Wood, a global leader in the delivery of project, engineering and technical services to energy and industrial markets, thinks locally when it comes to workforce development and training. A relatively small project for the company in Georgia, requiring about 250 construction workers, is serving as a training test pilot for the company.
Led by Mittie Cannon, Manager of Workforce Development, the program takes advantage of relationships built between local workforce development councils, industry trade groups, community organizations, and nationwide training provider, Crane Industry Services LLC, which is headquartered near a current Wood project.
“Our greatest asset is our people,” said Cannon. “We were looking for a way to provide our employees with ongoing training and credentials, but there’s only so much you can do on the job site,” she said. Both Wood and CIS are NCCER-accredited training sponsors providing nationally recognized credentials. The two organizations will share an off-site facility to deliver skills training for craft professionals as well as leadership and team building training for front line supervisors. Since June 2017, the partners have been working together and realizing good results.
Training for electricians, carpenters, pipefitting, crane operation, and signal persons began just six months ago, and will conclude in the fall of 2018, although the scope of the project continues beyond that.
“Skills add value for life, to organizations and individuals,” said Debbie Dickinson, CEO of CIS. “This pilot training program is designed to ensure that a qualified, skilled workforce is available to meet our client needs.”
We asked Cannon, Dickinson, and Richard Campbell, a Piping Field Engineer who has 43 years of experience working for Wood and its predecessors, about their perspective on training and how Wood is implementing its pilot program.
What’s leadership’s perspective on training?
Cannon: “In 2016, our leaders recognized that employees were as concerned about training and workforce development issues as management was. Many companies view training only as a cost, but we want to create a culture that supports ongoing skills development. Providing employees with opportunities to gain advanced skills helps them feel appreciated.”
How has corporate culture changed regarding training and its perceived value?
Campbell: “Training used to consist of what you picked up while working with journeyman level workers. Through the years, there has been a reduction in journey level employees. Efforts to provide training on the job site often fizzled out. Today the need to educate our replacements in our industry has become a bigger concern. Upper management sees the need not only for more training, but to get more of our youth involved in learning a craft.”
How can employers make sure training is meaningful?
Campbell: “There has to be an end goal to encourage workers to strive for perfection. Employers should engage from the top down and employees need to know that management is supportive and willing to do what it takes to assist them in accomplishing their personal goals as a craft professional.”
What results do you expect to get from implementing comprehensive training programs?
Cannon: “Obviously a trained workforce is a safer workforce, but research has also shown that training contributes to improved productivity, quality, and employee attendance.”
What’s unique about the training you are providing?
Cannon: “We are not doing anything that hasn’t been done before, but we are taking a deliberate approach to deliver meaningful, robust training. We review the scope of work before we mobilize to identify any specialty training needed proactively, and we encourage employees to take advantage of the training available that expands their skill level.”
How many people do you expect to participate in training?
Cannon: “Our goal is 30% of the workforce to take part in training over the life of the project. We currently have between 40 and 55 percent engaged.”
How will you demonstrate that training is effective?
Cannon: “The corporate culture views training as an employee benefit. The percent of participation is one measure, and over a longer window we will be able to gather data on things like productivity, and accident reduction. But in the short term, we’ve had six laborers/helpers since June participate in training that advanced them to the next level. That means we have six people available internally with new skills we can use and we don’t have to go outside for those people. Even more have added new credentials, such as rigger or signalperson.”
Dickinson: “When employers go beyond compliance-only mentality and focus on training for skilled operations, safety increases and job delays and downtime decrease.”
What will improve the workforce outlook for the construction industry as a whole?
Cannon: “Contractors have to do a better job of establishing relationships in the local communities to create a pipeline of people coming into the industry. We must get involved in career and technical education, with local economic development groups, with faith-based organizations, and others.”