Part two of our solutions to management ideas.

America does not have a skilled craft shortage! Our contractors simply cannot find enough craftsmen and are relying on dinosaur training methods to produce them. We will show you some of the reasons why our innovative training ideas Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 didn't work.

Database Skills Inventory Problems

Idea No. 3: Use a database skills inventory for in-company training and dispatching certified skilled manpower to every jobsite.

This is comparable to maintaining the inventory in your warehouse on standard inventory software. You know what skills you have in stock and predict your needs for each jobsite from the schedule, allowing you ample lead time to train and precertify skilled craftsmen for every task.

Why would something this easy not work?

Problem A. No one was assigned to do it.

Solution. You need your project manager, general superintendent or whomever is responsible for supplying skilled craftsmen to make this a priority with exactly the same procedures your purchasing agent follows to supply materials and equipment.

Problem B. Some of the older craftsmen were embarrassed and resisted revealing their lack of specific skills.

Solution. You need to explain that you are interested in helping them to be knowledgeable and capable of performing specific tasks and using specific tools that were not even available when they learned the trade. Most contractors call this “craft upgrading.”

Problem C. The company did not have any ongoing skilled task training.

Solution. You need to initiate a continuing schedule for in-company classes. Some companies do weekly sessions, some biweekly and some hold one session a month. Additional classes are held as specific needs require

These classes are held in the fab shop or on jobsites, and are generally taught by their own craftsmen, Gold retired mentors or their vendors.

Mentoring Problems

Idea No. 4: Recruit and use retired, semi-retired and light-duty Gold mentors.In addition to teaching hands-on skills, these proud, experienced mentors also provide career counseling, emphasizing the critical importance of pride, productivity and profit.

How could anything this great not work?

Problem A. We are so busy struggling to get our jobs done we don't have time to go out looking for retired craftsmen.

Solution. A simple note with each employee's paycheck will bring you more than you need. You can ask the personnel you deal with at your supply houses, do-it-yourself retail stores and other trades on your jobsites. They know these Gold mentors, but did not know you were recruiting.

Problem B. We talked with several retired craftsmen who were interested but did not want to commit that much time away from golf, fishing, hunting and traveling with their families.

Solution. Recruit them and allow them to make their own availability schedules. Emphasize the use of cell phones to facilitate effective mentoring from the golf cart or fishing boat.

Problem C. We tried to negotiate a fair wage and compensation package for those mentors, but every one of them wants a different deal.

Solution. Surely you realize that every one of these retired craftsmen has a unique financial situation:

    1. Many have no pension benefits and are surviving on Social Security checks.
    2. Some have a nest egg and live graciously.
    3. Some are independently wealthy and are proud of this opportunity to “give something back” to our industry.
You need to use decision-making ground rules for negotiating a fair compensation package tailored to each mentor's individual situation:
  • How much will this cost?
  • How much will this produce for your company?
  • What will it cost you if you don't do it?
Problem D. We are a union shop and our retired employees are on a pension plan that does not permit them to work.

Solution. Every union local has its own rules and you need to present your specific propositions at the next union meeting.

Internship Problems

Idea No. 5: Treat your apprentices as interns doing professional craftsmanship under the guidance of a professional craftsman.

Problem A. Our No. 1 complaint was, “That's what we had to do when we were apprentices.”

Solution. You need to explain that, back then, we had waiting lists of young applicants wanting to learn our trade. Today, we have a serious skilled-craft crisis.

Problem B. We could not find enough extra labor to handle all of our tools and materials. Our apprentices are readily available and they are on a much lower pay scale.

Solution. By using extra labor, your apprentices would become interns performing skilled tasks helping you get your project installed, making a higher and more attractive wage.

Problem C. Our journeymen believe that those apprentices need to learn all of that grunt work because it's part of our trade.

Solution. These are not the craftsmen you should select to be training masters. You need to assign each apprentice to one willing master and monitor their skill-training progress on your database skill inventory. You certainly don't need to monitor grunt work!

Co-Op Problems

Idea No. 6: Entice your “born-to-build” students to make construction their career with co-op school-to-work programs.

Problem A. We tried this with five students: two lasted for three months and the other three less than one month. They all enjoyed the work and were really good craftsmen, but they could not endure the negative pressure from their classmates:

  • To dumb to go to college.
  • It is a lifetime, low-paying job and not a career.
  • You will have to travel to work and lose work during inclement weather.
  • You will be working under untrained nonprofessionals.
  • Construction is not cool or macho.
Fortunately, the two that lasted three months were our employees' children. That's how we found out about the negative downgrading peer pressure.

Solution. By certifying your students' task skills and paying them piecework for doing those tasks, their paychecks will show those other students what is really cool and macho!

Invite their buddies to a career day at your fab shop or jobsite to see how intelligent a craftsman must be. You can also invite them to your training sessions and trade shows.

Do not expose them to your untrained, nonprofessional supervisors. Provide access to a Gold mentor and keep score on their progress. Explain the realistic opportunities for your craftsmen to move up to management positions.

Problem B. Our local high school does not have a co-op school-to-work program. We talked to the school counselor, who was interested only in helping students go to college.

Solution. School counselors are naturally college graduates and believe that is best for every student. They are not against construction; they just don't know anything about it. You should schedule a private meeting and explain all of our industry's good points and opportunities. You can emphasize the horrendous cost of getting a college degree, as well as having no income for four years. Our training is free and each student is also earning wages as he or she learns. You can also ask for a career day to meet with any potential “born-to-build” students.

Next month we'll continue with why our last four ideas didn't work.