Training in Construction: Necessary, Important, and Possible
Tricks of the Trade
Once you’ve committed to training, use the following guidelines to help make your program effective.
1. Identify a champion. Mazur recommends when introducing new technology or software to select an employee who’s competent and enthused, takes ownership, and can become the “go-to guy” for the rest of the staff. “I don’t think you can effectively implement machine control part time. I’ve seen companies spread training around so everyone is learning and trying to use it at the same time. If you send it to 10 different people, you’ll get five who might know how to use it pretty well and five that don’t and eventually will move away from it.” Hester at Trimble agrees. “One of the important functions of the in-house GPS champion is to be a liaison with the dealer to help a company stay up-to-date as the technology itself grows. This helps companies progress much faster.” At Manatts Construction Co. in Brooklyn, IA, Project Manager Tim Tometich, who’s taught machine control in-house and at the college level, thinks contractors need somebody within their organization “who can learn fast and is computer savvy and has enough sense on the construction side to learn and help train.”
2. Continually monitor your workforce. “When you buy a machine-control system, you need to assess your workforce and match your employee skill sets with job requirements,” says Mazur. “For example, who will be the ‘data manager’ for machine control? This is a new product, it’s a technology and it requires training.”
“Assessing a company’s work force requires spending time with the contractor, understanding his company’s business and philosophy, knowing his equipment and people, as well as local construction practices,” says Pace at Topcon. “This starts with the dealer who knows the customer. From there, the people at Topcon University, who know what works and what doesn’t, will help put together a program that best suits the contractor’s needs.”
Likewise keep track that the people you’ve trained are still on the machines you’ve trained them on. Has someone switched, quit, been replaced? “A very large percentage of our training is with people who’ve been on the software for five or 10 years” says Mathews. “Over time, your staff changes, which means your staff knowledge automatically decreases. But a new accounts payable clerk can learn the basics of software in a webinar, a video, or a tutorial along with the help system in the software. These things are free or very low cost.” Some heavy-equipment dealers, like Productivity Products and Services will absorb additional training if, say, a Topcon GPS/machine-control customer loses an operator after training. Check with your dealer about policies and be careful who you earmark for training.
3. When implementing new products, make sure employees know what’s in it for them. Will they be able to streamline what they’re doing, save time, enjoy their work more? “Change is tough on all of us,” says Mathews “To be engaged, employees have to know how what you’re introducing is going to make their life easier.”
4. Evaluate in-house capabilities and get help when you need it. One of the reason training gets a bad name is because a lot of it’s not effective, says Abbott. “I would encourage organizations who are trying to manage training using their safety or human resource professionals to invest in a professional trainer, either in-house or from the outside. The better your training organization, the better your whole organization is going to be.
“We’ve found that peer-to-peer training is the best. We train our operators to be instructors. They’re good and they have good rapport with the employees they’re teaching. As a result of this process, we discovered our operators were doing things that were actually harmful to the machines but didn’t know it. What they did worked, regardless of what it did to machine productivity. In advanced training they learned Cat’s engineers designed the machine to work one way and they were working it differently. When they start learning things like that, they get going gang busters.”
When Atlas Excavating implemented HCSS software with its mechanics, it paired older mechanics with newer hires. “The younger guys like to go dink around with the software,” says Dillon, “while the old guys get the information they need and do exactly what they need to do. So we try to pair them together so they can work off each other’s strengths.”
4. Incorporate pre- and post-testing. Empire Training Institute considers pre- and post-testing absolutely critical. So too Knife River. Not only does this establish a benchmark, it provides feedback about what level of training a student should be receiving. “When we do a class for experienced operators,” says Abbott, “we start by measuring them on machine safety, specific machine knowledge, their knowledge of Cat’s monitoring system—what the machine’s telling them when it’s squawking—what the ISO symbols mean, their walk-around inspections and actual operation. After the class we evaluate them for what they’ve learned. Economy of motion is the secret of productivity and fuel usage. The smoother an operator, the faster and the less time and fuel it takes to get the job done. In just one day in one advanced class, operators shaved 30 seconds off the loading operation. When you think how many times a day they do this, you realize how much money this means.”
5. Allow sufficient time and opportunity. One of the reasons contractors aren’t being as efficient as they could be with Topcon’s 3D-MC,” says Pace, “is they’re already working on a project and the superintendent doesn’t want to lose any productivity while the crew learns the product. But you can’t just bolt it on and hope it will increase productivity. Will a contractor shut down for some safety training? Of course, it’s required. Well, new product training is also required if you want to be efficient and receive the benefits. Plan for it.”
“When you say people are your most valuable asset you have to figure a way to make that become a reality,” says Abbott. “You don’t do it by shutting down your operation and bringing everyone in the classroom for eight hours and boring them to death with Power Points.”
“You can’t teach somebody to be a road designer or a site modeler in just two days of training,” says Tometich. “You almost have to learn a little bit and come back. It just doesn’t happen overnight.”
6. Use the computer. DVDs and online training have become ubiquitous in the industry, but employees need to have the time and equipment to use them. Manatts, for example, has a computer training technical center, and Tometich says each employee is required to do eight hours a year. When it came time for Atlas Corp. to invest in maintenance software, HCSS demonstrated the system live on line so mechanics could ask questions. “They got excited about it,” says Dillon. “And at that point it’s easy to spend the money to make it work.” Carlson Software provides a record if a customer calls in for help. “I got a call one Tuesday afternoon from a guy who needed to do a certain design for a project that started on Thursday,” says “Ladd Nelson, Carlson Midwest sales director. “He sent me his data files, we got together on the Internet, and 75 minutes later we had him trained on the routines he wanted. And we provided him with a recording of the training he could consult in the future.”
7. Develop ways to measure the cost of training versus benefits. Abbott admits this is the hard part. “We’re just getting started on this. Even being in it for as long as we have, we’re still trying to figure out cost versus benefits.” On the other hand, machine-control technology has the capacity to track machine and operator productivity, including variables such as downtime, location, and fuel use. See your dealer to get advanced training on how to do this.
8. Stay committed. “Never make the assumption that you’re hiring someone who knows all about a piece of equipment,” says Chuck Frey at Vista Training. “It’s the manager’s responsibility to make sure the people who are out in the field are operating, first safely, second efficiently. The learning materials in our instructor kits and Computer-Based Training are the real meat and potatoes of training programs. Whether you use the extra videos or simulators in your training curriculum, having the base information is imperative.”
“We have a saying that we’re changing Knife River one operator at a time,” says Abbott. “We’re challenging these people: ‘Here’s you score, here’s how you can shave 20 seconds off this operation.’ We’re coaching them and working with them and we’re getting tangible results.”