As a recruiter within the construction industry, I hear from many concrete executives about the need for better-trained workers. Some employees are brand new to the workforce and lack the professionalism necessary to succeed in client-facing roles, while others are industry veterans who struggle to adapt to the concrete sector. Simply put, throughout the construction industry, there is a significant gap between what is being taught in universities and training programs, and the realities of what is expected on the job. As a former educator, I have a unique perspective on how companies can best address that gap: develop strong in-house training programs to help high-potential, hungry new employees to meet their company’s specific needs. Here’s how to do it.
Find the Right Teachers
It’s a common mistake to assume that a high-level performer within a company will make an excellent trainer. The truth is, not every star employee has the temperament or skill set to train other employees - and that’s okay. Start by identifying the people on your team who are passionate about passing on their knowledge - and try to include employees who are nearing retirement, or even those who have recently retired from field work and still have the ability to mentor and grow the next generation of workers. Then make sure that those people have the time and bandwidth they need to serve effectively as trainers and mentors. Taking on those roles is a significant commitment, so you can’t expect employees to step into them if they are already overloaded with daily project commitments. Increasing field support and lowering day-to-day on-site responsibilities for your prospective trainers are good places to start. This process will likely be difficult up front, but companies that are dedicated to finding and empowering the right teachers will see a significant impact on multiple employees (from the trainers to the trainees) over time.
Create Specific Programs
No matter who you’re training, a clearly defined curriculum is key. Whether it’s military veterans or recent graduates who are new to the construction workforce, or experienced construction workers who are new to the concrete sector, everyone needs guidance - but not everyone needs the same guidance. A “one-size-fits-all” approach to training is not an effective way of preparing each employee to do their best work, so it’s important for companies to have a specified training program for each type of employee. For example, a training program geared toward recent graduates should include not only the technical training necessary to succeed in their roles, but also an introduction to standards of professionalism, such as the etiquette required to meet with clients and investors. After all, you can’t expect them to know these things right off the bat when they’ve never been in a professional setting before. For military veterans, on the other hand, an appropriate curriculum might focus more on transitioning to the civilian workforce and how that differs from a military setting. Understand that different kinds of new employees will have different needs, and your training programs should reflect that.
Provide Hands-On Training
In an attempt to address the industry-wide labor shortage, many companies are wisely partnering with high schools, trade schools, and universities to develop internship and co-op programs for interested students. Unfortunately, too many concrete companies are missing a critical opportunity here by having their interns sit in an office reviewing spreadsheets or bid sheets rather than putting them in the field to receive hands-on training. Not only will field work provide a better learning opportunity for students and help prepare them for the realities of entry-level construction work, but it also makes a much better impression - of both the industry as a whole and the company. Students who finish their internships with a strong impression (positive or negative) of a company will share those thoughts with their peers, so companies should aim to provide opportunities for engaging, hands-on work that will make a positive impact on their interns. Of course, understanding the paperwork and bid processes associated with construction is important and should be included in any comprehensive internship or co-op program, but a well-rounded program should also provide students with plenty of boots-on-the-ground experience.
Keep Educating Employees
It’s not only new employees who need training. In fact, workers who have been in the construction industry for decades might find that they have a lot to learn from the newer generation of workers as well, including technological savvy and fresh perspectives on old problems. Create continuous learning opportunities at every level of your company so that every employee has the opportunity to keep their skill set sharp. In a market as constantly evolving as construction, there is always something new to learn.
When you bring new employees into a construction company with a carefully planned training program, you have the opportunity to do more than simply find a qualified worker. You can build a team of high-potential, eager employees and train them in the ways you want your company to be run - meeting today’s project needs and developing tomorrow’s industry leaders.