No doubt, you are finding training a little more challenging than in years past. Speaking at an industry conference recently I had more than three hundred contractors and leaders agree, “Training today’s worker is harder than in past years.”
Like any leadership effort that is aiming to sustain improvement, a model or process is often helpful in setting out the right strategy. When training workers, a “trainer” needs more than patience alone; they need a process to move through that methodically takes an employee with little to no knowledge and skill and slowly raises both.
Several years ago I developed such a process that has now had thousands of field tests completed demonstrating how to train today’s workers. It’s called simply, the TWCA Model.
Let’s take a brief look at each “training secret” and provide some insights on how you might build this model into your efforts.
To teach is to share knowledge, experience, “tips,” and insights. It’s stressing the right way to do something…and why! Great construction teachers are prepared, knowing their subject matter and their “students.” Teachers work to tailor their instruction to the needs of their workers, based on the level of understanding that is present in the workers. Teachers also work to take perceived difficult tasks and make them simple to understand. They excel at breaking tasks and techniques into more “bite-size” teaching moments.
Example: Teaching a worker to finish concrete using a trowel, the teacher would make it easier to learn if they were to explain why one size of trowel might be used over another; why the shape of the trowel is important; and how to position your body to get the best finishing results without throwing your back out of alignment.
So many construction workers learn by “hands-on” training. So, after you have taught the proper mechanics, clarified important information, and addressed your worker’s questions, you must allow your worker to actually execute. This stage in the model requires you, the teacher, to be patient and absent of immediate criticisms. You may want to chew a straw during this effort but you must allow your worker to get their mind, hands, body, etc., feeling what you have discussed and probably demonstrated.
Example: As you watch your worker execute their finishing effort, have a note pad and record your observation. Be detailed and accurate. This will probably take your mind off of making comments too quickly, which normally makes the worker a little nervous, and give you more accurate corrective suggestions.
OK, every good teacher must make corrective suggestions. This is where you want to be careful of what you say and how you say it. I have found a great technique is to first ask the worker what they did, why they did it, and what areas would they improve. This often allows the worker to realize that you are really interested in their knowledge being built and that they must work at the learning process.
Example: Upon the worker making his or her finishing effort, ask the worker: “How do you think you did? Why did you hold the trowel in the manner you did? Were you comfortable as you skimmed across the concrete? What do you wish you had done different? How would you approach this effort again?” Such questions encourage an honest exchange of between teacher and student and further expose what needs to be taught.
When teaching, we should not “pass” our workers efforts too easily, but we should be affirming about their effort, attitude, and their physical effort as they execute proper techniques. Most workers learning something new are nervous enough so you will want to be an encourager. When they do perform some task and effort better than in previous efforts verbally acknowledge this, letting them know that you do see the progress made. Such affirmation often builds greater consistency and mental and physical retention.
Example: When affirming a worker, compliment the actual position, preparation, or planning that you observed. Just telling the worker, “That’s pretty good,” is not quite as affirming as saying, “Jim, I really liked how you prepared your tools before kneeling to begin your finishing stroke with the trowel.” Such a specific observation clearly affirms the worker and will help them to mentally recall proper technique and thought.
Without using some form of teaching model you will experience greater frustration than necessary. In reality, you will find that the TWCA Model is one that will be a repeating effort: Teach a little; Watch a little; Correct a little; and Affirm a little.
Be patient and remember to encourage those new workers to your specialty of construction. If you do, you will reap great results and build a company of workers who believe and trust in you!
Now…go train yourself to be a better construction teacher!
Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm specializing in the construction industry. He has recently introduced a series of 2-minute "how to" videos targeting management and training efforts. For more information on PDG visit www.pinnacledg.com.