Three workers in vests and hard hats
Migrating from a traditional classroom to interactive collaboration

Many organizations are realizing that their labor crisis — availability of capable and qualified associates — will not be solved by passivity in the marketplace. Construction leaders are consistently reminded that education and training are needed to adequately develop their teams. Firms that do not make this a priority lose their high performers, only exacerbating a fragile situation. Training and development takes many forms. Two of the most common are external, independent programs (i.e., project management programs, negotiation programs, etc.), and the other are internal, bespoke programs that provide customized solutions by creating content around a firm’s infrastructure, culture and unique internal situations. Both are excellent talent development solutions, and depending on the needs of the organization, both provide nuggets that any associate can apply to their situation. However, there are other options and applications that progressive leaders are utilizing to drive deeper and impactful learning and “stickiness.”

Best-of-class organizations are finding a balance of “classroom”-style training and education coupled with collaborative game-style settings that allow interaction, conversation and “aha” moments that are achieved through doing. 


Scenarios & Role Playing

Education and learning are different when it comes to adults compared to traditional adolescent teaching. For instance, we often think of learning multiplication tables and the repetition that comes with mastering arithmetic. Furthermore, some students learn visually while others learn auditorily. Adults tend to learn more through sharing and experiential learning, also known as kinesthetic learning. In fact, for some, the message or theme only sinks in by doing. There is an opportunity for firms to better leverage their training investment through experiential modules and scenarios that simulate a real-world setting. Consider the following role-playing exercises that leadership can create and use to drive themes:

  • Customer management — A customer who has particular nuances or pet peeves has asked the contractor to build a project. Armed with the list of preferences both ordinary and peculiar, a small team must develop a “go-to-market” project delivery plan to drive superior customer satisfaction.
  • Errors and omissions — Assuming a contractor has access to a small set of drawings that might have significant errors and complications, teams are assigned to do a rudimentary takeoff, preconstruction strategy or closeout strategy. Put another way, the teams are charged with conducting an Easter egg hunt, challenging them to identify problems and execute proactive solutions.
  • Conflict resolution — Leadership plays the role of “agitator” while small teams of managers and supervisors are tasked with being the “resolver.” Situations like unforeseen change orders, conflicting scopes, staffing/manpower and missed deadlines are all “playacted.”
  • Getting dirty — While more applicable to a trade contractor (or those with the available space) co-mingled teams of managers and tradespeople actually build something similar to a mockup. In addition to seeing how things get built, associates can be graded on quality and installation best practices. This is common in many trade schools or technical programs. 
  • Technology leverage — For service contractors, there is an opportunity to utilize short videos that are generated on a service call. For example, an HVAC contractor or roofing contractor can take a simple 30-to-60-second video of an actual system or existing condition. Those videos would then be shown to a group of technicians, simply asking them to triage what they see or make observations about what they see in the video. A minute-long video of an existing roof might show that bird paths on the roof have created pooling of stormwater, cracked mastic or simply unsealed penetrations. The lead technician can then outline what was actually done and the real-time solution. 

Arguments against these training concepts or any of these ideas relative to talent development, range from cost — for both the trainers and the trainees — to spatial limitations, particularly for the mockup creation. While these concerns are realistic, it is important to consider the impact of not training, which manifests itself in things like employee attrition, mistakes or rework in the field, and lost market share. 


Internal Subject Matter Expertise

There are certainly subjects that necessitate external knowledge or thought leadership. However, some of the smartest people are within the four walls of your business. Sure, they may not be trained teachers, but there are opportunities for internal subject matters experts to showcase and utilize. For instance, consider a vertical building general contractor that usually has activities ranging from site work to electrical systems. What if the firm were to assign “majors” to the various managers, asking them to “get smart” on those specific aspects of the business? This might include developing a cheat sheet, or top 10 considerations when you are doing the phases of an electrical system or site work package. It might also include learning about the types of mechanical systems and pros/cons to installing a chilled water system versus a split-package HVAC system. This is not to replace the trade contractor partners in the market but to provide deeper walking-around knowledge. 

A firm might also do similar thought leadership with finance, risk, legal or scheduling. In addition to asking internal experts to become the point person for questions and opinions, these associates might conduct small lunch-and-learns for colleagues. The primary difference between the traditional classroom training described previously and this is the fact that the teacher is a peer. This allows a safe place to practice presentations while allowing the ultimate in customization for the firm.


Almost everyone would agree that training and education are important, but urgent items often become the five-alarm blaze that takes priority. One solution that may aid in prioritizing training and education is the creation of a master calendar. Just as firms establish an annual meeting cadence that ranges from staff meetings, operations meetings and the holiday parties, training sessions are earmarked on that same calendar. This provides everyone an opportunity to plan ahead and work around these important events. Ultimately, training and education is migrating from not only important but urgent strategic initiatives to win the war for superior talent.