Long before you ever faced a skilled craft shortage we had apprentices, helpers and green employees on our jobsites who didn't know how to perform every task. Back in those "good old days," when I was a job superintendent, I would hear one of my foremen saying, "He doesn't know how to do that." My response was always the same: "Why don't we show him?"
My seasoned foreman would smile sheepishly as he prepared to initiate the after-hours sessions that we all called Twi-Night Training, or TNT. We liked those initials since they also meant explosive or dynamite, which hinted at what we were really accomplishing.
Most of our newer foremen and experienced journeymen were surprised and even resistant to our after-hours training
philosophy. "It takes years to learn this trade," or "This is his first year (or even second or third), and you can't expect him
to know how to do that," would be their response. "We don't expect him to know it; we expect you to teach him," was our
Sharing KnowledgeThis after-hours task training is a very effective solution for today's craft shortage, but that was not why we instituted it. Since I personally had no formal apprenticeship training, I gained all of my skills from our foremen and journeymen by working after-hours with their guidance or assistance. Most of those employees were very willing - and proud - to share their knowledge and skills with anyone who was sincerely interested in learning. Naturally, I would always go out of my way to return those much-appreciated efforts.
Some of this TNT was done on our jobsites, some at our fab shop and a lot in the form of moonlighting for that particular mentor or his friends. In addition to learning extra skills, I enjoyed the friendship and respect that resulted from the experience. You can easily understand why we called it "dynamite." You can also see why I used it in my own company and continue to recommend it to all of my clients during consultation.
But remember, the TNT philosophy is not merely to relieve a craft shortage. It has intrinsic benefits for your employees as well as your company:
- Those of you who have worked with the tools on a jobsite know how proud you feel to produce a good day's work, with quality workmanship. You also know that the more you can produce, the more you will make.
- Any foreman will tell you what a pleasure it is to work over a crew that knows what it's doing.
- Your customers observe and appreciate having true professionals install and maintain their facilities. Well-trained craftsmen create the enviable repeats and referrals that first-class contractors thrive on.
- All of the above is reflected on your bottom-line PROFITS!
ApprenticeshipsI'm sure some of you are wondering why you should consider after-hours training when you already have a registered apprenticeship program in place. I am not insinuating that TNT should replace apprenticeship or any type of training you may currently have. TNT will effectively accelerate and reinforce your efforts to maintain enough qualified skilled craftsmen to beat those critical path job schedules and stay under tight budgets.
The three major drawbacks with traditional apprenticeship programs are:
- You cannot possibly teach or learn every task that a craftsman will need to earn his or her living on a jobsite for
the next 40 years. We are continually encountering new equipment, new tools, new materials and new
methods that naturally require additional ongoing training.
Fortunately, many of the manufacturers and some of the union locals are now conducting after-hours training classes to certify workers in the proper use and installation of these innovative products.
- The standard apprenticeship curriculum is presented in a regimented first-, second-, third-, fourth- and
fifth-year sequence. Consequently far too many talented apprentices must struggle through wasted years as
unskilled craftsmen simply because that much-needed training will not be available until the next year's
curriculum - or the year after that.
Common sense tells you that it would be quite difficult or even impossible for any apprenticeship program to adjust its curriculum to pre-train every student for every single task they will encounter. However, it certainly is possible for a contractor to accomplish this with his own apprentices, or any green or seasoned employee who has never accomplished that specific skill. But it won't just happen - you have to light the fuse if you want dynamite to explode!
- Today's attrition of seasoned skilled craftsmen far outweighs the meager influx of graduate apprentices who we desperately need to fill their shoes. For most of America's plumbing and mechanical contractors, today's skilled craft shortage is already a crisis. We no longer enjoy the luxury of allowing five years to train a replacement with traditional on-the-job training (OJT).
As most of you found out with your own apprenticeship training, that OJT philosophy was to allow a man who is not familiar with a given task to work with a skilled craftsman and learn by doing it. Sadly, all too often the craftsman would read the blueprints, lay out the work and perform all of the critical tasks, while his apprentice dug the ditches, chopped the chases, carried the material, built the scaffold and did whatever "grunt work" that needed to be done.
This was not done on purpose, nor were there any ill intentions.
No one trained the craftsman or foreman in basic leadership and human relations. He did not know how to mentor a protégé. Most apprentices were treated as merely "helpers," rather than "interns" who should be performing and practicing technical craftsman's skills.
The craftsman was assigned and expected to perform eight hours of work without allotting the extra time needed to train or explain each task to his apprentice. He did not take time to relate each daily task to the plans, shop drawings, code book or specifications, nor teach the apprentice how to do a quantity take-off for pipe, fittings or equipment.
Unfortunately, many apprentices failed to receive proper assistance or training due to a personality clash, discrimination or some type of unpleasant confrontation with their mentor or foreman.
Surely you have also witnessed the costly turnover of good, potential craftsmen who dropped out of those programs in sheer frustration. An effective TNT craft training program will not eliminate all of these obstacles, but certainly will minimize these frustrations, along with helping you overcome any skilled craft shortage.
You should coordinate your after-hours TNT with your date-based skills inventory and critical path manpower schedules. This involves comparing exactly what skills you will need for future critical path dates to what you already have in your skills inventory. This should provide ample time to train and certify employees in whatever skills that are lacking.
Keep in mind this TNT training is just as effective and explosive as dynamite, but you have to take initiative and do it. It will not work if you don't light the fuse.