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Putting together the right suite of training courses for a project.

4 March 2015

The Engineering and Construction industries are very reliant on short (usually two days duration) public training courses to supplement commercial skills. These courses are of often of questionable quality. One thing they all have in common is that they are expensive but how do we choose the courses that will deliver a real benefit to our people deployed to a particular contract?

Lets start by discussing some fundamental issues.

Whilst we may disagree on many issues, the subject that there will be no dissention over is the lack of meaning full skills available to industry as a whole and the construction industry in particular.

Of course skills development starts with meaningful schooling and the Government have done society and industry no favors by down grading our educational standards. The closure of industry based technical skills development programmes (like apprenticeships) is equally a major blow to skilling up our industry.

The other dynamic that must be appreciated is that the industry demands and requirements have changed significantly in the past twenty or so years. The emphasis on what might be called “soft skills” has increased beyond all recognition and site managers can expect to expend 80% of their time immersed in sorting these HR, safety and environmental issues out and only the remaining 20% dealing with technical issues. The other important change is that the commercial skills necessary to properly manage a modern construction contract has increased dramatically.

So how has the industry responded to these changes? It is probably true to say that there has been no meaningful or coordinated response. Certain training companies have seen the gap and are providing training courses that vary from very poor to excellent. One feature that they all have in common however is that they are all expensive.

Some years ago , companies got a tax break for the training that they were doing. The training requirement was therefore top down (government) driven. Now that the benefits (tax at least) have been removed, training is driven by the individual skill development needs of each person or company. It is bottom up driven. This is a weakness and is counterproductive to making major changes and turning around the skills shortages at least in respect of commercial skills training.

Another feature of training programmes available is that people who already have a modicum of commercial skills are the ones we see on these courses. The people that really need the training (like the BBBEE contractors) are rarely if ever seen.

So what is missing? Well firstly, we need to identify the training needs of the entire industry not the training needs of the privileged (and monied) established contractors. Secondly we need standards. Standards for the course leaders and standards for the course material being presented. The present CPD arrangement does not assist the current varied and generally unsatisfactory quality of presenters and material alike. Anyone can present courses (and they do).

So the starting point for any project, whether we are talking about the actual construction of the Works or the training needs of the staff and labour to be deployed on the site is a risk analysis. Once we know the risks that have to be managed we can match or identify gaps between these risks and the experience and training of our people. This will identify the subjects and issues that need to be addressed.

This is a major shortcoming of most organizations operating in the construction environment. We don’t identify the specific risks that will be encountered. We run contracts generically. In other words we do the same things on all our contracts regardless of any specific risks that may be inherent in a particular contract. We “crank the handle”!

So the knee jerk reaction is give the guys a training course on the particular type of contract (i.e., JBCC, NEC, GCC 2010 etc.,) and hope for the best. We don’t say “ the NEC is an administration intensive contract” and respond by saying lets brush up our administrative skills.

Once we have decided what topics need to be dealt with we need to find the right training provider. Get out there, interview the people that will be presenting the course. Ask to see the material that will be presented and objectively decide which trainer and which course is going to result in the most benefit to your people.

The problem we have with this sort of training is that it usually only sensitizes people to the sorts of problems that they may encounter. It doesn’t give them the skill to deal with the issues. This will only come with experience and exposure. So make sure that the training provider is available to mentor your people and field calls whenever a problem arises and there is uncertainty of what to do. The better training providers will jump at the opportunity to maintain an involvement after the training work shop and maybe hold a follow up session to review and share experiences.

Author: Ian Massey – Directore