Would you turn a new hire loose on a jobsite with nothing more than an equipment rental list and trust them to find the most cost-effective solution to complete a job? Absolutely not. This is a job for seasoned professionals. But where do you find seasoned professionals with the necessary experience?
This is where formal training and practical on-the-job experience become critical assets. But what if there was a way to combine the two?
Such was the goal when Phoenix, AZ-based C.S.& W. Contractors Inc. partnered with Arizona State University (ASU) to assist with the horizontal construction curriculum. ASU has experience working with industry to provide real-world experience to students. C.S.&W., a heavy highway contractor also active in aviation projects, landfills, site work, treatment plants and street improvements, proved the ideal partner.
Revamping the curriculum
C.S.&W. Contractors already has its own formalized training programs. "We are training people to be better managers and better leaders, as well as giving them specific skill sets in project management, estimating, operator safety training, computer training, whatever it might be," says Todd Peterson, CEO.
But passing real-world experience on to a classroom of students is more difficult than it might seem. People with long-term experience are often not the best teachers. "I wasn't the perfect choice because I didn't come from 25 or 30 years of horizontal construction. But I have taught before," says Peterson. So he brought in Robert Meyers, C.S.&W.'s vice president, who did have the experience. "As a team, it has worked out really well."
"Our class is very broad," says Meyers. "The class is supposed to be about equipment and methods."
Micheal Hansberger, special project coordinator, adds, "There is an aspect of estimating; there is an aspect of figuring out equipment-specific usage and cycle times." The training also covers compaction, soil charts and slopes and grades. "There are a lot of mathematics involved in it. We bring in the GPS, laser, sonar - we teach the application of each."
There was an existing construction curriculum in place at ASU prior to C.S.&W.'s involvement. "We tried to use their textbook," Peterson notes. "They had Power Point [presentations], quizzes and tests laid out. But we basically re-wrote the whole thing."
C.S.&W. employees carefully sifted through the course material to emphasize the practical information. "Basically, we would read what a chapter was about, then we said here is what we are going to teach them," says Meyers. "There was some reference to the book for certain [things], but we definitely taught them real world. The students appreciated that."
The first year of the program required more effort than anyone imagined. Meyers spent 16 hours per chapter going through the textbook and trying to digest what the chapter was saying. Then he had to extrapolate the important information for the students.
"That is the hard part. There is a lot of information in the book. Obviously, whoever wrote it knows what they are talking about," he says. "But what do you do with it? That is the benefit of having someone who has been in that business for a while being able to relate the information."
Keeping it real
C.S&W. uses its own projects as learning tools. For example, there was a jobsite where the company was asked to move 100,000 c/yds. of material. At the beginning of the course, students were asked to determine the bid price.
"They all looked around and asked, 'what do you mean by that?'" recalls Meyers. Students were informed that, by the end of the course, they would be able to provide the answer. "So in 26 classes an hour and a half long, they could answer that question pretty successfully... In fact, it was their final test."