Ever Wonder?

Ever Wonder?

In this week’s installment on Lifelong Learning, guest writer Mick Vaught challenges readers to truly assess our paradigms and pre-conceived ideas in “Ever Wonder?”

Ever wonder why we tend to remain in our comfort zone and never see a paradigm shift coming around the curve? 

One of my all-time favorite role models growing up was Stephen Covey and his book titled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. In my opinion, this was his finest publication ever because it really changed my views on many things.  This book was a real game changer for me. Of the 7 habits he prescribed, habit number 5 “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”, was the most useful for me during my journey in the construction industry. I look back now at some of my biggest mistakes in dealing with what I thought was critical in problem solving, only to realize later that I did not understand the root cause of the various issues. 

A good example of what I’m talking about was my preconceived notion of how to correct the overwhelming problem of developing and retaining top notch service technicians. Like many well intended experts, I believed the best approach was to offer better wages and benefits than the competition with hopes that money would be the answer. What I didn’t understand was the critical needs of the service managers, technicians, and most importantly, customers. Over time, I gained a better understanding of the many issues and how to address these issues. Here are some of the initiatives I found to be most appropriate.  

Step 1:  Identify the scope of the current needs, and those in the next ten years.

  • Determine current utilization of techs based on OT and customer service response times.
  • Measure machine populations, aging of company rental fleet, trends of growth and new skills required. 
  • Determine and log the current CSA requirements and new product lines introduced or proposed for the future. 
  • Rank the current staff skill sets by determining specific strengths and weak areas and score each tech on an equal and consistent measure process. 
  • Chart the aging of current techs and estimate potential replacement cycles. 

Step 2:  Analyze the current mix of jobs, and skills required for the work. 

  • Determine % of Level 1 jobs currently being performed through work order analysis.  (Cleaning, Greasing, PM services.)
  • Determine % of Level 2 jobs requiring higher skill levels. (Inspections, Pre-deliveries, basic electrical and hydraulic repairs.)
  • Repeat same review of Level 3 jobs requiring troubleshooting, diagnostics, basic welding, major component R&I and exchange, equipment software usage and understanding. (Tech Tool, Matris, etc) This level will require factory and on-line training requirements for specific areas of knowledge. 
  • Finally, all Journeyman level jobs requiring unlimited skills to be able to perform all troubleshooting, diagnostics, major repairs, component rebuilds, welding, and complete knowledge of equipment software, fault code analysis, Tech. Tool, ,  etc. This level will require completion of all manufacturer online training modules, and attendance at numerous factory training programs. These techs should be targeted to customer jobs as a priority. 

Step 3: Rank the current service staff.

  • Create the same four tier tech classifications to match the service jobs and attempt to match the skills to the job.
    • Level 1 – Apprentice
    • Level 2 – Shop Technician *
    • Level 3 – Senior Technician *
    • Level 4 – Journeyman Technician, Shop / Field **

    *Requires supervisor sign off, and training requirements.

** Requires GM sign off and required training completion and testing. 

  • Pay levels are made consistent with Tech classifications, as an incentive to move up in classifications and knowledge. 

Step 4:  Recruitment

You now know the needs of what tech levels are required to meet the existing needs, as well as future requirements through business growth, changing technologies, retirements, and tech development and promotions. 

Recruiting Apprentices:

Today, tech school students are being drawn to the less “dirty” jobs upon graduation by trucking companies, HVAC companies, Major Rental companies, etc.  Recruitment has become very competitive and many companies start there in high school years by attending college job fairs. 

We need to be active in these recruitment sessions and offer significant incentives to draw the prospect to the construction industry.  The biggest obstacle facing a student after graduation from a tech school is the tuition debt they have incurred, and the expense of buying tools to start work. We will prepare incentives to address these two issues:

  • Tuition Reimbursement Program: 

The student would be reimbursed for his existing tuition debt over a period of employment as a technician with the company.  This four-year program would refund 25% of the student tuition expense every year, with 100% refunded after four years. It would be required that the student achieve a minimum of a Level 3 technician to qualify for 100% reimbursement. 

  • Tool allowance program:

The student would be given a basic tool set and toolbox to start his apprenticeship program. These tools would remain the property of the company until the employee has completed his Level 1 apprenticeship period and was elevated to Level 2, (Shop Tech). The tools would then become the property of the tech.  OR, an upfront $2500 tool bonus that would need to be paid back if the employee left in the first year. Further, a $1000 tool allowance will be given to the tech on an annual basis up to the Level 3 classification, and then receive the standard company tool allowance.  

Recruiting Senior and Journeyman Technicians:

The needs of these techs are different.  They are looking for job security, good pay, good benefits, a clean, safe workplace, nice field trucks, and more quality in the job.  To draw these potential techs to leave their current employment and join our team is more difficult, complicated, and costly. 

  • Address their concerns: 

Recruitment in regions where work opportunities are transitioning, can appeal to the job security concern. For example, the coal fields of KY and WV offer little job security at this time, and in the future. These techs are looking for what they are going to do going forward.  You can offer job security with the vibrant growing markets. You need to heavily advertise in all transitioning areas. 

  • Provide a safe, clean and modern workplace.  It is important that the facilities and shops be kept clean and updated, along with providing the tools necessary to do their jobs. Service trucks are very important to field technicians that view these vehicles as their homes on wheels. This is a very big consideration for a field tech to join your team from another company. 
  • Provide excellent training opportunities.  No tech wants to get to a job and not know what to do. Offering year-round training sessions online and at the manufacturer is a big draw for those who do not have it now. You need to market and sell that. 
  • Have specific guidelines in place to include relocation expenses, temporary housing, storage, and relocation assistance services, as required. 
  • Offer all techs an annual tool allowance, boot allowance, and specialized skills training, such as welding, MSHA certifications, etc. 


The company will need to have a structured, consistent approach to the recruit process that will provide for the needed demand in the years to come, and fill the vacancies created by tech aging and retirement.

Balancing the tech skill levels to the work difficulty levels is difficult, but provides the best profitability to the service department, and the best customer support to the end users. 

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Training Is a Waste of Time and Money!

Training Is a Waste of Time and Money!

In this week’s issue of “Lifelong Learners,” guest writer Mick Vaught takes a strong approach to employee development with his blog post entitled “Training Is a Waste of Time and Money!”

That is, unless it is applied correctly within the scope of the company’s core values. I said this before and I’ll say it again…. training should be used as one of the last disciplines in developing a competitive organization. Herb Kellerher, founder of Southwest Airlines, built his success by hiring “Attitude” first, followed by putting the right people in the right position, and lastly, training the heck out of them.

Here’s an example of how most employers misuse training in their dealer organization. 

“A very successful dealer organization has seen a continuous decline in revenue over the past year. What’s the first thing upper management does? Bring in corporate sales product specialists to launch a “sales” (Selling Process) training event.” 

  • Opportunity number one: There is a huge disconnect between most manufacturers and their dealer organizations. When I was a product specialist with some of the top equipment manufactures in the U.S., all too often I would get a call from a frantic dealer sales manager requesting “Sales” training for his/her team. In reality, our understanding of “Sales” training and “Product” training did not align with each other. Yes, product knowledge was certainly vital and understanding the “Selling” process was equally important. However, I quickly realized the gap between an understanding of what the dealer wanted and what I delivered was not the same. As a corporate product specialist, I was not equipped with the knowledge nor expertise of the retail selling process. 
  • Opportunity number two: (and this is a big one) The root cause in the decline of revenue is typically misdiagnosed in the first place. Typically, the first area most dealers focus their attention towards is sales, when in reality the deficiency is caused by a communication/collaboration issue between both the dealer sales and product support teams. While sales are a critical component of the revenue stream, the backbone of just about any organization is their Service Department.  Sales can sell that first machine to a new client, but from that moment on, future sales will depend on how well the customer will receive superior service! Some of the most effective training I have done was when we coordinated an overlapping session with both sales and service, bridging that communication and collaboration gap.

That brings me to the next point that must be addressed. Training is a waste of time if top management does not offer buy in. Checking off an item on the “To-Do” list just doesn’t cut it. If management thinks behavioral change can be accomplished in a one- or two-day session, they are totally not in touch with reality. A comprehensive perpetual training plan (to include follow-up, measuring, accountability and targeting the various levels of learning) must be executed if that organization will be successful. 

Today more than ever, I see a tremendous deficiency in young people going out into our work force. Most problematic is their ability to communicate, collaborate, and the ability to solve real problems. One of the biggest reasons for this deficiency is our national public-school systems. Educators have morphed into paperwork administrators, dealing with a lack of student discipline, myopic support from administrators, and a lack of involvement with parent’s participation. This now leads us to take a totally new perspective on how we assimilate new hires. 

  • Opportunity number three: Initiate a new philosophy on how and when to apply effective training.  I think Jim Collins hit the mark with his book titled “Good to Great”. Mr. Collins examined a number of good companies over a period of time and compared them to those companies that became not only good, but great!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  And what he found out was (important stuff here) the great companies:
  • hired the right people (they fit the company culture) 
  • put them in the right position (set them up for success)
  • training the heck out of them. 

Notice, training was the last initiative in the process!

In conclusion, those organizations who hire the right people in the very beginning, place them in the right position and are willing to invest the time and capital in offering effective and continuing training platforms will ultimately achieve greatness!

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