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Thanks to several evolving trends, contractors will soon want to change the way they train equipment operators. If you anticipate them now, it will help increase the odds of you being competitive and profitable in the times ahead. Here are the three major trends, and the implications for your contracting firm or government agency:
Trend 1: A looming operator shortage
Experienced and skilled operators are moving steadily into retirement, taking much of their hard-won knowledge with them. This process has been speeded up by the recession, which has idled large percentages of many contractors’ equipment fleets and operators.
Because of the lingering downturn, dwindling availability of experienced operators hasn’t been much of a problem so far; not very many equipment operators are needed today. But the inevitable upturn, when it arrives, will create a significant shortage. Contractors will need to get creative in attracting young people to the construction profession.
One way to do this is to partner with local schools to assist them with their vocational-technical training. You could donate funding, help to teach a class, or offer a field trip to your facility or jobsite where students can see equipment in action. Events like this will expose your firm to young people while they’re still in high school, and hopefully influence them to come work for it after they graduate.
Here’s another idea: A number of contractors in North America have invested in affordable PC-based simulators that are not only terrific training tools for their new hires, but double as powerful, portable recruiting tools that can be set up at high school and vocational-technical school job fairs. These desktop units always attract a crowd, which gives their representatives ample opportunities to start conversations with young operator candidates. These affordable simulators can also be used to identify those candidates with the greatest natural aptitude for equipment operation – a real plus!
Trend 2: No previous equipment experience
The next major trend, which is happening largely unseen by most people, is that contractors can no longer rely on hiring people with some degree of previous equipment operating experience. In years past, you may have been able to hire young people who had operated equipment on their family’s farm or perhaps had a summer job driving a forklift in a warehouse or retail store. Not anymore. As the economy recovers, the majority of operator candidates will have little or no previous equipment experience.
How does this change training? You can’t assume a base level of equipment knowledge. You need to start training from scratch on what each type of equipment is, what it does on the jobsite and how to operate it safely. They also need to be given a sense of how their work fits in with the bigger picture, including how to work productively and safely around other people and equipment, and how their work helps contribute to the firm’s bottom line. Most training doesn’t address this aspect of equipment operation.
Trend 3: A need to elevate the level of training in your firm
As business returns, so will your competition. Thanks to a growing shortage of skilled workers, training is poised to become a point of competitive differentiation for contractors in the near future. Those who are able to train new hires to operate safely and provide the best working environment for them - which increases retention - should enjoy a growing advantage in the years ahead. You need to take steps now to ensure that your firm is as competitive as possible.
As you consider what your operators’ specific training needs are, keep in mind that they are adults. They learn differently than children do, and thus your approach to training them needs to be different as well. Adults usually don’t respond well to being herded into a room, where their heads are filled with instructor-led training or where they must watch a boring old safety video – the same one you’ve been showing every year.
In general, adults:
- Need to know why they are learning something.
- Learn by doing.
- Are problem-solvers.
- Learn best when the content is relevant and of immediate use.
Your training needs to take these learning needs into account, and should ideally blend classroom or computer-based training with structured, hands-on, “in the field” activities that help to anchor what they’ve learned in the classroom. Integrating equipment simulators into your training can help keep it interesting for a new generation that has grown up using computers.
In closing, effective training isn’t just a “nice to do” – something you ought to implement when time permits. It needs to be a priority because the lives of your workers are hanging in the balance. According to one recent article in Professional Safety, the journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers, "the difference between effective and ineffective training may be death, injury, pain, suffering and lost profits."