Training For the Future.

Your employees' lack of knowledge can cost more than even the best training program.

By John S. Ball III

Training and development are now firmly center stage in many organizations. Times, people, technology and demographics are changing so rapidly now that we even need training sessions to handle change! Different contractors handle employee training in different ways. Consider these scenarios and look closely for the one that hits home the hardest with your company's training program:

Scenario A: A few weeks before the new work season, the contractor kicks off springtime with an overall paving seminar. Meaning well, he invites 50 to 60 employees to sit through a day of workshops with manufacturers and top company equipment people. They talk about last year's paving season and discuss what the crew should expect of the coming season. Then the contractor sends his crew out in the field, and the training ends there.

Scenario B: The contractor rounds up his best employees, gathers them and two to three other crew members around a new piece of equipment, and has the top crew members spend the day walking their coworkers through the machine's features and operation. From that point on, the employees are considered capable of operating the unit, and no follow-up training is implemented.

Scenario C: The training director sits down one on one with crew members and draws up a profile of where each employee stands in equipment operations. He pairs up less proficient employees with his best veterans, and forms a buddy system in which the veterans pass along all product knowledge to their partners. The training director then holds regular training meetings in which equipment operations progress is checked and new information is passed along to the group as a whole. Finally, a training session is held before each project during the paving season and the training director goes over the particulars of the job before it starts.

Scenario C is just the beginning of training for tomorrow. In training for tomorrow we need to challenge ourselves. Today's operators on the front line are lacking in training because many contractors see training as a cost factor. That attitude has to change if contractors are going to make the most of their people. Here are some points to ponder as you set up your training program.


Training is an investment.

Contractors must look at training as an investment, not an expense. Management must take training seriously and make a training commitment, first to the employee, and second to the company.

If a company's goal in implementing a training program is to improve the bottom line, the first step in training is to prioritize and analyze what areas need more profit in your company. You need to analyze your employees; your training program must meet the needs of a variety of employees.

Is this employee more advanced than others? Is he more familiar with certain brands of equipment? Does this person know automatics, or is he more familiar with manual grade and slope control? Does he know where to start with a compactor? How long has he been on the job? What is his attitude toward his job?

A good management team will seek out people who have a great attitude toward their jobs and want to excel. Managers will work with these people, and their positive attitudes will rub off on other crew members as the buddy system is put in place.


Good management will accept the training challenge.

Management must understand the challenge of training, and try to meet the company's training goals. Good managers will understand where to go and get training, whether through a manufacturer, a state agency, asphalt paving association, industry consultant, or other employees.

A good training program will also recognize how much information employees can absorb in one session. Should your training program be held once a month or two to three times a week? You must know your employees' limitations.


Training is an ongoing commitment.

The employee is the nucleus of the company, and the stronger the nucleus, the stronger the company. You must get employees geared up for new equipment, otherwise, manufacturers will produce equipment crew members don't know how to use. The bottom line will be lost profits for the contractor.

Target your audience and find out their education needs. The best starting point is meeting one on one. Ask about the employee's work, what's involved in doing their job. The company must appreciate training, and employees must trust management. They must see management is sincere in finding out what's going on in the field.

Instead of hiding behind a desk, go out and spend time with your employees, whether it's a good day or a bad one. Ask yourself: What's in this for the employee? Is it dinner out? A company hat or jacket? Did you go out, look the guy in the eye, shake his hand, tell him he did a good job today?


Make training simple.

The simpler, the better. If you give a seminar and you bring people who are used to working outside into a room and ask them to sit all day and observe proper equipment operations, they may not learn as much. It is better to take the training to the field and instruct in the employee's environment.

Rather than tell him or her how to use a piece of equipment, ask him to show you what he knows, then work from there. And don't make training a one-time session. Procedures should be repeated several times and broken into small segments of information offered at intervals. This type of training costs very little but builds goodwill among employees.

Get the machine out in the field and start with a walk-around. Remember, some employees learn to operate a machine faster than others and some need to actually touch and feel the piece of equipment to learn how to operate it. Once the machine's operation is explained to an employee, go out and observe how he operates it. Practicing this little bit of observation several times can save your company thousands of dollars in equipment misuse.


Make training part of the normal process

Once your training program is in place, make training a routine event. See how the process works in the field and make adjustments as you need to. Sometimes it is difficult to see how the process is profiting your operations, but you can evaluate your employees and note changes as the season progresses.

For instance, you can see whether the quality of the product is there or whether the employees' work ethic has changed. You'll begin to see how well people understand the paving and compaction process, how well they take to training, and where they stand at the end of the season. It's not something you'll see every day, and it may take a few years before you note any progress, but if your employee is content in doing his work, the paving process will become more efficient for you.

Once the employee comes on board and has a few years under his belt, you'll see the difference in him from the day he started. How is his attitude toward his job? Where is he at in terms of equipment operations? Is he happy? Does he take a personal interest in the longevity of the company? Eventually, you'll no longer have to place ads in the local paper for help because your employees will be spreading the good word about working for your company.

A company is paid for the product, not only in the bid factor, but also in project completion bonus pay. And with a strong training program part of the normal process, when you bid on a job a year from now, you'll know how efficiently your employees can execute the job, and you can bid with confidence that you can get the job done.

As you set up your training program, keep in mind your employees and "the work they do to support and promote continuous improvement in your company's productivity and commitment to the overall business strategy."

As President Clinton mentions, "We will build a bridge to the 21st century." We will all need to help and train people to cross that bridge. Good Luck!

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