Invest in Success: Train and Educate Your Employees

July 1, 2009

What kind of return would you expect if you invested $0 in a stock? None, of course, because you didn’t invest anything. This seems like common sense; however, there are too many contractors in our industry who believe they can still profit even if they don’t invest money in training their employees. This type of employer sets himself and his business up for failure, and then wonders why he doesn’t succeed.

When I started my business in 1990, I realized that I didn’t know enough about estimating, accounting, or insulation installation. I knew that to make the business work I would need help training myself and future employees. In other words, I realized that “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” Over the next 20 years, however, I learned four valuable lessons about investing in success:

Lesson 1. Learn about the insulation industry

My first goal was to learn as much as I could about the insulation industry and to meet other successful industry leaders. To accomplish this, I joined two trade associations: the National Insulation Association (NIA) and the Midwest Insulation Contractors Association (MICA). When I researched these two organizations, I learned that they focus on teaching people how to succeed. Both groups offer seminars on leadership, how to manage employees, accounting principles, succession planning, safety programs, insulation material forums, estimating, etc. These groups can also lead you to industry leaders who are invaluable sources of industry knowledge. Now, if I have a problem in my business, I can discuss it with other members of these organizations to get ideas and feedback on how to succeed. This type of knowledge and experience is invaluable.

Lesson 2. Teach employees how to install insulation

One way to train a new employee is by putting him on the job with someone who has more experience. However, this method is unreliable because it depends on a teacher who—regardless of how much he knows about insulation—may have no experience in training others. The result is often unsatisfactory, resulting in high employee turnover.

The better approach is to have employees go through a certified training program. Currently there are two options: a union apprenticeship for union contractors and the Wheels of Learning apprenticeship curriculum for merit shop contractors. The union apprenticeship classes follow a structured curriculum and are taught by teaching professionals. Wheels of Learning is also a structured curriculum, but employers have to contact the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) for help in developing a Certified Instructor for their company or association.

In either case, it takes approximately 4 years of training, testing, and field application to cover the curriculum. Once an employee has completed either of these programs, he is a well-qualified insulation journeyman.

Lesson 3. Teach employees how to become estimators

NIA has printed materials on estimating as well as speakers at their meetings who discuss different aspects of insulation estimating. The MICA manual is full of estimating guides and formulas. There are also seminars on computerized estimating software, which is used throughout the industry. I found my estimating software through a MICA seminar I attended back in the mid 90s. There, I had the opportunity to talk with many of the MICA members and get their input on which software programs were best for our industry.

The best method for successfully training an employee to be an estimator is to send him to the company that designed the estimating software you will be using. Once estimators are trained in the software the company uses, they will be able to customize that software for your market in terms of material pricing, productivity rates, etc.

Lesson 4. Find future supervisors

First, identify journeymen who are leaders on your projects, and then start the education process again. Remember: no investment, no return. Enroll future supervisors in classes and seminars on communication and leadership, as well as construction-related classes, offered by your local vocational schools or through regional or national associations. You should also send your staff to events such as NIA’s Committee Days and Annual Convention where they can hear speakers and participate in safety roundtables and other events.

Through this whole process of training/educating, show your people you are interested in their education. Ask them about their classes and have them show you some of the skills they are learning. This helps motivate them and will result in more productive employees.

Since I started training and educating our employees, we have had tremendous success as a company. We have more than doubled our sales and increased our field workforce from 12 to 28. An important mark of our success is that while companies typically grow in size but decrease the rate of their margins, our profits have increased at the same pace as our sales. We have been able to give our employees significant increases in pay because of our company’s profitability, which increases our employee retention rate. In addition, our workers compensation experience modification rating (EMR) has been reduced from around 1.00 to .78.

I know this sounds too good to be true, but it can happen if you remember one thing: Your job is to make everyone who works for you successful. If you do everything in your power to make them successful, then success will follow you abundantly. This sounds easy, but it takes a conscious effort every day.