Back in the 1980s, Dave, the owner of a small shop, was advised by a business consultant to develop a training program so his electricians could distinguish themselves from the competition.
Dave’s company was already providing the legally mandated training, and he complained to the consultant how this alone was a burden. Dave said there’s often no time for training, and it costs money, and he named other “excuse of the day” issues with training.
But the real clincher was Dave’s perception of what people do once they are better trained. His view? “If I give them extra training, the competition will steal them away from me! I’ve got enough problems keeping people already, after a year or two they leave for another 10 cents an hour!”
So this small shop has stayed a small shop to this day. It’s a small shop of poorly trained employees, and it doesn’t have the greatest reputation in town.
The shop owner never bothered to try to understand the real cause of the high turnover. Can you guess what it was? People felt frustrated and undervalued because they did not get training — even when they specifically asked for it. Even when they fell flat on a job because they didn’t have the training they needed.
Dave’s employees saw their job as a dead-end grind. Nobody actually left Dave’s shop for a 10-cent raise. They left because they saw no future there.
Mike and Jeff were two employees who left at about the same time. They started their own shop, together. To build a skill portfolio, they hired people whose backgrounds were different from yet complementary to theirs.
Their first market thrust was into load side power distribution installation and maintenance work, so every new hire had some expertise that fit in that rubric. Every new hire was required to train every other employee in whatever specialized skill he had. This is how the firm built its baseline competence.
From the start, they set aside funds and time for training. After slightly more than 10 years of this, their shop was four times the size of the one they left. And they have a great reputation because their employees are highly trained.
But what does “highly trained” mean, and can you get too “highly” with the training?
For the first question, there’s not a precise answer for every firm. But we’ll look at some principles in a moment.
For the second question, you won’t overdo the training if you correctly chart out the training needs and allot both monetary and time budgets for training in balance with your other business needs.
Some general principles
General principle No. 1: Find as much training as you can to make your people as good as they can be at what they do for you. You want your people to be as highly trained as is practical. And you want that training to be applicable to the work your people are actually doing and to the work they will be doing in a new market you plan to enter.
General principle No. 2: Don’t worry that the more you train your employees the more likely they are to leave for higher pay elsewhere. Yes, it can happen. But the solution there is to reward your employees for their training. It need not be just monetarily, either. You can give them increased autonomy and responsibility, for example.
General principle No. 3: Recognition goes a long way. If Bill just completed an advanced PLC course, make a big deal out of it in the company. Thank Bill personally for his commitment, backing that up with something he might appreciate, such as a gift card.
General principle No. 4: It has to fit together. What other training might Bill get? If he’s now a PLC guru, should he not be trained in equipment that’s on either side of the PLC? That is, on the input side you have sensors and switches and other input devices. On the output side, you have “final control elements” such as motors and valves. If Bill goes out on a job with PLC control, and it turns out the problem is the motor, don’t you want him to be competent in addressing that? (The PLC is rarely the source of a problem in a PLC-controlled system.)
General principle No. 5: Don’t put people through training that merely distracts them from their expertise path. Putting Bill through a hodgepodge of courses won’t make him an expert, it’ll just enable him to be a bit above mediocre in many areas. Fitting the right training together and avoiding “useless” training will produce a “highly trained” employee. There’s a difference between someone who’s taken a lot of unrelated training and someone who is highly trained.
General principle No. 6: Lack of a particular course at a particular place isn’t an excuse. Find and use many sources. How can Bill get all this related training? Some of the training methods available:
• Classes at local educational institutions (if available).
• Online courses.
• Technical publications (books and trade magazines).
• Technical conferences.
• Onsite training; an instructor comes to your facility.
• Offsite training; you send the employees to the training center.
• Vendor classes and manufacturer’s classes.
• Training sessions arranged by your electrical distributor.