The Value of Training in Good Times and Bad

training.pngThe construction industry is beginning to see the light of day. Companies are no longer struggling with layoffs and are beginning to hire again. The anxiety of paying the bills is being replaced with thoughts of growth and expansion - or at least getting companies that survived back to what they once were.

However, as the pendulum swings, there appears to be a completely new set of issues. The once bountiful supply of construction workers and craftsmen has dwindled to a select pool, as the "30-somethings" had to look for jobs in different career fields, having been let go from the industry during the economic downturn.

The gap in the current construction workforce mimics an hourglass, with a high percentage of seasoned and skilled workers with visions of retirement at one end and a crop of the fresh, yet unskilled and inexperienced employees filling out the other. There is a narrow and limited group that sits between - those who would be described as experienced and skilled but also in the prime of their career. These are the current and future leaders and are key to taking the knowledge and skills that can be learned by working alongside journeymen and tradesmen and passing that knowledge down to the newest to the industry. These are truly the few and the coveted.

There is a clear understanding and acknowledgement in the construction industry of the need to get those new to construction ramped up quickly and that doing so will require training. However, having difficulty justifying concrete return on investment (ROI) for training initiatives, many companies either downsized or disbanded their internal training organizations or reduced their external training budgets in order to actively address new and rigid budget constraints during troubled economic times. In the last recession, for example, some companies reduced training, others restricted training events or the number classes offered, and yet others deleted the budget line from the spreadsheet altogether. Recouping budget by decreasing or discontinuing training may have seemed a necessary - almost sensible - way to save costs, but ultimately the costs of limiting training when things were bad may have created a current and future dilemma.

The industry training challenge may seem to be as simple as getting new hires up to speed, but the reality is that depleted training departments, the lack of structured training plans, and reduced budgets can be the real obstacles to successful training initiatives. Couple that with the likelihood that few people left in the organization understand how to launch new training initiatives or create a plan, and your efforts to get well-trained employees on your sites can be delayed by weeks and even months as you reorganize your efforts.

The Hidden Costs of Not Training

When we refer to training in any organization, it is rarely limited to just new-hire training or new skill learning. More often, the word "training" is used when referencing professional development, organizational updates, communicating regulatory changes, succession planning, leadership development, and essentially any changes in what or how we do something that needs to be communicated. We often see training as an organized conduit for information sharing. Sit in any meeting, in any industry, where someone sees a deficit of some kind or a need to communicate information, and you will hear some call to action that includes the word “training.”

It makes sense that when we reduce our structure or capacity for training in any way, those benefits that are associated with training will suffer. An operations executive in a large electrical engineering company was getting his training initiatives back on track. He noted some regulatory updates that his company had resorted to sending out as e-mail updates and through manager communications. The result was a number of electrical workers with inconsistent information that was required to execute the job. H