How did you gain your knowledge and experience? How did you develop into your current role?
Construction frequently faces a shortage of skills, a lack of good people – why? There are usually new graduates from colleges and university who cannot find a job. There also seems to be an unlimited number of jobless unskilled people. It’s not that there is a lack of people available, they just don’t have much if any experience, skills or both.
Nevertheless, the construction industry expects to find skilled and experienced people whenever their projects require them. Construction companies are poor at mentoring and training people. Many apprenticeship programs have been dismantled, and those that are still available are poorly utilized, and recently qualified people from them don’t always find a job.
Those of us that have reached management positions in construction usually did so through hard work, and sometimes a little luck. But none of us would have got to where we are if we hadn’t been employed when we had no experience and few skills. None of us would have been there if we hadn’t been offered opportunities to grow and develop – yes, we frequently had to grab those opportunities with both hands and work our way through them with hard work. But, none of us would have reached our management positions if we weren’t aided, mentored and trained by our managers and those that worked with us. I didn’t magically get my knowledge from nowhere, and there was certainly no internet in my day. Books can only give you so much – for the rest I relied on good supervisors and project managers. I am sure my questions exhausted them and I’m sure my mistakes irritated them – but their training, patience, and perseverance paid off and I became a valuable asset to them and the company.
So why is there a lack of skilled people in construction?
Centuries ago people used to aspire to become good craftsmen – whether it was a stone mason or a carpenter. These days craftspeople and tradespeople are sometimes looked down upon – and yet, where would we be without a good plumber or competent electrician? Why should society denigrate any trade or occupation?
Construction is a cyclical industry and often there isn’t job security. People in the industry frequently lose their job – not because they weren’t capable, but only because of the work dried-up. Companies become bankrupt and people are left without a job – sometimes owed for several weeks’ work.
There is a lack of commitment by construction companies to provide training and experience to new recruits. Newly qualified construction graduates are left jobless because they don’t have practical experience. Who wants to work in an industry that is crying out for experienced people and yet doesn’t want to provide the experience.
Construction usually demands arduous work, long hours, sometimes in difficult weather conditions, and workers are frequently expected to work far from home. The pay and rewards often don’t warrant working these hours and conditions.
The industry does a poor job at promoting itself, or the career paths and opportunities that may exist in the industry. Often people get into the construction industry as a last resort because they couldn’t find anything else to do.
Why don’t construction companies train and mentor people?
Construction companies are notoriously poor at training people. Companies are reluctant to employ and train new graduates, preferring to search for skilled experienced people, who often aren’t available, are expensive, or aren’t always the quality person the company thought they were employing. In desperation, many construction companies resort to employing mediocre people that can’t really do the job properly and who often tarnish the company’s reputation and cost the company money.
So why don’t companies train their people? There is always an excuse that it will cost too much money, we don’t have time to train people, if we train people they’ll leave or they’ll demand bigger wages. Often construction companies are short-sighted and are only looking at the project they are currently working on. Construction, as I said, is cyclical, so companies feel it’s a waste of time training someone who they might no longer need at the end of the project. If the truth is told it’s probably simply because construction companies couldn’t be bothered and they believe they’ll always find someone to fill a vacancy.
Some construction companies believe that it’s the government’s duty to provide construction skills and construction qualifications – yet ultimately everyone needs practical experience and the only way of getting this is if construction companies provide the opportunities and the mentoring. But the industry anyway shouldn’t be relying on the government.
The advantages of training and mentoring skilled people
I’ve had huge success with training and mentoring people. Contrary to popular belief they haven’t deserted the company once trained, but have stayed and made the company better. People who are trained and mentored feel that the company appreciates them, others see their colleagues being trained and promoted and want to be part of the team. There is a glimmer of hope for many that have been left neglected in the same job for years. There are new motivation and productivity improves across the company. Trained people, with better skills, require less supervision, they deliver better quality work, they work smarter and safer.
It’s often easier to attract new people to the company when the word spreads that the company has good training and mentoring programs. People want to work for a company that values them and where they’ll be trained and equipped with new skills.
Yes, some people will leave after they’ve been trained, but their training won’t be wasted as they simply increase the pool of skills in the industry. If lots of companies were training people, then ultimately there would be a greater pool of skilled people to choose from, which would allow us to employ better candidates.
Having skilled employees improves the company’s reputation. Being more productive means greater profits and possibly allows the company to drop their prices. Ultimately this means the company may actually win more work and grow, and the newly trained people will be required to support this growth.
Employing newly qualified, but inexperienced people, allows companies to train them in the ways and the culture of the company. Frequently new candidates who are employed because they have experience and knowledge disappoint because they bring the bad habits and poor culture of their old company with them, habits and culture that might not be a good fit with your company.
We need to be training the tradespeople, the supervisors, the project managers, and the whole construction team so that the next generation of construction people will be better and more capable. We cannot rely on others to train and mentor people. We cannot assume that we will find suitably skilled people whenever we need them.
We were given opportunities to reach the positions we did, and we owe it to the next generation, and we owe it to the construction industry, to train and mentor individuals in the construction industry. If we don’t we will be condemned to a life complaining about the lack of skilled people, and we will be condemning the construction industry to a steady decline in service, quality, and standards.
What are you doing to improve the skills in the construction industry?