Chapter Corner

The High Cost of an Untrained Workforce

Posted in: Features, March 2013

Zero Defects is a common business practice which aims to reduce and minimize the number of defects and errors in a process and to do things right the first time. The ultimate aim will be to reduce the level of defects to zero. However, this may not be possible in practice and what it means is that everything possible will be done to eliminate the likelihood of errors or defects occurring, and to fix any issues that are discovered.

Over the last two decades, the concept of zero defects contributed to the creation and development of Six Sigma®, which was pioneered by Motorola and now adopted worldwide by many other organizations. In the manufacturing process, a six sigma rating indicates that 99.99966 percent of the products manufactured are statistically expected to be free of defects (3.4 defects per million).

The cost of zero defects in manufacturing or when installing redundant systems in a data center is very high. Consider the relational costs of managing defects, which might cost:

  • $10 to "mistake-proof" a business process so that defects are avoided;
  • $100 to find and fix the defect during product or service creation;
  • $1,000 to find the defect before the service is delivered or the product is shipped;
  • $10,000 to have the customer find the defect, complain about it, and then engage in damage control;
  • $100,000 for reworks and warranty claims; and
  • $1 million to handle the lawsuit that results from injury or damage.

Quality assurance (QA) for services is the equiv-alent of Six Sigma® for manufacturing. QA refers to the systematic activities implemented in a quality system so that quality requirements for a product or service will be fulfilled. While defining the required quality is typically defined through a thorough scope of work or materials schedule, the quality of the labor provided is a combination of aptitude, experience, and training. It’s largely impossible for associations like Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI) to teach aptitude and field experience. While training is no longer limited to the classroom, regardless of where or how it’s taught, the curriculum is largely the same and relies on standards, codes, best practices, trade or product specific instruction, and some form of student evaluation.

Regardless of whether the “classroom” is at a training center, a hotel, or on the Internet, the objective is the same – to ensure that the student is able to complete related tasks and do them right. A trained workforce has a significant impact on the cost and efficiency of building and maintaining any structure. Anyone who’s worked outside of the U.S. learns the value of a trained workforce very quickly. The lack of a fully trained workforce results in major differences, which may not be obvious. One example is the use of a single set of plans for both the bid and construction processes. In some countries, the drawings and specifications that are used for all phases of construction, are not adequate with a lesser trained workforce. In those countries, a second set of “post-tender” drawings are required that are so detailed that they overcome the lack of training by the workers assigned to the project. I don’t have to tell you that the mistakes a parent makes on Christmas morning when putting together a bicycle using “slot A” and “tab B” step-by-step instructions – are unwelcome and costly on a job site. No matter how cheap the labor might be, training is absolutely necessary to do the job right the first time.

I remember one instance when the owner of an international data center project decided to cut corners and elected to produce the second set of constructions. The welders for the water-glycol cooling system were not trained in data center construction and did not speak or read the language in which the bid plans were created. They had not been trained in the welding standards for this type of weld. When the welds were x-rayed at the mid-point of the project, almost all of them failed and had to be separated and welded properly. The cost of this rework was estimated at almost $500,000 and the project was delayed while the work was completed properly. You can buy a lot of training for $500,000.

A collaborative effort between not just contractors, but associations is paramount to the success of a well trained industry. A mutual acknowledgement of the importance and value of other associations is an important step to ensuring that low-voltage work-forces are trained properly. The benefits of having a trained workforce are equaled only by the high cost of having an untrained workforce. Properly trained workers reduce project costs and warranty claims, and produce more productive employees. An apt, experienced and trained workforce results in quality and efficiency. Remember what Henry Ford said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”

Jerry L. Bowman, RCDD, NTS, RTPM, CISSP, CPP, CDCDP, is president of BICSI. Headquartered in Tampa, Florida, BICSI is a professional association supporting the information technology systems (ITS) industry. BICSI provides information, education, and knowledge assessment for individuals and companies in the ITS industry and serves more than 23,000 ITS professionals, including designers, installers, and technicians, in nearly 100 countries. Bowman is also President of North Carolina-based Utilipath, a leading provider of global managed and outsourced services in the $20 billion utility infrastructure services segment. Bowman holds industry credentials from BICSI, (ISC)², ASIS and CNet.