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Why Hands-on Training Can't be Beat

Rob Haddock MCS Influencer October
November 10, 2022 at 9:00 a.m.

MCS Influencer Rob Haddock says that hands-on training and shadowing are the best ways to train new metal roofing crew members.

Editor's note: The following consists of a conversation between COO Karen Edwards and S-5!'s Founder, Rob Haddock.

Karen Edwards: We talked about the labor shortage and being hard to find people. So if I'm a contractor and I've got new installers for my metal roofs, metal walls, what are some resources that I can use to train them, other than putting them out in the field and shadowing someone?

Rob Haddock: Well, I don't know why you eliminated that option, because that's the best one. I was in that business for many years, and what I did was to train up foreman through time and OJT. But what I instructed them... Once I had a good foreman for a crew, I would tell them, don't worry as much about getting the job done as you do worry about training your people to do the job. The intuitive thing to do when you're the boss on a job is go to work, assign some tasks and jobs and so on, and get it done as fast as you can. But that doesn't pay off in the long run. We had a regular revolving door, as I'm sure many do nowadays in any construction trade, and we wanted to focus on training people and retaining help. And so with that kind of attitude, I just got my foremen together and said, instead of trying to get the job built in a big hurry, use it as a teaching experience, use it as a training experience.

Take your time. Speed comes with skill and experience. So make sure you teach them right and you teach them why they're doing all the things that you're doing. And teach it at... Use the job site as a classroom. And what better classroom? You've got all those materials there, you've got the guys there. Just go step by step and train them that way. And that's what I used to do when I was in the business. Occasionally, I'd also bring them in to give them the kind of technical training and stuff on a Saturday, and I would pay them and come into the office for a half a day on Saturday and go through, back in those days it was slides. I'm dating myself. Training materials to give them a little bit more of the technical end about the things that they're doing on the job site that you don't really want to take time on a job site to do that kind of training.

But that's what I did back in the day. Now, that was back in the eighties, and it worked very well. And it increased our employee retention too. When people understand what they're doing, then they begin to feel more valued. And we always showed them an incremental... We had a program with an incremental promotion kind of program as well as incremental pay raises that went with each step in the promotional thing. And so that they could see that they were promotable when they learned all the skills necessary. And we actually developed written tests to test skill levels and their knowledge levels and stuff like that. And it worked very, very well. And that'd be my best advice to anybody else. Everybody wants training to be kind of an instant thing and a highly organized thing, but it's not really that practical in the construction industry, unless you have a unionized apprenticeship program or something like that. That's a little bit of a different story. But I did well with OJT when I used the job site as a classroom.

Karen Edwards: Yeah. Yeah. And well, I think your success too, in the fact that you had levels and you had tests and you had... It kind of like... I know NRCA has created these ProCertification classes, one of which now is for metal. So people that have been doing it for so many years can demonstrate their skills, take the tests, and earn the certification. It's kind of the same approach where people say, oh yes, I can do this, and I've passed this level, and be compensated for their skill and their expertise and their growth in that journey. So, yeah, you were a pioneer in that.

Rob Haddock: Right. So the NRCA program is a qualification test, if you will. It's not a training program, not intended to be.

It's just a test so that when a guy walks in the door and tells you he's been doing this for 20 years and has forgotten more than most people will ever know, you can just putting to the test and see. We had other ways of doing that back in the day, and we had established both a knowledge base and a skill level for each progressive promotional step in our program. And we had a written test for each one, but in addition to that, we also created evaluation forms that the foreman would evaluate both knowledge base and skill level when he had a written form and he could just tick some boxes on there. You got to make it easy on him.

And that forced the foreman to communicate with the guy on the crew as well, because he was doing a weekly evaluation. I think we did it weekly. It was a long time ago. Maybe we did it monthly. I can't remember. Or maybe it was biweekly. And he would evaluate the performance of the employee as well as the skill base as well as the knowledge base, all three areas. And that caused the two to communicate with each other. And it also showed the guy in the field that he was being evaluated, that he was being monitored, that we did care as an employer. And we even had rules that when you hire on with this outfit, if you haven't advanced to the next skill level, next experience level, within 30 days you didn't have a job anymore.

And the next one, because those initial two were trainee... we called him trainee one and trainee class two. And a guy hired on as a trainee class two with no experience, and he had 30 days to advance to a trainee class one. And of course, he got raised with that.

And if he didn't, he was down the road. And the next level, same way. He was still a trainee, and now he had 60 days or something like that to advance to the next higher skill level. And that's what we did, and it worked really, really well.

Karen Edwards: That's great. That's, yeah, a formal program. So I guess when I said other than throw them out in the field and shadow somebody, I meant what kind of structure should be around that, and you just very clearly defined and explained that. And I'm sure there's no reason that wouldn't work today for somebody looking for the best way to bring new folks on and help them succeed and help them see a career path and help them develop that skill. Very good.

Rob Haddock is the founder and CEO of S-5!. See his full bio here.



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