The skilled labor shortage crisis facing the construction industry gets personal when one of your most valuable crew members leaves for another company. But, what can you do about it?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that throwing money at an employee is your only option. Earning more isn’t the only reason valuable employees leave — employees want to be valued, have opportunities to grow and advance their career. A raise won’t make an employee’s needs disappear but investing in training can.
Training is a great way to instill company values, boost morale, create a clear path for future advancement, increase organizational productivity and, most importantly, create a place where people want to stay.
Training reinforces culture
SiteWise LLC, a gas distribution service contractor and NUCA member in Denver, Colorado, takes training seriously. Every new employee starts out in a classroom to learn about company policies, critical safety and quality information, and to establish culture expectations. After that, the company assigns mentors to help new employees learn important details about their job and outline ways for high-achieving team members to advance. It’s a recipe that results in better employee retention, job satisfaction and more productive workers.
Training helps improve employee morale
According to SiteWise Training Manager Matthew Smith, training is essential to keeping good employees around.
“When members of our crews know how to do their jobs, they are confident, which leads to good decision-making in the field,” Smith said. “Effective training leads to quality work and high praise from customers and company management alike. That, of course, makes employees feel valued and take pride in their work. That’s the kind of culture we want at SiteWise because when an employee knows their hard work is appreciated, they want to stay and maintain that high standard.”
Opportunity for advancement
Training isn’t just something SiteWise does for new employees — Smith said the entire team enjoys their work because there are opportunities to grow and develop.
“Many of our new bore-vac members will start on a pothole crew,” Smith explained. “It gives them exposure to the drilling process and what it takes to operate a drill rig safely. After spending time with drill operators, they begin to learn how to operate the drill themselves. We assign new operators on less complex jobs, and as their operating skills improve, we give them the opportunity to sit behind the controls full time, eventually working their way up to a lead/locator, if that’s what they want to do.”
Seeking advanced training
Even with classroom and on-the-job training, the management team at SiteWise understands that to continue to grow as a company, it’s important to look beyond their own capabilities and learn from other experts, including the manufacturers who make the machinery they operate.
Over the last few years, SiteWise has sent several members of its team through personalized training offered by Vermeer. The Vermeer HDD Circuit training program is designed to help HDD companies, large and small, develop their employees’ operating expertise quickly. The two-week program pairs eight students with four full-time Vermeer instructors who will train them on HDD skills involving operation, locating, bore planning, mud mixing, vacuum excavation, daily machine maintenance and safety.
During the two weeks, students will spend most of their time in the field drilling, locating and performing everyday duties of an HDD crew. The remaining time is spent in the classroom learning about different fluid mixing additives, necessary calculations, safety, tooling and other essential topics.
Students who successfully pass the course will receive HDD certification from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). The Vermeer HDD Circuit program is the only accredited program of its kind in the U.S.
According to Dan Vroom, industrial equipment and crew skills training manager at Vermeer, the program was designed to focus on the specific needs of each student going through the program, which is why they have a two-to-one student-to-teacher ratio.
“Everyone going through the class has varying knowledge and experience, and our goal is to identify the areas where an individual needs help and bring them to a higher level of expertise,” Vroom explained. “We place a big emphasis on cross-training. It’s important for productivity to have crew members that can quickly jump into another role when needed.”
“When we first heard about the Vermeer HDD Circuit training program, we knew it was a great opportunity for our operators with some experience and members of our management team to learn from the people who design and build the equipment we use every day,” Smith said. “For me personally, I got the chance to understand exactly what the drill was capable of. An aspect of the circuit program I really appreciated was the emphasis on safe operation. Training isn’t just about how to do the job, it’s about how to do the job in a manner that protects our employees and avoids damage — that’s what our safety culture is all about.”
Smith also said the instructors at the Vermeer HDD Circuit training program helped teach their best operators about what today’s horizontal directional drills can do and explained a few common practices they should avoid.
“We were able to implement skills we learned at the Vermeer HDD Circuit program right away into our operations,” Smith continued. “For instance, we learned about the little things that can extend the life of the components on the machine such as not spinning rods on the magnets. We also appreciated the partnership the program has with DigiTrak — their insight into the new location technology and operation was fantastic.”
Vroom said that contractors from all over the globe have sent employees through the HDD Circuit Program. “Around 60 percent of the students we have trained did not have any operator experience before taking the class,” he said. “The course gave them hands-on time and classroom knowledge they needed to reach the same level as many two-year drill operators. That statistic alone makes the program a worthwhile investment for contractors.”
Trained drilling crews are typically more productive, make fewer mistakes and do a better job of maintaining equipment — all of which helps offset your company’s training investment. Training can also lead to better internal communications.
“In addition to training our HDD crews, we conduct management training internally to provide a better job of supporting our employees,” Smith said. “It’s important for us to understand the ongoing challenges on a daily basis. It leads to more open dialog when things don’t go as planned. We’re all trying to accomplish the same thing, and it’s important that everyone understands and respects each other. When that happens, people tend to enjoy their work and stay with the company.”