Teaching the Basics…Again!

Reality is that training new employees is an ongoing task as new workers continue to enter the industry and your company; these six tips can help

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I'd like to recall a time I was working with a contractor with a large percentage of new employees. Some of the new workers were younger, some older and several somewhere in the middle. One thing that just about all of them had in common was: they didn’t know squat about construction.

So, here we go again. As contractors, we are all scratching for the best workers we can find, but for many that list appears to be shrinking. We may find that one significant behavior that must change among all of our leaders and experienced hands is that we all must be more engaged in training and educating the new workforce.

This reality is indeed tiresome for many seasoned veterans, but what are we left to do to move past this situation if we do not commit to training. As one foreman told me on my last day working with him and his crew, “I know I’m going to have to train the new guys, but it gets old real fast!” Translation? “This really stinks!”

Well, let’s jump right into some ways that we can tackle this reality and put the complaining aside. Consider and follow some of the best lessons I’ve found yet to teaching the basics to our new folks.

1. Don’t wait for any opportunity to train and educate…just do it

There will be very few perfect times to train and educate if you are thinking of classroom like learning. Just not going to happen that way. Perhaps 90% or more of the effective training and educating takes place right on the job site…so don’t wait for the magic one to two hours to conduct your training.

2. Turn every work task into “mini-learning” sessions

If your mind is set to look at every action your people need to perform as learning sessions, this will greatly change your attitude, approach and behavior about training.

    Many of these tasks are simple but critical to a better, safer and profitable result. Don’t overlook teaching your new workers the most basic of tasks to ensure that what little they do know, they will perform consistent.

    3. Educate workers on the “why”

    Rushing to train a new worker on how to trim out the edges when sealcoating will be better taught if the employee understands why we might trip out first, prior to squeegeeing or spraying. Again, if employees learn the “why?” behind what they are going to do physically, they will more quickly connect the dots on how to be more effective in applying your instruction.

    This method also tends to strengthen the new worker’s understanding when they run into a problem and helps them to correct errors faster.

    4. Teach – demonstrate – watch – debrief

    Breaking the actual learning process down, try to follow the sequence of actions described for this point.

    • Teach is to educate
    • Demonstrate provides a visual model of what the employee will want to emulate
    • Watch allows you to observe the effort put out by the worker to replicate what you have both taught and modeled
    • Debrief allows you to question the new worker about what they just performed and what they might do better on their next effort

    This four part teaching/training process is easy to follow and simply needs to be repeated over and over as you move a new worker through their learning experience.

    5. Teach and train in smaller bites of time and process steps

    Most of our new workers just do not learn everything we want them to in one lesson, much less in one day. While most contractors realize this, their efforts to train their new workers often fall short of anything resembling a thorough and well thought out educational effort. Thus, new workers today will quickly surmise if their contractor is going to train, be patient,and support their learning.

    If their experience in the first few days leads them to doubt such commitment and physical support, there is a very good likelihood that the employee may quite before the first week is up.

    6. Develop a training plan and spell out the first 90 Days

    I’ve written about “The 90-Day Plan” before, and you can gain some valuable insights by downloading my company’s educational app to get more help on this. Do not train by using the old “shoot from the hip” method…it doesn’t give you a very good return on training. No, sit down and map out exactly what you are going to train new workers on, breaking down the task or action into mini-steps.

    Also, consider who is the best individual to train the different tasks and processes your crews follow when working, and assign them to train on those areas.

    The next decade will be a decade of training and education; I'm sure of it. One contractor called me several months ago when their new worker turnover rate hit almost 52%.They were turning over about half their new workers every month…many of them not lasting even a week.

    Rather than postponing the inevitable or hoping that you or your HR Manager can magically find trained and motivated workers, give more focus and energy to turning all of your leaders and better skilled workers into trainers. Be patient on your new workers, spend extra time with them, encouraging them to come to work and to be patient with themselves.

    Training isn’t easy…that’s why so few do it. However, for those contractors who will invest in doing more and better training with their new workers, they will realize greater results faster than most of their competition.

    (By the way, if you are a seasonal contractor that often has many of your workers taking off for the winter, consider doing some on-going training with some of your newer workers who you feel are worth the extra investment. It might just pay off for you in spades.)

    Good Training!

    Brad Humphrey is President of Pinnacle Development Group and has been providing educational excellence to contractors for thirty years. Brad and his son, Colby Humphrey, have created a new educational “app” just for construction companies. With now over 100 “2 Minute Drill” Videos on the app, books, articles, and Podcasts, you can continue to get great insight and education on a wide range of topics needed in your company. Go to your App Store and just type in Pinnacle Development Group App and let the learning continue. You can also go to www.pinnacledg.com and download the App from Brad’s web site.

    *This article was originally published in 2016 and republished in 2019.