Writing The Book on Training By John S. Ball III

Editor's note: This month, John Ball offers not only his advice for involving manufacturers in a training program, but also his take on what makes this industry's trainers the experts they are.
There are many more equipment experts in this industry than those John profiles in this column, and, as a former director of training for a New England asphalt contractor, he believes a progressive manufacturer is one with an equipment expert on staff. Contact your equipment manufacturer for access to their training expertise.

By John S. Ball III

As I started training 12 or 13 years ago, and began attending manufacturers' schools, the first I ever attended was the Blaw-Knox school in Matton, Ill. I couldn't wait to go there because I had used their product for such a long time. I wanted to know the ins and outs, nooks and crannies of the machine. I wanted to perfect my operation of the product so the end result would be superior. In the process of learning how to be a better equipment operator, I visited many training programs, and learned what it means to be a good trainer.
I watched the manufacturer’s trainers to see how they presented their product and what they emphasized. You know you're watching an expert present the product if you can tell he feels it. He his actually gone out and run it - turned the depth screws of the paver, ridden it down the road. people who "textbook it" have not run it. They lose the (confidence) and the interest of the people they are teaching. The expert senses the workings of the machine. He has a feel for it.
The subject can be the simplest, but the degree of expertise a trainer has makes a difference in the way it's presented. The process of asphalt production and construction is overwhelming, but it can be presented so that the student is involved and retains the information because he has interacted with the instructor. I try not to rely on a classroom-style of training too much, whether the subject requires a hands-on program or not. I prefer to use video so we can visualize the concept, then stop and talk about it.
When I started going to training schools, I would sit in back of the room because I wanted to know what worked, what didn't work. I think one of the things I found most interesting is how the training expert presents the product. I can remember sometimes I had a hard time staying awake because it was such a relaxed atmosphere. Presenters would turn the lights down, show slides and go over procedures from a picture point of view. They would lecture on the product they sold - this is how it works and these are the features, but I'd be dozing off.
The first person in training I ever met was Blaw Knox’s Tom Skinner. As we sat in the classroom, among 80 to I 00 people or so, I began to realize there was something special about this guy. As he walks around, speaks, emphasizes different things, lie defines an expert. A training expert knows what's happening in the industry because he's out there working with contractors every day. He knows what works and what doesn't work because he gets out there with the people who use the product. He looks you in the eve, doesn't beat around the bush and doesn't stretch the truth about the features of his product. If he knows something about it he will share every bit of information he has with the person using the product. If he doesn't know the answer he will find out and get back to you.
I've gone to many other schools too, and I've met other trainers who define the characteristics of an expert. John Dice at TopCon talks about non-contact automation on the pavers. He also speaks from experience - he's done it, he knows what works and what doesn't work. He sits in a classroom and looks for things from his students like whether they actually understand the concept of what he's discussing. @e emphasizes hands-on activity in a week-long school out in the field where his students actually pave with dirt and gravel. The course is very challenging for the operators who attend.
When I first met Chuck Deahl in 1988, 1 went out to the Compaction America corporation in Kewanee, 111. My employer was considering buying eight or nine rollers and wanted me to go around to the different roller manufacturers to see what they offered, not just in the way of product, but what they offered for training and support once the product is purchased. As I entered the foyer of the plant, there was my name, highlighted, and I felt like I must be someone special to have my name on a marquee when I'd never met anybody in the company before.
We went immediately into a conference room, and sat down at a long conference table. In the room I met the vice president of the Hyster line. I met the president and most of the engineers who'd designed the product, as well as a few other people from the plant. About eight people were sitting down waiting for me to come in and discuss what I was looking for from the manufacturer. I asked about support, how we were going to help our people understand how to operate this equipment.
Chuck defined a training professional, assuring me he personally would come up to our company and introduce the product. He showed a professional believes in the product, has feeling, emphasizes support from the manufacturer to the contractor, even though I didn't know him from a hole in the wall. An expert engulfs you. He has such feeling and poise about himself you're like a magnet drawn toward him. Jeff Richmond from Roadtec in Chattanooga is another trainer who embodies an expert. You can tell right away if a guy just wants to sell the product, but a training expert has a way about him that is very honest and sincere, and when he shakes your hand you can feel the commitment he has to the product. These professionals paid me the greatest compliment when they invited me to train at their facility. Working together the industry becomes stronger.
Earl Martenson, a Barber-Greene legend - when he talked, you listened. This industry will never find another one like him.
The commitment these people have to the product, the end user and the industry in the field is clear. They want the product to succeed and anything they can do to help it they will do from developing a relationship with one individual all the way through the corporation. I have a good relationship with all these people. As both a contractor's training director and as an individual, I've come to realize that the best part about getting involved with manufacturers is I can call them Lip and they'll go the extra mile to help me educate this industry.
As a training director, because of the solid relationship I had with these people, I could call up and ask if I could have instructional materials, such as paving manuals. They asked how many and never questioned what I was going to do with the information. And, whether it was for a company that used a different brand of product, it didn't matter.
Learning is a two-way street. The better the communication in the industry as a whole, the better things go all around. That's what makes getting the manufacturers and the contractor together - it's the pride in the industry that measures up in the end.

John Ball is an industry consultant and principle in the firm, Top Quality Paving, Manchester, NH, which specializes in complete training programs.

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