THE DIFFERENCE between training and education is easy to remember, a consultant told a group of us a few years ago during a convention workshop.
“If your daughter is going away to college,” he said, “do you want her to have sex education or sex training?”
Most of us tend to use the words training and education interchangeably, but the consultant’s simple question points out the difference. We have to pay attention to both in our industry, of course, but we often do a better job of hands-on training than we do of formal education.
Labor unions, manufacturers and wholesalers have focused many of their efforts on training contractors and their employees to be more proficient at installing and maintaining products.
Changes in technology — and the desire to reduce the number of callbacks — have put more emphasis on training now than ever before.
A union official told me a few weeks ago that it’s not enough anymore for a worker in the field to be clever. The worker just can’t figure out how to do something once he gets to the jobsite.
He also can’t install a product the same way his father or grandfather did because the product has become more high tech. Employees who work on equipment need continual training to stay up to date.
Trade associations understand the importance of training too. The North American Technician Excellence program started with the support of both contractor and manufacturer associations. NATE tests and certifies service technicians who have received proper training in the industry. The Radiant Panel Association is another trade group that tests and certifies qualified installers.
Despite this emphasis on training, more manufacturers and association executives seem to be talking lately about your education rather than the training of your employees. In just the last couple weeks, I’ve heard from two manufacturers who asked me what they could do to support contractor education.
These manufacturers are very good at training you and your people on their products, but they want to do more. They want to make you better businesspeople.
This certainly isn’t a putdown. They know and I know that many excellent businesspeople read CONTRACTOR. In fact, the No. 1 frustration I hear about from many of you is your having to compete for jobs against uneducated contractors who price their jobs too low. Not understanding their costs and unskilled in marketing, these competitors cut their prices to get the work, and everyone suffers.
As good businesspeople, you also realize that you always have something more to learn. That’s why you read business publications such as CONTRACTOR and join trade associations or best practices groups.
My advice then to these manufacturers was to support the groups that emphasize the education of their members. Both the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association and the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, for example, have educational foundations. These and other groups realize that the quality of their educational offering is the best way to help their current members and attract new ones.
Associations, manufacturers and wholesalers can take education only so far, though. The rest is up to you.
CONTRACTOR has long supported the value of a good trade association for the educational and networking opportunities that it provides. We understand, too, that your joining such a group is only part of the investment of your time and money.
Active participation is another.
Probably the biggest part of your commitment is putting into practice in your business what you learned in the classroom, especially with all the day-to-day interruptions that can throw you off track.
So while you’re making sure that your people are properly trained to be proficient at their jobs and educated in the business, don’t shortchange your own education. Take advantage of any educational opportunity that can help you be a better businessperson.