How Skill Training Plays Into Worker Retention

It’s important for contractors to recognize that providing educational opportunities, training classes and personal development for all levels of the workforce can directly impact the retention of workers

Mentor Train

There has never been a greater need for skill training in the construction industry than there is today. This is not earth-shaking news for most contractors and construction leaders, but it should be noted that this need is, in fact, much greater than in years past and doesn’t appear to be fading away anytime soon.

This article’s focus is on skill training. With fewer vocational schools, technical colleges that include construction-based skills (i.e. carpentry, welding, masonry, electrical, etc.,) and even fewer “shop” classes for middle school and high school students, it is even more crucial that contractors train their workers on the skills their company needs. 

As one good friend and client of mine informed me several years ago, “Brad, if I didn’t start my own apprenticeship program for workers I would be out of masons in less than three to five years.”  Assertively training workers on the job skills they need might be the only thing that prevents some contractors from locking the doors and shutting down.

Why is there so little actual skill training completed by contractors? Good question. Consider a few of the reasons I’ve observed over the years:

  • The owner just isn’t overly committed to training
  • Most contractors would rather hire the experienced worker
  • Contractors are better “doers” than trainers
  • Contractors are not prepared to train
  • Training hasn’t been a priority of past generation of owners
  • “My dad and granddad never trained”
  • Contractors do not know how to train

Skill training comes in many forms and “flavors” including:

  • On-the-job training (OJT)
  • Personal coaching
  • Class training
  • DVD training
  • Webinar training
  • Self-paced with workbook training

While any training approach that works is good with me, I know that most construction workers need training that allows for communication, back-and-forth discussion and as much hands-on practice as possible.

Now, what sort of training should be conducted with construction workers? Remember, our focus here is to position skill training as a tool of retaining workers. Let me share a slogan that I have shared before and that certainly fits our topic today: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”

Ouch! Boy is this slogan true and just as applicable today as it has ever been in the past. In fact, with so many of construction’s former education outlets now no longer available the cost of hiring ignorant workers has never been higher.

So, let’s take a stab at the training that might be completed for construction workers. What follows is a list of training topics that should be presented to three different groups of construction workers.

Group 1: front-line employees/laborers

  • Basic task and process of work
  • Safety for personal and team success
  • Tools, equipment, computer, “tablet”, etc.
  • Communication skills
  • Teamwork and teambuilding
  • Customer service for office or field workers
  • Team problem-solving
  • Listening
  • How to make decisions
  • How to ask questions
  • How to receive feedback

Group 2: supervisor & management leaders

  • Communication, presentation and facilitation skills
  • Leadership
  • Building teamwork
  • How to motivate workers without manipulation
  • Planning, pre-planning
  • Scheduling and daily “huddles”
  • Business development for “non-BD” leaders
  • Construction math and financial reports
  • Managing time and energy
  • Coaching and counseling
  • Dealing with difficult people
  • Negotiation
  • Resource management
  • Problem solving and strategic decision making
  • Networking with other construction leaders
  • Leadership for safety, quality and continuous improvement

Group 3: senior leaders & owners

  • Professional image
  • Strategic planning and growth opportunities
  • Presentation and facilitation
  • Listening without arguing
  • Building and maintaining teamwork
  • Financial management and reporting
  • Business development
  • Market research and interpretation
  • Client retention and relationships
  • Supplier and vendor relationships
  • Community affairs and public relations
  • Investment opportunities and money management
  • Risk management including insurance, injury prevention and crisis management
  • Employee involvement and incentive programs

The training topics listed for each of the three groups are not limited to the topics found here, but I think you get the idea of the impact that training can have on any of the three levels.

It’s important for contractors to recognize that providing educational opportunities, training classes and personal development for all levels of the workforce can directly impact the retention of workers. Simply put, “thoroughbred” workers — those workers who exhibit great attitude and work ethic — tend to remain longer with employers who will invest in them personally and professionally.

On occasion, I’ve been challenged by contractors, especially at national conferences where the contractor can call me out in front of hundreds of fellow contractors. More than once someone has yelled out something like, “Brad, I used to be positive about training my workers, but I got tired of training them and then they quit me and take that new skill or knowledge and go to work for my competitor!”

Well, to be honest with you, I’ve experienced this reality myself, and it smarts pretty badly. But what are our options as contractors? To train and risk a few employees who might take their “goods” and go right across the street to our competitor OR not to train any worker and risk having consistently poor quality and low productivity? Honestly, I’ll take my chances with training my workers.

Skills training not only raises your company’s performance results, it improves morale among your workers as it reinforces a learning environment. Most workers, at least the type that we want as our employees, are more committed and motivated to work for a contractor who is willing to invest in their professional and personal development. That’s who will remain with your organization longer!

Finally, skills training should not be done without a plan. Contractors need to spend a bit of extra time focused on where they want to see their workers achieve in terms of expertise, skill proficiency, etc.

Here are eight final thoughts about raising the effectiveness of skills training.

  1. Have a three- to five-year training strategic initiative
  2. Focus on safety, job skills, team skills and lean construction processes
  3. Create a training “college” of topics and a training schedule
  4. Monitor training programs results
  5. Work with workers to create learning goals
  6. Make training part of employee reviews
  7. Commit to 20 to 30 hours of employee training per year
  8. Engage all training outlets (conferences, in-house, DVD, coaching, mentoring, etc.)

There are few secrets to conducting effective training. Again, I have found that for many contractors it isn’t a matter of being able to train and educate workers but, rather, it appears to be more about not seeing the long-term value or benefit to training.

If ignorance is more expensive than education…count me in for providing more educational opportunities for my workers. And in the process…I might just keep more of my workers…longer!

Go train!

Read all of Brad's articles on the seven steps to worker retention:

Step #1: On-boarding

Step #2: The 90-day Plan

Step #4: Coaching and Mentoring

Step #5: Engagement and Participation

Step #6: Responsibility Enhancement

Step #7: Performance Review