Are you providing training and development to your crews? It’s a great way to boost employee performance and morale—and increase retention. In other words, it’s a key to how the industry is going to reverse the skilled trades shortage.

Come on and join the movement!

“Our data are telling us that contractors understand the value of training and development, and most are increasing the amount they spend on it every year,” said Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives for Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). “They’re teaching skills that will make workers safer, more productive, and more effective members of the team.”

In the construction industry, the source of the curriculum for all craft training is the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). This Florida-based foundation creates a wide array of construction training—from the technical skills of how to be a better craftsperson to bigger-picture topics such as Crew Leadership.

So, the what of training and development—that is, what will be taught—is provided by NCCER curriculum for the most part. The question for contractors is to find a who—someone to teach the curriculum—and the how—the method/mediums they will use.

Most large contracting companies have their own training and development departments. Small and midsize contractors won’t have trainers on staff but they will often have a person who is in charge of finding third-party training resources.

The AGC convened its inaugural National Construction Industry Workforce Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, at the end of 2021. The event brought together people involved in construction workforce development in some way—contractors, educators, union reps, etc. Here’s a look at some ideas that were raised at the summit for how to build a culture of lifelong learning at your contracting company—both using NCCER curriculum and some other avenues:

  • Several firms have created effective partnerships to create construction-specific training programs in partnership with local community colleges. Sundt, for example, worked with Central Arizona College to create a series of trade-specific programs, all relying on the NCCER curriculum, to prepare future construction workers.
  • Several AGC chapters have created construction academies, which offer a basic introduction to construction careers. These programs also offer basic levels of construction training so new hires have some idea of what is involved in these careers and can bring basic skills with them when they are hired.
  • One firm in New York offers virtual workforce development. They created an app that offers basic video training on a range of construction activities, including traffic control, how to set up a trench box safely, etc. Their app is now being refined in partnership with Caterpillar. Other firms, including Whitaker Construction in Utah, are doing something similar with online platforms and video instruction.
  • NCCER has a growing video library offering instruction in construction math and other topics. Some of the videos are more hands-on, including ones focusing on topics like “hammer like a pro.”
  • Several small and medium-size firms say they provide accelerated craft development programs. They do this by providing on-the-job training with the foreman and area managers teaching classroom training. These trainers are in turn receiving coaching from the executive team on softer skills such as empathy and patience.
  • The industry has worked with a number of school districts to create programs such as Utah’s UBC Pathways. That program offers 10 different tracks students can take starting as early as 9th The program offers a stackable credentialing system. The students in the program are provided with internships with local construction firms. Eighty-five percent of those interns stay with their companies.
  • Turner Construction is bringing union and open shop partners together at some of its Nebraska construction projects to identify obstacles to training, share resources, and explore broader challenges—such as transportation barriers and child-care needs.
  • Contractors should identify local, state, and federal funding opportunities to help support training programs.
  • Contractors can get involved with local Workforce Investment Boards. These entities have access to resources that could be used to fund construction training programs. But unless construction people are at the table when funding decisions are made, these grants will likely be used for other sectors.
  • Contractors should conduct a needs analysis before creating new training programs. Firms should first understand what skills and competencies are missing by listening to workers, conducting roundtable conversations, and even conducting a staff survey. Once that is done, the firm can put in place training that employees want and need to succeed in their careers.
  • Contractors shouldn’t underestimate the value of soft skills training. These skills will help your employees be better leaders and co-workers. And they will help them be more successful in their interactions with partner firms and owners.
  • Contractors should build strong partnerships with local training providers. Construction firms aren’t educators and educators aren’t construction firms. Both of you have unique competencies. The more that is understood and embraced, the more firms and trainers can work together to create the kind of programs that produce successful employees.

Wrapping up

AGC of America concluded the summit with two challenges to all attendees. The first was to understand, appreciate and operate with the knowledge that they are not alone—look for opportunities to collaborate with other workforce development programs. The second challenge was to take at least one training and development idea covered during the summit and implement it back home. Which of these ideas would work in your market?

Did you like this post? Try 13 ideas for retaining skilled tradespeople

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