Train 'em

Sept. 6, 2012
  Train ’em

Over the course of the past few months, while visiting manufacturers across the country, the message has been clear. Contractor training is top of mind for most manufacturers. And that’s good for you and your business. It means that your employees are better prepared to perform their jobs more efficiently, and more professionally. It also puts you one step ahead of your competition. Taking advantage of the numerous training classes offered across the industry is well worth the investment of time and money. And that investment is troublesome, you say? Well, some manufacturers are readying themselves to offer online training courses, where that initial time investment worry is wiped away.

One manufacturer that just got a little more serious about contractor and employee training is Taco, Cranston, R.I.In the Innovation and Design Center’s dedication ceremony held on June 21, speakers quoted Taco president John White Jr. as saying, “Everybody is capable of learning if provided the opportunity, an avenue to do so; it’s incumbent upon people like me to provide that if I want to succeed here.”

“So train ’em,” Johnny White kept telling everyone who would listen. That was the theme of the day, really.

Check out this YouTube video and you will see Johnny White’s sincerity.

Coinciding with the recent opening of the Taco Innovation and Design Center, I recently caught up with John Barba, contractor training & trade program manager, Taco Inc., about the importance and logistics of contractor training.

According to Barba, White's commitment to developing both Taco's employees and customers is really the foundation upon which Taco is built. The Taco philosophy of "Do Your Best Work" is more than just a catchphrase — it's one of the guiding principles of the company. The Innovation and Development Center (IDC) is a $22 million investment in the future of each Taco employee and his or her family, as well as the lives of our customers. The biggest investment is in the development of job-related skills so that our existing workforce can continually be developed in new, high-tech manufacturing techniques.  It's an important element in keeping those jobs in Rhode Island and in the U.S.  For our customers, the IDC is a first class training facility where they can learn everything from the fundamentals of hydronics to the latest developments in technology and comfort — and actually see the stuff they're learning about in action.

Here is the rest of my conversation with John Barba:

John Mesenbrink:Do you find that more contractors are taking advantage of training offered by manufacturers?

John Barba: Well, yes and no.  I think contractors are very interested in taking advantage of manufacturer's training programs, but there are some obstacles in the way.  First, there's the concern that any training program put on by a manufacturer or a rep is just a big "sales pitch," with no real benefit.  I have found that contractors are very wary that their investment of time and money will be wasted by someone just telling them why their products are the bomb and why their competitors are garbage.

Second, there's the investment of time and money — it can be difficult to justify an afternoon, a day or a couple of days away from work when business is down.  You'd think it'd be the other way around, that slow times are the perfect times to hone your skills, but it's not.  I've found that many contractors don't like to be away from the phone just in case a job comes their way.  This is completely understandable.  

Third, training opportunities do need to be presented to contractors in a meaningful way. What are the benefits of the training? What will you get out of it? Will your time be well spent?  When you're asking someone to give up valuable time and money to come hear you talk, the "what's-in-it-for-me" part of the story that needs to be crystal clear.  It's a matter of respecting your audience's time.

JM:How does Taco try to offset time and money constraints? You offer training "on-the-road" of sorts, correct?

JB: We offer several layers of training. For those who wish to make the trip, we offer two-day training programs at our new Innovation and Development Center at the factory in Cranston, R.I. This trip offers a chance to get away for a couple of days and focuses entirely on the training, which reduces the distraction of day-to-day business and allows the student to focus entirely on learning. The factory trip also includes an extensive tour of the Taco facility, as well as extensive hands-on opportunities.  

We realize not everyone is able to or willing to make that trip, so we do offer the same program in the field through our manufacturer's representatives. It's pretty much the same two-day program, but without the factory tour and hands-on opportunities.  

Taco also offers a variety of 1-day programs sponsored by our manufacturer's reps and local wholesalers. Either myself, or Taco's new Northeast Regional training manager, Dave Holdorf, host these events. Dave's been with us for several months now, and brings a wealth of experience and technical know-how to his classes.

But wait, there's more!  We also offer an extensive eLearning program via Taco's FloPro University — a formal, online learning program. Students can take any one of a number of classes online, at their own desk and at their own pace. The programs are broken up into short, easy to understand segments. At the end of each segment is a quiz, and at the end of each class is a final exam. Pass the exam and you can go on to the next program. We're adding more classes to this program all the time. Right now we have nine full length classes available, with more scheduled to be added this fall and winter. Classes include everything from heat loss and variable speed pumping to business basics for the small contractor. Important stuff!  And it's free.

Taco is just one of many manufacturers that offer training for contractors who what to invest the time and money in continuing their education. It all circles around what Barba expresses from the beginning. “Manufacturers who have a strong reputation for offering solid, application-based training with info that will help the contractor no matter what product they use will find it easier to fill up the seats.

JM: What does the contractor receive from your training?

JB: The tangibles include a nice certificate, hat, t-shirt and other various doo-dads, to go along with, we hope, some useful information they can put into use when they get back to work. Our factory class is recognized by NATE and NORA for continuing education credits, as well. The intangibles, I hope, include a memorable experience, meeting with, and learning from, peers from other parts of the country, as well as developing a lasting relationship with Taco. It's very gratifying to see members of a group get together after hours to socialize, swap war stories, share ideas and develop new friendships.

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