Training is a Reward

At the recent joint conference of the Metal Building Contractors & Erectors Association and the Metal Building Manufacturers Association in San Antonio, one of the top-of-mind discussions was training. The attendees bridged all types of training from simple certifications, such as for forklift drivers, to more advanced safety training. These days, as a shortage of labor looms and contractors struggle to find crews to do the work, everybody is talking about training.

Attitude is everything. And training is a reward.

By Paul Deffenbaugh

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In our Industry Perspective column this month (page 8), David Beard of Iron Workers International writes about the training the union offers. Pick your head up and everywhere you look you see training.

It’s an essential part of the construction industry. Nobody steps onto a job site the first time and immediately understands every task and masters every skill. It takes years and years to become a proficient craftsman. In fact, I think you can make an argument that it takes more training to qualify as a tradesman—ironworker, carpenter, plumber, electrician—than it does a doctor. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but we do underestimate the amount of knowledge and depth of skills our construction workers need to absorb.

That’s why every decent construction company in the country offers training of some kind to its workforce. You have to make sure they have their certifications and that they work safely. Without training, employees don’t develop and companies can’t excel.

But if you lift your nose to the wind, you can catch a whiff of bad attitude about training. It’s a scent that training is done to remediate deficiencies rather than improve skills. Too many workers approach a training program as if they already have the skill and the program is merely some kind of punishment that prevents them from doing the real work.

As we have learned from every self-help book ever written, attitude is everything. And the attitude contractors and the rest of the industry takes to training sends a clear message to the people we’re trying to educate. Too often, we talk about learning new skills, which sends a covert message that the employee doesn’t have those skills. What we should talk about is improving skills or developing skills.

In short, we need to offer training as a reward for good work rather than a punishment for poor effort. That’s not to say we can’t implement training programs to shore up poor performance, especially in safety programs where we can brook no slacking. Safety is too important to allow employees to underperform.

We need to take in the proper attitude to those training environments. Even among office staff, where training is called professional development. I’ve seen contractors grow frustrated with long-tenured people because they aren’t executing their jobs the way they should. Maybe the work has passed them by or they’ve grown bored with the work. Too often, we offer them professional development and what they hear is a remedial training program to learn skills they’ve already developed.

The good attitude approach would be to talk about refreshing already learned skills. We all lose sight of the simple, necessary skills we need to use every day. We take them for granted and they get rusty. Refreshing or advancing those skills rewards the employee. Sending the employee to learn skills once learned is punishing.

Attitude is everything. And training is a reward.