Train now to get the competitive edge

When times are good, contractors often say that they can't take their employees out of the field for training. So now that times are not so great and you can take employees out of the field, it is the perfect opportunity to get those employees educated in current technologies and practices.

It's no secret that times are tough right now in the business world. But on the bright side, some economic reports are beginning to look a little more optimistic, and talk of economic recovery is all over the news. Markets tend to be cyclical, and in this case, it is just a matter of time before we head into another era of economic prosperity. When we reach that time and you need to hire more employees to get the work done, will you and your employees be ready?

When times are good, contractors often say that they can't take their employees out of the field for training. So now that times are not so great and you can take employees out of the field, it is the perfect opportunity to get those employees educated in current technologies and practices. Developing your existing workforce now, from apprentices to management employees, will help ensure that you won't be behind and need to train everyone when recovery happens. Then you will only have to train new hires and you won't be caught behind the eight-ball.

Learning opportunities abound now. While many of us learn in the traditional manner in classrooms, with teachers lecturing and using blackboards, our next generation of employees often function better in a more interactive or computer-based setting. There are opportunities for each type of learner through PHCC and other industry sources.

So which is the best “fit” for your company — an “old school” or a more technologically oriented approach? Whether you use an internal or external training program, the most important factor to consider is what works best for the individuals you are planning to train, which gets complicated these days with the cultural and age differences in the workforce. While language barriers can be a factor for some, maturity and discipline also come into play for others. Some 18-year-olds, for instance, are disciplined enough to make it to class regularly and complete assignments on time while others are more prone to complete coursework on their own schedules. Younger workers are generally more comfortable using technology and will often perform better using Internet-based training.

With all of these differences in mind, I would encourage you to develop a simple training plan for your company. But first, some research is needed. You'll need to determine what type of training would be most beneficial for your company; what type of budget is available; who should be trained; what training methods work best for the students, whether it is a traditional or more modern approach; and what options are available. Start by checking with education providers like PHCC

If you're uncertain which types of training will work best for individual employees, I have some suggestions. First, observe the employees at work and figure out how they best respond to instructions. Are they okay with just being given an assignment, or do they prefer a “give-and-take” relationship with their supervisor and to have their input on the task considered? Some employees may do better in a traditional classroom while others may prefer a more interactive learning experience. Second, simply ask the employees which method of training would work best for them. Then you not only have the advantage of firsthand information, you're also engaging the employee in the decision-making, which is always positive for morale.

Just speaking for PHCC and the PHCC Educational Foundation, there are many training programs to choose from. Go to for a complete list. For example, the Foundation's plumbing and HVACR apprentice programs, which were designed by contractors for contractors, can suit about any type of learner. Featuring an interactive classroom format and eye-catching graphic presentations and illustrations, they are especially well suited for today's student.

For those apprentices who are unable to attend a traditional classroom-based program, the Foundation offers a plumbing home study course for apprentices using Web-based technology. This means that the apprentices can take the courses when it is convenient for their schedules. This program is especially helpful for workers who live in remote locations and would have to travel long distances to attend classes or young parents who want to spend their evenings at home with their children.

We also have something totally new that is proving to be very popular. Have you ever wondered exactly how much your apprentices learned during their training program? Now you have the opportunity. Plumbing assessment tests are available through many local PHCC chapters to measure student learning at the conclusion of each of the four years of apprenticeship study. They also can be used to assess the knowledge of job applicants and even your veterans if you want.

Other techno-savvy employees may benefit from a variety of webinars offered by PHCC and the PHCC Educational Foundation. Webinar topics cover a wide range of business management topics, from strategic planning and negotiation skills to growing your business and salesmanship. Webinars are a cost effective way to offer training in the convenience of your own office and offer the flexibility of training an individual or a small group at the same time.

No matter what type of training you need for your company, from apprentice to company management, you can find what you need through a variety of sources. The bottom line is that all companies should use this slower business time to improve their employees' knowledge base and to upgrade skills, so that when business is brisk you will be ready and will lead the competition.

Merry Beth Hall is director of apprentice and journeyman training for the PHCC Educational Foundation. She holds a master of public administration degree and an undergraduate degree in education. Major programs include curriculum development and textbook editing for plumbing and HVACR apprentice programs as well as special event planning and seminars. Hall is a professional educator and entered the association management field in 1999. She has been active in plumbing and HVACR industry education since 2000 when she became executive director of the Virginia PHCC chapter.

TAGS: Management