A look at Core & Main’s approach to training and development
Attracting and retaining skilled workers has been a high priority recently, especially in light of an aging workforce inching closer to retirement. Not only is it paramount that the next generation of leaders are prepared to step in, but institutional knowledge must also be passed down. Complicating matters even more is that training programs are not readily available for specialized fields – including utility construction.
With this in mind, the folks at Core & Main have taken the initiative and created in-house training and development programs to ensure that when new hires join the company, they have the tools to be successful. To find out more about how Core & Main is tackling the challenge of training and development head on, Utility Contractor talked with Evelyn Swanson, Core & Main’s Director of Talent Management, who helps spearhead those initiatives.
What is Core & Main doing in the area of training and development? How did the program get started?
We started developing training programs almost 10 years ago when Laura Schneider, Chief Human Resources Officer, came aboard and felt we that we needed to start a sales training program. As we were working on that, we realized that we had a lot of work to do in our training and development as a whole. What started as one sales training program has become about 20-instructor led programs covering all aspects of what we do.
And these are not just for managers or a particular demographic that needs specialized training, but rather for every single associate at any branch. We offer product knowledge training for our water works and fire protection business lines. These are 2.5-day classes for new associates to learn about all the products we sell. We even have a pared down version for those who just want to better understand the industry. The really neat thing about these courses is that they are developed by our subject matter experts, some of whom have 40 years of experience in the industry.
We also have a 2-year training program for recent college graduates with a mandatory relocation after the first year. This is a stringent curriculum that includes e-learning and virtual sessions as well as in-person training. We just recently hosted a session on presentation skills here in our St. Louis headquarters where trainees presented findings and recommendations on business case study. At the end of the 2-year period, they are ready to take a significant role with the organization.
What were the factors that led to the establishment of the training programs?
One of the things that led to us developing our own programs was a lack of established programs outside of the organization able to provide the knowledge and skills we need. There are very few colleges around the country that offer education in water distribution, for example. And since we have such a great resource of leaders in our company that can train people the way we want, it just seemed like an area where we can make a difference. And now, we feel comfortable hiring young people and give them the specialized expertise and skills they will need to be successful here.
Like a lot of other companies involved in the construction industry, we have a lot of people who have been in the business for many, many years and who are going to retire soon, so we have a huge need to make sure that we are preparing the next generation of leaders. And who better to prepare the next generation than those who have been successful doing the work. It’s also important that new employees can see a career path.
It has taken some work to make sure that we are getting our employees trained to the point where they can be successful – it’s more of a marathon than a sprint.
Which programs are most in demand? What do you see upcoming for the future?
We are seeing more and more folks coming in at the entry level, and I think that we are creating a buzz with our development programs and people want to come work for us. With some of our product knowledge classes we are having a hard time keeping up with the demand. On the more technical side, the metering technology programs are popular. Also popular is our estimating program, which covers the basics of estimating through to using the latest software tools.
I see this type of training continuing to be an integral part of our business. One shift we are seeing is more of a move to electronic media – the millennials we hire are demanding it. We are creating podcasts that our sales people can listen to in their vehicles, and we are developing collaborative tools that enable employees to share and refine best practices. We’re really just at a starting point for these new technologies. It’s really exciting to where it takes us.
“Core & Main is proud of our association and Gold Sponsorship with NUCA assisting the organization to expand its services that focus on shared industry issues. Core & Main strives to be a catalyst in building upon a strong educational foundation for the future and success of our industry. The NUCA Foundation for education has been responsible for the creation of training programs such as the Pipe Installation Training Series and the Excavation Safety Orientation. Alongside NUCA’s educational commitment, Core & Main provides its associates with significant safety and in-depth product training opportunities to better serve their communities.”
— Yvonne Bland, vice president of sales and business development, Core & Main, and past NUCA associate board member
Core & Main is a NUCA Gold National Partner.