Too soon old, but too late smart.” There is a lot of truth to that age-old saying, as most of us are finding out as the years go by. But we are also finding out that those folks who are too old to learn, always were!

I can remember those good old days when most of our craftsmen served a full four-year apprenticeship. The majority of those journeymen assumed they had learned everything that they would ever need for the rest of their careers. Before half of that career was over, they were installing newly designed mechanical systems with computerized controls, many new types of pipes and fittings and modernized tools and equipment. Once proud and knowledgeable craftsmen were slowly but surely realizing their “cup runneth under.”

Train For Change

Even if our industry would never have changed, common sense should have told them that a four-year apprenticeship could not possibly contain all of the education or training they would ever require to work proudly and productively for the next 40 years. Unfortunately, common sense is not too common!

All of that would be bad enough but the journeymen who advance to foremen, general foremen and superintendent positions are soon encountering critical people problems and white-collar challenges never mentioned in their apprenticeship:

  • How to motivate, measure, control and discipline employees who used to be their peers.

  • After-hour training to upgrade tradesmen.

  • Merit raises and promotions.

  • Effective bottom-line grievance procedures.

  • Establishing cost effective crew sizes.

  • Profit-oriented customer relations.

  • White-collar legalities and responsibilities — OSHA, EEOC, NLRB, INS, etc.

  • Controlling job costs, efficiency and waste.

  • Personal planning and commitments to “Make a Good Life, Not Just a Living!”

This list is only a sampling of what contractors traditionally expect these foremen to know and do, without even an awareness, let alone proper training. They face hundreds of costly decisions every day that could easily make that job a profitable winner or an unfortunate loser. We’ve all seen many examples of both!

Although those net dollar profits have always been of prime importance to every contractor, there are very few who consistently provide common sense management training for their white-collar supervisors. In fact, there are actually very few who provide any management training. What is wrong with this picture?

Common Sense

Contractors are able to monitor net profit bottom-line results, but unfortunately they can’t always determine exactly who or what caused them. What is even more complicated to determine is the loss of qualified and productive journeymen attributable to this lack of proper people management skills in their supervisors. Skilled journeymen are very proud individuals who need to be treated with proper respect to maintain that ever-so-critical “pride of a craftsman.” Here again contractors expect that from their supervisors without ample training or even an elementary awareness.

Without going real deeply into human relations, you need to look at one predominant mistake that has haunted our industry as long as I’ve been in it. We have untrained supervisors who will openly criticize or discipline their subordinates in front of their peers and/or outsiders. They are not bad people nor do they have any ill intentions. But sadly, no one ever taught them to “praise publicly,” and “discipline privately.” If you or your supervisor do not respect an employee, no one else will.

Most of you were totally aware of everything written here before you read this article, but maybe you accept it as a “sad but true” dilemma of our industry. Just remember, “Training is not expensive, it is the lack of training that costs so much!”

Since my dad was a contractor, all of my working years involved a very conscious dedication to making a profit. We monitored our costs and had no doubts about the value of training. We never expected our employees to know how to do their jobs — we trained them.

Monitoring Pride & Respect

This has always been important, but today’s critical skilled craft shortage makes it crucial. You can go on any jobsite and monitor any trade’s productivity and quality if you have any doubts. My recommendation is to measure and evaluate your own employees — those are your dollars! On site task training should be a standard procedure if you are using any source of temporary day labor manpower. I hope you have already trained your supervisors how to effectively use those day labor employees. Think dollars!

You can also use my list of white-collar responsibilities to help you analyze what any lack of management training cost you in 1999. We provided a rating score box with each item showing “P” for Poor, “G” for Good and “E” for Excellent. You can do a separate sheet for each of your managers, including yourself. Then estimate what that single item cost or produced in company dollars during 1999. I have no doubts that you will agree that training is not expensive.

Jan. 1 is the beginning of a new year as well as a new century. You cannot do anything about a lack of training in the 20th century, but your millennium profit lies in the abilities of your employees. Show them what you want and how to do it. That doesn’t cost money — it’s what makes money!

Next month we will look at cost-effective training methods adaptable to all of your needs.