Copyright 2018 by the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA). All Rights reserved. This article first appeared in CFMA Talking Trades (a member-only benefit) and is reprinted with permission.
A construction craft professional was just assigned his first supervisor position as the jobsite foreman. Things went relatively well while the crew was small. As other crafts ramped up, it was necessary for his crew to increase in numbers to keep the job schedule on track. As he was accustomed to working with an experienced crew, he didn’t know his new hires for the jobsite would be less experienced and more entry-level.
After a few days of working with them, he approached his superintendent saying, “Can’t you send me more experienced help? The new people you sent me can’t even read a measuring tape!” The wise superintendent went to the tool room and came back with a box of “easy read” tape measures. He handed the box to the new supervisor and said, “Don’t complain! Train!” That directive has resonated with me ever since because on that day many years ago I was that new supervisor.
With this information at hand, I came to understand training was the one activity I could perform that would influence crew members’ job performance. In doing this, other important areas were impacted as well. Things like safety, a better understanding of job responsibilities, production, and bottom line results all improved once I started training my crew at the jobsite.
In the early 2000s, MAREK realized that the field leaders who had been carrying the bulk of our projects were beginning to reach retirement age without enough replacements in line to step into their positions. After exploring different options, we created a Workforce Development program. We hired a new craft training director who immediately set out to formalize craft training by bringing in our own subject matter experts to develop a curriculum describing each trade, tasks critical to the success of those in the trade, skills, tools, safety practices, and outcomes. Career paths accompanying the training program were created and documented in manuals for helpers, mechanics, crew leaders, and field supervisors.
MAREK trained journey-level coaches to work with new helper and mechanic trainees to teach them the material in the craft manuals in a structured on-the-job training (OJT) program. This provided them with the hands-on opportunities to develop their skills and quality of work at a quicker pace than the old informal and less consistent training method. MAREK’s new fast track training program enabled existing employees to grow, and attracted high potential talent interested in learning a craft with a clear route for growth into field leadership based on performance and skill. Years later, we are reaping the benefits of graduates from the early days now in supervisor and coaching roles training and developing others.
MAREK also saw the need to have a knowledgeable workforce with verifiable credentials. We applied and we were approved to be a training sponsor and assessment center for The National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). MAREK volunteered subject matter experts to work with a team of drywall trade professionals across the nation to validate curriculum content for NCCER’s Drywall Level II curriculum, create the question bank for the drywall journey level written assessment, and give input for the development of the drywall journey level performance verification. Our craft professionals now have the opportunity to earn a nationally recognized certification through MAREK’s training programs.
It hasn’t been easy. We still face the workforce challenges affecting our entire industry and identify ways we can be better every day. But just like my personal realization moment so many years ago, there is a turning point for individuals and companies when we realize we want to be a part of the solution. Fortunately, we share the journey with committed partners like NCCER and many others, including trade associations, peer companies, community organizations, workforce boards, school systems, and more.
Today, we are implementing new technology to put training in the hands of our employees through online tools on their phones and tablets. We are asking ourselves “what are the most important things we can do to ensure that our crew members have everything they need to succeed” and “how can we set up a system where our craft professionals drive more continuing education and teach each other?”
This question was asked of me: “Is it important to train and certify?” Who would you want to work on your car? Someone who took a semester of auto shop, or a well-trained and ASE Certified Mechanic? The same applies to our industry. Who do you want to build the places where you work, live, learn, or seek healthcare? It is not only important to train new employees and give them the skills and knowledge to help them become successful, but also to upskill existing employees. The industry is changing with new tools, materials, and techniques to improve safety, quality, and production; existing employees want to learn and grow just as much as the new person. Is it important to train and certify? My answer is a resounding YES!
ARTHUR EHMLING joined MAREK in 1981 as a Drywall Craftsman after 12 years in the retail grocery industry. Having distinguished himself as a leader in the field, Arthur was elevated to Leadman, Foreman, and then Supervisor. During his early years, Arthur developed an advanced construction document course for MAREK. After hours, he taught young carpenters wanting to advance their careers. In 2008, he joined the Workforce Development Team as a Head Coach where he served as a subject matter expert to develop MAREK’s craft curriculum and career paths.
Arthur also contributed as a SME for the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) for the development of the Drywall II Curriculum and for the Mentoring for Craft Professionals curriculum. He has earned the certification from NCCER of Drywall Mechanic Certified Plus. In 2012, the Associated General Contractors of Houston awarded Arthur their Standard of Excellence Award. Today, Arthur continues to help others grow and to help build MAREK’s content library as the Corporate Craft Training Specialist.