August 17th, 2023
Employee Training: Building Back Lost Knowledge
Over the last few years, our industry has lost too many valuable employees. This is due to two major factors. One is the Great Resignation. This is an ongoing trend in which employees started voluntarily resigning from their jobs en masse, beginning in early 2021, due to the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The second factor is the ongoing retirement of baby boomers. In a 2022 J2T Financial Recruiting article, it was noted by Pew Research Center that the rate of retirement for Boomers greatly accelerated since COVID-19 began. Nearly 29 million Boomers retired in 2020, and 75 million more are expected to retire by 2030, paving the way for what is now called “The Great Retirement.” The combination of these two factors has left the door and window industry with a huge loss of industry knowledge and experience with greater losses yet to come. As one customer recently put it, “We have gone from an average of 15 years of experience on the factory floor down to about five!” So, with this being the case, coupled with the ongoing challenges of hiring and retaining new employees, companies need to place a much greater emphasis upon employee training.
With this being said, what are some key elements to consider when designing and executing an employee training program? Here’s what I consider to be the top five:
Set clear training goals and train in short bursts.
Having fuzzy training goals can be worse than having no goals at all. For customer service reps, a clear goal might be, “how to solve problems for customers within one hour while leaving them delighted in the process.” For someone on the manufacturing floor it might be, “how to fabricate an insulating glass unit within five minutes that checks all of the quality assurance boxes.” So set clear training goals, evaluate progress toward reaching these goals and execute training sessions in short bursts as opposed to trying to cover everything at once. The latter approach will simply overwhelm trainees and reduce retention.
Assigning mentors is a crucial element of training. It should be someone who exemplifies the level of performance and professionalism that you desire your trainee to aspire to be like. I visited a customer today and met such a person. If I were going to designate a mentor for new hires of this company, then Luis would be the guy. He started with the company fresh out of high school. He has a 14-year track record of constantly asking questions, seeking to improve and broadening his field of knowledge. He is constantly thirsting for knowledge and a has very positive and infectious attitude. He is the type of person who I would designate to help take new hires to the next level.
Commit to ongoing training.
Training is not a one-and-done affair. In fact, it is a career-long affair. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But in this industry, old dogs must never give up on learning new tricks. This is because the “state of the art” is a constantly moving target. Our industry is constantly evolving. New technologies and new test standards are evolving on a continuous basis. The words, “because we have always done it this way,” can be very dangerous in this industry. If this is your motto, then competitors will surely leave you standing in their dust! So, write training goals into your employee’s annual objective plans, and reward training accomplishments with increases in pay and promotions.
Engage with and learn from suppliers.
Seek out suppliers that are willing to offer training to your employees. If they do offer training, then do take them up on it. Your best suppliers are those that are willing to send their technical people into your facility free of charge to help train your employees on the proper techniques of using their products to make the highest quality doors and windows possible. These suppliers recognize that your success means their success. Refusing their assistance is most definitely a missed opportunity.
Create a culture of learning.
A learning culture, as defined by the Center for Creative Leadership, is “an environment that demonstrates and encourages individual and organizational learning, where both gaining and sharing knowledge is prioritized, valued, and rewarded. It becomes part of the ecosystem of the organization.” Therefore, seek out and reward employees that demonstrate what is called “learning agility.” Such employees are ones who exhibit a growth mindset. They are interested in learning from experience. They challenge perspectives. They are constantly curious and are always seeking new experiences. This culture of learning must be fully supported from the top down. Your company leaders must welcome candor and encourage employees at all levels to freely admit mistakes and share lessons learned, without fear of consequence. No one is perfect and no one is without mistakes. However, it is what we learn from those mistakes and how we share the lessons learned that define our learning culture.
So, keep these five key principles in mind and commit from the top down to making employee training a top priority in the years ahead. Proper and consistent employee training is truly a huge factor that will help propel your company to a position of leadership within the door and window industry.