When it Comes to Training, the “Why” Is Critical

Earlier this month, I spent a few days with some of the industry’s key players at the Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference in Las Vegas. This year’s conference saw about 500 attendees—a significant uptick over the past few years, and good reflection of the industry optimism I noted earlier in the year.

I’ve made a number of key connections at BEC over the years, and this year was no different. Among those connections this year was one with Keith Boswell, a technical partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Keith participated in the conference’s state of the industry panel, where he highlighted the ongoing need for our industry to balance aesthetics and performance in forward-thinking design.

As an experienced architect, his perspectives on successful glass projects are illuminating. During the panel discussion the topic of training came up, and how one of the most important aspects of any complex glass job involves selecting contractors who have both the capabilities and experience needed for the job.

In an era when good laborers come at quite a premium, finding that experience can be a challenge. But we can be making the investment in capabilities through training—and we need to be doing it the right way.

When we consider a major glass project, there are countless parts of the process that must be done correctly. Building and architectural plans must be developed. The glass itself must be manufactured to exacting specifications, utilizing the right components for the job. And on the job site, installation must be performed correctly to ensure long-term performance.

Through all points in this process, training new workers is important. Instilling the right techniques and processes in them can help ensure a job well done. Another key phrase that stuck with me was from Joe Conover with Clark Construction.  He said, it’s easy to train how but need to train why. It may take a little more effort upfront but will be much more rewarding and effective in the long run.  The old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” comes to mind. Show an installer the right technique for a specific job, and he or she might do it right that day. But show them how and explain why it’s done that way equips them with knowledge for future projects.

Take something as straightforward as applying sealant during a panel installation. There is a correct amount to use; using less or more can compromise performance. But if a trainer simply shows an employee the amount and location to use on a given glazing system, without explaining why that is the correct amount and how it can affect performance, a learning opportunity has been wasted. What’s more, that same worker could go on to another job and simply assume that if a certain amount of sealant is sufficient, more must be better. And that can cause long-lasting performance issues.

It’s more than sealant application, of course. It’s all parts of the installation process. Consider the thousands of dollars that are spent fixing an issue later down the road, compared to the few minutes that could have been spent on teachable moments.

I think if and when we see those opportunities to teach, to explain why, it’s critical that we take them. The success of our projects depends on it.