Trained to Win

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The following article was authored by Mark L. Johnson and originally published in AWCI's Construction Dimensions magazine.

How do you ensure workers sharpen their skill sets? It’s a problem common in regions lacking unions and their great training programs. Most open shops can’t afford to develop craft training on their own. It’s time-consuming. It’s expensive.

So, how can it get done?

One idea comes from Houston. The Construction Career Collaborative (C3) has several high-profile projects, including some for the Texas Children’s Hospital. C3 has a novel approach: Owners require all players to have training programs in place. It’s a prerequisite to bid a C3 job.

“The wisdom behind what we’re doing is that it’s owner-driven,” says Chuck Gremillion, C3’s executive director. “The owner says, ‘This is my ballgame. These are my rules.’”

Entice Young People
Training is key to recruiting and retaining career-minded people. It gives people confidence and helps them see their potential. That’s motivating and engaging and provides someone with a sense of direction.

Owners expect career-focused employees to build better buildings. Hence, C3 sees training as a way to build better structures and a better industry. Gremillion is compiling metrics to prove it. But for now, he’s convinced C3’s training focus delivers structures faster and with fewer worker injuries.

“Our vision is for highly skilled craftworkers who deliver high quality work in less time and with less rework, thereby increasing demand for their services and their wages,” Gremillion says. “That’s what will bring young people into construction.”

Thus, C3’s secret sauce is proper employment. Proper W-2s. Proper wages. Proper craft training. Proper safety training. All C3 workers carry OSHA 10-Hour training cards. Field supervisors have OSHA 30-Hour cards. Labor brokers won’t measure up. Pieceworkers won’t fit in.

New Training Assessments
This spring marks C3’s fourth anniversary as a 501(c)(3) registered organization.

It’s an exciting time. C3 has 200 accredited employers, project-based employers and staffing agencies. It has a repertoire of 16 projects—10 active, six completed—that range from a single-floor interiors job to a $600 million hospital expansion. And soon, C3 expects to expand beyond Greater Houston to Dallas and Austin, accommodating interest from The University of Texas System of educational institutions.

But, C3’s biggest step is now at hand: moving forward with craft training. The C3 board decided recently to add assessment measures to the C3 employer application. Employers can expect to see new questions on the C3 application, questions like these:

  • Does management support craft training? 
  • Do you train field personnel, foremen, crew leaders and supervisors? 
  • Do you have a written training policy? 
  • Do you have a training budget? 
  • Do you have a structured career path for each position? 
  • Is compensation linked to acquiring new skills? 
  • Credentialed craft workers?

Gremillion recognizes that employers will need help, so he plans to hire a C3 training officer this spring. It will be someone experienced with training programs, someone ready to own the training responsibility.

“Craft training will be the most difficult part of what we do,” Gremillion says. “It’s our hope that as we evolve we can form peer groups by trade that can put heads together on micro-level training.”

Level Playing Field
The Great Recession and the years since have been tough for construction firms. Bidding became tantamount to pitching an unbearable price. Many GCs became hyper-focused on cost and pushed good craftsmanship aside.

That’s changing.

At a recent C3 town hall–style meeting, Gremillion and some C3 owners spoke with contractors and specialty contractors. One subcontractor in the group stood up and spoke out.

“I don't believe it,” she said. “Are you telling me you’re going to judge me by more than a low bid?”

“That’s what we’re telling you,” said the owner of several Houston medical facilities.

Finally, doing business the old-fashioned way is in vogue. It’s what wall and ceiling firms have longed to see.

“No one’s cutting out 35 percent of labor cost by not playing fairly,” Gremillion says. “C3 levels the playing field.”

Mark L. Johnson writes about industry training and safety, among other things. Reach him on Twitter, @markjohnsoncomm, and at linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.

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