Unskilled workers in your area? Train ‘em!

Gianni is 5 years old and looks like he should be in a Prince spaghetti commercial. On some days, his mom will drive him to school. On other days, his dad takes the wheel. But for the past year, whoever was driving would have to turn off Cranston Street and go around the block so that Gianni could see what the construction workers had done since yesterday. The people with the hard hats have captured his young American imagination, and this is understandable because not much building has been going on in the state of Rhode Island during Gianni’s young life, and hardly any building at all in his little city of Cranston.

So Gianni would have his mom or his dad drive around that block and, after school, they would stand on the sidewalk on the other side of the street fromTaco’s new building. Gianni, who has these sparkling 5-year-old eyes, would tell his mom or his dad what was different. A new beam is up there! Look at those bricks! They match the other building. They’re new but they look old.

Gianni did this for a year. From the moment the shovels went into the dirt until the day he laughed and quivered and jumped like a happy American kid, he watched. And then he helped cut the green ribbon at the grand opening.

I was listening to Taco’sJohnny Whitechat with talk-show host Helen Glover on the radio just before that grand opening. I live on Long Island but the Internet has no blunt edges. If I could hear them on my computer, anyone in the world can do the same. And that’s good because they had a grand chat. Most of it had to do with business in a state that has seen more than its share of tough times. They also were talking about that new building, which is there to educate people, and in a lot of ways.

Somewhere in the center of that conversation, Glover mentioned that Rhode Island has a reputation for having unskilled workers and this could be why new businesses are reluctant to locate there. I sat up a bit straighter at that point because a delicious pause came from Johnny. A chuckle followed and then he said, “Sotrain’em!”

How’s that for a solution?

It starts with successful employees

In 1970, when I started in this business, I had a lot of trainers. Some taught me that nothing could be done; there were just too many problems. One person can’t make a difference. What’s the use?

Other trainers taught me that anything was possible. Limitless opportunities exist because this is America and each of us matters a great deal.

I didn’t know which trainer to believe. But as the years linked together for me like beads in a rosary, I began to realize that both trainers were right.

Nothing can be done. But only if you believe it is so.

And anything is possible. But only if you believe this as well.

After Johnny said those three words, “Sotrain’em,” he chuckled again and said, “Look, everybody is capable of learning if they’re provided the opportunity and avenue to do so. It’s incumbent on people like me to provide that if I want to succeed here.”

Consider that for a moment. He can’t be successful unless his people also are successful. Consider that and then filter it though some of the things you’ve seen happen in recent years.

The building Taco was opening that day is its $20 million Innovation and Development Center. I don’t think there’s a building in the HVAC industry that can rival this place. I wanted to touch everything because everything mechanical and electronic is so touchable in this place. Taco will use it to train its 500 employees and its many customers. The building is a tool and it’s essential to its success.

On the radio, Helen Glover mentioned that not every company is in the position Taco is in. Not every company can do that sort of training or make that kind of investment. It’s expensive. But this made me smile because I know Taco goes to market each day during this viciously competitive time and it competes well with fine companies that are much larger than it is.

Johnny took a $35-million-a-year company with 500 members and elevated it to a $200-million-a-year company, with pretty much the same 500 members. Innovation and automation don’t have to mean that people lose their jobs. And tough times don’t have to mean that a company has to leave an American town where kids like Gianni are growing up. There’s no need to leave. You just have to keep training and you have to realize that your success is dependent on the success of your employees. It’s like a family in this way. You support each other.

It was the governor’s turn to speak at the grand opening;  he mentioned that Taco pays good wages,  provides good benefits and puts the money it makes back into the people. This is why the company is growing and succeeding. He also said it was good to visit a place that produces things that make a sound when you drop them. I liked that a lot.

A little boy's wonder

I was watching Gianni as the governor was talking and he was looking around the room, up at the ceiling, at the video projectors, the chilled beams, the registers, the high-tech windows, all those people. He looked over at me and I gave him a secret wave. He kicked his feet and giggled.

When the construction workers were still on the building, Gianni’s dad took him across the street and asked if they could get a closer look. One of the men took them around and then gave Gianni a hard hat. Can you see the kid’s face when that happened? Can you just see it? The kid stood across the street every day and watched. Can you remember when you were a kid and how such things drew you in and held you tightly, right up to this day? There’s a joy in being able to make something that makes a sound when you drop it.

Helen Glover mentioned that Rhode Island has a reputation for having unskilled workers and this could be why new businesses are reluctant to locate here, and Johnny White laughed and said, “Sotrain’em!” A big problem met head-on with a three-word solution. I liked that, too.

And when all the speeches were done, it was time to cut that green ribbon. So Johnny White stood up and told the story of that other Gianni, the little boy who stood across the street and watched a building grow. He pointed and laughed for a year and tugged at his mother’s soft hand and his father’s big hand and he said, “Look at that! Look at what they did today!”

I sat there and watched Gianni as the story of his wonder flowed across the room. He was quivering. I gave him another wave and he let loose a big a laugh. And then Johnny called him up and he leaped to the front of the room. Big hands and small hands held the oversized pair of scissors and they cut the ribbon together.

Afterward, there were handshakes and goodbyes, the governor and the mayor went back to work and the Taco people were inviting their guests to take a tour of this amazing building. Gianni’s father asked Gianni, “Are you ready to go on the tour?”

And Gianni said: “I’m going to takeyouon the tour, Daddy. I know all about it. I watched them build it every day. Iknow.”

It’s a tiny tale of life in an old New England city, but if repeated enough, it could be the way America comes back.

Train ’em.