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10 Out-of-the-Box Approaches to Workforce Development

Aug. 22, 2018
An active training program improves a company’s ability to recruit new talent and to keep existing talent.

Most plumbing contractors train the same way they were trained. After all, if it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for everyone else, right? Not in the age of a labor shortage. Not in the age of millennials. Here are a few out of the box approaches to improving your training.

Today, training is not merely a method of boosting productivity, increasing average tickets, and reducing callbacks. An active training program improves a company’s ability to recruit new talent and to keep existing talent.

1. Up the Frequency

How often do you train? Some of the most successful plumbing contractors recommend training as often as bathing for similar reasons. It wears off and eventually, you will start to stink.

While you may or may not be ready for a daily training regimen, you can increase your training frequency. If you offer training with your service meeting today, consider adding one additional training only event.

Plus, do not forget the office. The people on the phones need training every bit as much as the people in the field. If they do not successfully book the calls, your plumbers cannot complete them.

2. Rotate Training Responsibilities

Who does your training? No matter how good, trainers can get stale over time… at least to the audience. It helps to rotate training responsibilities. Ask different people to lead the training. Not only does this keep things fresh, it helps in the leadership development of whomever is presenting. Moreover, nothing incentivizes someone to learn a subject more than the need to train others on it.

3. Start an Apprenticeship Program

A plumbing company’s growth is limited by its ability to put butts in trucks. Improve your growth opportunities by hiring an apprentice for every experienced journeyman and senior plumber (rotate them periodically). Increase your billable rate to cover the added costs. Create a specific training plan for each apprentice and be patient. In a year or two, you will have grown your own plumbers who are capable of basic service work. They may still need help, but they can handle many calls.

4. Use Technology

Whether it’s Apple Facetime or Facebook’s Messenger service, anyone with a smart phone can make video calls today. Mobile video means a technically seasoned plumber can back up and support less experienced plumbers when they run into something unusual or over their head.

5. Start a Training Cooperative

Find one or two good competitors in your market and share the cost of training. At the very least, split the cost of bringing in a top industry trainer like Kenny Chapman, Joe Cunningham, Charlie Greer, or Todd Liles.

The quality of a company is often defined by the character of its employees, yet, we hesitate to talk about it or to teach it.

6. Conduct Exchanges

When you have a promising young plumber, exchange him with another young plumber working for a quality company located elsewhere. It shows investment in the plumber, allows him to see a different operation (and maybe, bring back a few good ideas), and hear a similar message to yours, but from different lips. Anyone who has kids knows that the same suggestion from an unrelated adult carries far more weight and credence and a parental suggestion.

7. Teach Personal Finance

Why are many plumbers well compensated, yet always broke? No one has ever taught them personal financial management. This is one of the reasons they are susceptible to employment offers from competitors that are a dollar or two more an hour. Continually short of money, they grasp at any chance to earn a little more.

8. Teach Character

The quality of a company is often defined by the character of its employees, yet, we hesitate to talk about it or to teach it. Incorporate character into your training and make it extend beyond the workplace. Talk about becoming a good father, a good spouse, and a good man. Some will scoff, but others are hungry for this.

9. Bring People to Conferences

Come to the conferences like the Service World Expo in Las Vegas this October and bring two or three of your high potential plumbers with you. The investment you make will come back to you over and over. First, you are offering a new experience. Second, they will soak up the seminars, show, and networking opportunities like a sponge. Third, you are tangibly demonstrating your opinion of their value to you. This is more important than you might imagine.

10. Help Pay for College

High school guidance counselors and parents push kids towards college instead of the trades. Typically, the kids emerge with a degree, no experience, and debt. Offer a different path where you pay half of the tuition for night school at a junior college, followed by night school at a local, in-state university provided the high school graduate continues to work for you. It may take more than four years, but at the end of the journey, the high school graduate has a degree, no debt, work experience, and a trade to fall back upon.

Are you worried that you might train people and they leave? Instead, you should worry that you might not train them and they stay.

For more information on setting up a plumbing apprenticeship program, contact the Service Nation Alliance at 877/262-3341 (www.ServiceNationAlliance.com). For more information on the Service World Expo, the PHC industry’s largest residential conference and show, October 10-12 in Las Vegas, visit www.ServiceWorldExpo.com.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable (ServiceRoundtable.com). The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization.

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