the helper’s progress with the person who is doing the coaching and training. With just a little bit of accountability, you can speed up the process. Try to instill into the trainer the importance of carrying on his or her legacy.

Work within your company to identify people who make good trainers. Sometimes people who are extremely gifted with natural talent do not make good trainers. My dad was a very gifted carpenter, and I am not particularly mechanically inclined whereas my brother was. So you can guess which one of us ended up a carpenter and which the consultant.

When it comes to recruits, try to find people who will work, and teach them the trade. Work ethic is a value your parents, coaches and early life experiences taught you. Trying to teach people work ethic can be very frustrating. Stop trading drunks and drug addicts from company to company.

Also understand that you may have to pay a higher starting wage to attract people with driver’s licenses and a proven work history. Look for people stuck in non-craft jobs where there is a ceiling on their pay.

In closing, I am not saying that finding good people is easy, but you have to start somewhere. If what you are doing now is not working, stop doing it over and over again. Take a more calculated and longterm approach. Just think: If you had started three years ago, things would be better already. APC

About the Author
Monroe Porter is president of PROOF Management Consultants, a company specializing in seminars and business consulting for contractors. He is also founder of PROSULT Networking Groups, developed to help noncompeting contractors. He can be reached at (800) 864-0284 or monroe@proofman.com. For more information, visit his website at www.proofman.com.

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