By Alex Morales, M. Ed.
Editor’s Note: This is the third article of a four-part series on attracting, training and retaining talent.
The median employee tenure has been trending upward since 2000, but as of January 2018 it still stood at 4.2 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 While that represents a 20% increase, it is impacted by the 30% of baby boomers postponing retirement into their 80s, not by an increase in how long younger workers stay.2 The country’s low median employee tenure still represents consistent turnover, which may make you reluctant to invest in proper training. But if you’re worried about training someone who might leave, consider what happens if you don’t train them and they stay.
In the first article of this series, we discussed the reality of talent shortages that precasters across the country have confirmed. The low median employee tenure can create additional worries. It requires the precast industry to rethink employee training. In the report, “The Future of the Workforce,” Deloitte Global states, “Focusing on internal training and development programs holds the highest promise to mitigate talent shortage among … the skilled production workforce.”
Training production floor employees cannot be an afterthought for a precast business. It must be considered as part of your overall strategic planning.
Training the age of the consumer
The Age of the Consumer began post-2010 and is characterized by the expectations of millennials and Gen Zers. What we’ve learned from these generations is that in order to attract personnel we need to cater to employee experiences, which includes creating personalized training plans.
There are many forms of training:
- One-on-one mentoring
- Training sessions at industry conferences and more
It’s important to know all the options because when we add training as a strategic objective, it applies to all employees. Although millennials and Gen Zers might be more comfortable with online courses, we need to keep in mind that baby boomers may prefer a different setting. For every employee, training should be customized to the preferences and learning styles of the individual.
Integrated training and development strategies
Training won’t solve the workforce shortage problem overnight. Working with individuals on their training goals, however, presents an opportunity for a company to develop employees in targeted ways. This can have mutually beneficial outcomes – the employee is specifically trained in the areas that interest him/her, and you can plan your business around the strengths of your workforce.
As you are thinking strategically about employee development, consider creating an initial plan with each new hire. But it is also helpful to think of employee development as a continuous process for your entire team. Consider, for example, the training required to introduce new technology to a longtime, baby boomer employee and how it might differ from training a new hire Gen Zer on that same technology. Precasters are now training across generations, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
Classroom options will continue to exist but precasters are encouraged to incorporate informal training, apprenticeship options, ongoing support, and/or coaching and online options as well. New technologies can play a critical role in training, especially with many online options available today. For example, tutorials on YouTube and learning labs on LinkedIn provide information on a variety of topics. National Precast Concrete Association has an ever-expanding online presence as well for precast-specific training.
In the article, “Corporate Learning Redefined,” Deloitte Global stated, “It’s a new age for learning and development. Online content … now fuel(s) a training model where employees own their own skills.”3 NPCA has embraced that concept with online options for Production & Quality School courses, webinars (more than 100 hours of training available at precast.org), the NPCA Precast Learning Lab and more. Ron Sparks of Columbia Precast Products said his company is putting together a comprehensive employee training program.
“With the cost of PQS Level I online reduced to $99, we’re sending all of our current employees through the course and making it mandatory for all new employees once they have made it through their probationary period,” he said.
PQS Level I covers every step of the precast production process and provides an overview of a precast operation. It is recommended both as an industry introduction and a refresher course to keep up-to-date with industry trends.
PQS courses are part of Precast University, which also includes PQS Level II curricula on quality assurance, safety, production and technical. When creating training plans for employees, you can create a multi-year plan around an employees’ interests. If they’re interested in a thorough, deep understanding of the industry, they can take all PQS Level II courses and advance to PQS Level III – Leadership, which ensures they’re ready for manager- or director-level assignments. Individuals who complete the entire PQS series obtain the Master Precaster designation.
“We have one Master Precaster, another ready to graduate in February and a third who is about halfway through the program,” Sparks said. “It is an exclusive, coveted designation in our plant.”
However, that designation may not interest all employees. Some may want to focus only on one area such as quality control. Sparks said the PQS Level II courses help Columbia Precast Products offer “specific modules for specific people” who want to focus on one area.
According to Deloitte Global, “Evidence is … emerging that specialization can … increase productivity.” That’s the idea behind NPCA’s slate of education offerings – to offer specialized, precast-specific training to help you increase productivity in your plants.
“We’re using every training tool NPCA has to our company’s benefit,” Sparks said.
NPCA webinars can help fill the gap when online classes are synchronous offerings (see sidebar) you must wait to take. Webinars are held monthly and registration is offered for individual webinars and for a package of webinars. A package purchase grants you access to the entire library of past courses which allows you to completely turn over ownership for training to each employee.
Recorded webinars are offered on-demand, and you can gauge employees’ initiative to learn about the industry and their craft with very little ongoing HR effort.
Life skills training
If you’re really committed to overall training, providing general life skills training will require some effort. However, going the extra mile in this area can set you apart from local manufacturers and establish your plant as an attractive place to work. In the 2018 Millennial Survey Report, Deloitte Global states, “Gen Z respondents … feel they need to develop their confidence and interpersonal skills … based on experience. They anticipate looking to employers for both formal and informal support in areas such as communication, leadership, finance, economics, language … and analytical skills.”4
Garden State Precast provides an excellent example of life skills training with a solution President Kirby O’Malley found when they realized many of their employees struggled to communicate in English.
“We started an English as a Second Language training program at the plant that met for 13 weeks,” O’Malley said.
A local community college professor taught the ESL class, a testament to the high-quality training O’Malley wanted.
“We received a grant from the local Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program that covered the cost entirely, minus the employee’s time while in class,” O’Malley said. “They were on the clock during class.”
O’Malley insists it was a bargain.
“We trained 12 people with the ESL class,” he said. “And around the holidays we provide lunch to the entire plant to further develop a comradery with all our employees.”
Training definitely correlates with relationship building among employees. In the second article of this series, we showcased Gainey’s Concrete Products and how they work with two local drug rehabilitation programs. These are excellent examples of what precasters can do to personalize training and career development initiatives for each employee.
Manufacturing extension program
Garden State’s use of the MEP highlights the fact that training needs to be funded.
“Every state has a Manufacturing Extension Program that gives out federal grants,” O’Malley said. “My local MEP program helps Garden State Precast by providing seminars, classes, webinars and inventory controls that manufacturers need.”
It’s not necessarily precast-specific, but funds for general training for manufacturers, such as ESL coursework, safety audits and lean manufacturing, may be available to create programs that benefit your plant and your employees. Each plant has its own needs and each state its own funding. Visit nist.gov/mep to find contact information for a program near you and check out the NPCA blog at precast.org/mep for additional information.
Cultivate relationships with your employees
With median employee tenure at a mere 4.2 years and an overall talent shortage that is predicted to intensify over the next 10 years, it’s daunting to think about how to find and keep employees. However, placing an emphasis on training and developing your employees can serve as a recruiting tool and offers intangible benefits. A personalized career development plan for each employee, coupled with a concerted effort to get to know your employees, will meet the expectations of the millennial and Gen Z generations and set you apart from other local manufacturers. Tapping into NPCA’s myriad online resources and attending live training at The Precast Show will introduce your employees to a nationwide industry and online coursework, and, in particular, will assist in putting the focus on the employee.
As employees meet people from all over the country who are in the same line of work, they will stop thinking their work is just a job and start seeing themselves as having a career with your company. If you add life skills and other non-work-related training, you’re well on your way to retaining employees beyond the 4.2 year median employee tenure. But training isn’t the only retention strategy, as you’ll see in the next installment of this series
Alex Morales, M. Ed., is NPCA’s director of workforce development.