Contractors benefit by taking classes

Some people may shudder at the thought of walking into a classroom, but there are many benefits to taking classes expanding your mind and adding to your arsenal of industry knowledge are just two benefits that come to mind. Read on to learn about the benefits that go hand-in-hand with taking a class or two. Challenge conventional thinking While facts are stubborn, they can be overshadowed by what

Some people may shudder at the thought of walking into a classroom, but there are many benefits to taking classes — expanding your mind and adding to your arsenal of industry knowledge are just two benefits that come to mind. Read on to learn about the benefits that go hand-in-hand with taking a class or two.

Challenge conventional thinking

While facts are stubborn, they can be overshadowed by what people believe to be true. Published in 2005, “Freakonomics” contains a number of memorable examples of widely held beliefs that are not supported by data. A famous statement in the book by one of the authors, Steven D. Levitt, is, “If you own a gun and have a swimming pool in the yard, the swimming pool is almost 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.”

This statistic may not be surprising to contractors since they know that codes and standards have been tightened to reduce the number of backyard pool drownings. However, when it comes to a child's well being, most mothers believe guns are a greater threat than pools. Also, newspapers are more likely to run a story about a child who died while playing with a gun. Publicity often promotes conventional thinking.

Challenging what you believe to be true requires a healthy dose of skepticism and critical thinking. You might not learn about skepticism in a class, but you will most likely learn to become a critical thinker. Consider the following common practices that cause problems for contractors in Connecticut:

  • Despite a code change six years ago, TY fittings are still stacked on their backs and sides. A TY fitting placed sideways for a vent has to be above the center line of the pipe.

  • Boring and notching structured members with oversized holes. Virtually every code addresses the size of a hole that can be cut in a floor joist or outside wall; tolerances relate to weight bearing differences.

  • Providing ample clearance to combustibles. While the purpose of a commercial kitchen hood is to save the day in a kitchen fire, allowing for the required proximity to the trusses often creates a space issue.

Perhaps contractors think the impact of these errors is not their problem or no one has challenged them in the last 20 years. Some may mistakenly believe it is an inspector's job to catch and fix problems. However, a more professional approach is to strive for good craftsmanship, thereby avoiding structural failures or other hazards down the road.

Attending a class is a safe place to rethink some of your habits. Participating in educational discussions can spark innovative ideas and discourage short cuts that put your business at risk. Handout materials and references supplied in classes also counter another piece of conventional wisdom: You don't need to keep everything in your head. Take the classroom with you — keep code books and reference guides in your trucks.

Keep up with changes

Tinkering under the hood was once a Saturday afternoon rite of passage, but fixing electronic controls takes more than elbow grease. My car's monthly diagnostic report is emailed from OnStar, a virtual transaction that would befuddle Captain Nemo.

Similarly, industry mechanical equipment is increasingly electronic. Boilers, furnaces and tankless water heaters are computerized, and manufacturers offer differentiated models. Proper selection, installation and testing require someone to study the specs and directions. A cursory review will not do.

For example, with power vented water heaters, a chart is provided to determine the size and length of the exhaust and combustion air piping, including the number of elbows. Terminating pipe may require special fittings and elbows, and a screen with special fittings to keep the bugs, birds and mice at bay may not be provided. It is tempting to work from experience and intuition, but that approach may fail you with a new generation of equipment.

An in-depth orientation to new products, in a classroom setting, can save many hours and rework. A brief dog and pony show at the supply house is often not enough to alert you to potential pitfalls. Avoid the expense and frustration of learning by doing, and if you do not know about the specifics of a product, take an orientation to learn about it.

Be a good teacher

In Connecticut, apprenticeship ratio requirements are a sore point. Smaller contractors say that even if they are lucky enough to find a promising person to hire, they lack the journeymen to comply with State ratios. Some are successful at being granted ratio relief, but usually ratios are seen as an impediment to building a strong mechanical workforce.

On the flip side, apprentices are working students. When my husband apprenticed with my father 25 years ago, he benefited from a ratio of one-to-one with a union-trained master. Starting with some old Starbuck code books, he applied his college study skills and ultimately became a building official. He now teaches trade school and continuing education for plumbers.

While my dad's learning style favored hands-on experience, he kept up with codes and taught classes through the Connecticut Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors Association. My dad believed that the best way to encourage employees to be open to learning is through example. By picking up a book and going to class, you are sending a signal that “no one knows everything” and there is always something new to learn. It is also important to encourage employees to look things up, even under production pressure. If you create a learning organization, you will know when your employees are ready to learn — then you can take them to class with you.

Georgian Lussier is the principal of G.F. Lussier & Associates, which provides management consulting and training to a variety of industries. She teaches Business Review continuing education classes throughout Connecticut for the Center for Occupational Development and Education. She can be reached by phone at 203/265-1977, via e-mail at gflussier@snet.net.

TAGS: Management