If there's one thing that gets swept aside in the constant rush to put out daily fires and meet long-term deadlines, it's our ability to educate and train our teams – rookies and veterans alike – on an ongoing basis.

You probably allocate most of your available training time to OSHA-required tailgate safety talks, which are the highest priority for any construction crew. But when is the last time you scheduled a session to go over new construction details, product installation requirements, or materials and techniques critical to the quality of your work, the success of your projects, and the well-being of your business? Other than a quick check on your crew when they're already in action, are you equipping them with the information they need to actually understand what they're doing and, just as important, why they're doing it?

Rick Schwolsky
Rick Schwolsky

No matter what kind of work you're doing at any stage of construction, you – along with all other contractors – are being required to change. Whether in response to new codes, design details, or material specs, you're being forced to adapt to new technologies and techniques at a faster pace than ever before.

This is already a stressful period of intense competition. The natural reaction in times like these is to keep your head down and push as hard as you can to land all the work you can find, and then push even harder to get it done.

I would do the same thing. Survival can be a day-to-day, week-to-week reality in this industry.

But if you don't look up on a regular basis, you won't be able to see where you're headed, or where you're leading your team. And every team wants to know where it's headed – as much as it needs to focus on the immediate work at hand.

So you're faced with quite a challenge, because the work at hand is already forcing you to change how you do things while you're doing them, at an uncomfortable pace that's hard to match. My advice? Carve out a series of specific training days that can ease the transition. The worst thing you could do would be to adopt and implement changes on the run. And no matter how well you analyze and absorb new information that affects your technical specialty, it won't help if you don't take the time, and show the respect, to bring your team members up to speed.

You should definitely address quality and technical issues on a regular basis and tackle anything that seems to be plaguing you. That's a given. But beyond that, sit down and outline specific areas where you need to change the way you do things, and then build a structured curriculum addressing them in order of priority. Get feedback from the architects or GCs you work for, and input from your crew leaders, so that you can develop focused and concise sessions. And don't underestimate the level of knowledge needed by anyone handling materials on your sites – err on the side of deeper understanding. Sharing sessions like these will pull your team closer together in every way and put you in a better position to compete.

Rick Schwolsky, editor in chief rschwolsky@hanleywood.com