As fast as the construction industry is changing, so is the information you need to run your business. New tax laws, human resource rules, insurance issues, environmental standards, technology and all things fiscal beg for your attention everyday. How you get that type of training and who provides it is changing, too. Responding to the need for management and executive level training, industry organizations are using new formats plus some innovative value-added features. If you are considering going back to class you’ll be pleased to find many courses no longer require a sharpened number two pencil.
For centuries, most construction education came in two formats. First, prospective tradesman would apprentice themselves to a master tradesman, spending years doing hands-on training. If the apprentice left to start his own company, the new business owner could find additional education in day-to-day interaction with peers.
Peer-to-peer learning is still the most popular method to teach a new idea. “Adults learn by bringing their life experiences to the table and sharing them with an expert who encourages them to relate the course’s subject matter to their own business,” says Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Underground Contractors Association of Illinois.
Informal mentoring continues today at industry events, professional association gatherings and whenever a more experienced contractor overhears a younger associate’s questions. While it’s no longer necessary to indebt one’s self to several years of low-paid labor, the basic concept of learning from experts remains. New ways to bring peers together are making construction education available in the office, in the field or at home.
The big shows
If you can take a few days out of the office, association conferences and industry tradeshows offer a broad schedule of topics and the opportunity to network with fellow contractors. National experts often address large groups, giving attendees the chance to listen to speakers who may not find their way to a smaller venue. Allison Brotman, senior director of professional development for Associated General Contractors of America, says national conferences also create an environment where attendees can share their solutions to issues without being concerned they are giving information to their competition.
When courses are paired with tradeshows, attendees can take the information they learn in a session and go directly to the trade show floor with any questions they may have for a specific exhibitor. Next year’s ConExpo/Con-Agg 2008 will showcase more than 120 educational sessions and some sessions will offer simultaneous interpretation into Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese and Russian.
Conference sponsors are also increasing the value of their presentation, according to Mary Bukovic, meeting and education program manager for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, co-sponsor of ConExpo/Con-Agg and several other industry shows, including the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition, which will take place this October. When they surveyed past ICUEE seminar attendees, Bukovic says they found 70 percent of the respondents were interested in earning Continuing Education Units. “They told us they have certifications to keep up and education to maintain,” she says.
In response to the ICUEE survey, AEM applied to the International Association of Continuing Education Training to become an IACET authorized provider and now awards CEUs to seminar participants. This year, ICUEE will offer continuing education credits for all 45 planned seminars. AEM will offer similar CEU sessions at ConExpo/Con-Agg in 2008, and World of Asphalt in 2009.
Regional associations or chapters of national organizations are another source for management education. These chapters combine their local focus with the broader knowledge base of their national organization. Local level courses can be scheduled more frequently throughout the year and cover a wider range of local topics than found at annual conferences. Chapters have the option of using standardized course outlines prepared by the national office and can tailor presentations to fit its members needs. Often chapters can quickly move to present topics requested by its members while a subject is hot.
What the locals know
Smaller trade associations that focus on a particular industry sector of can present programs that speak directly to the unique concerns of that business. For example, UCA hosts courses on navigating the maze of utility claims and how to avoid excess costs when working in municipalities. Trade-specific associations can narrow their subject matter to focus on issues and conditions in a specific geographical area. Smaller classes encourage participation and attendees can get in-depth advice and opinions on specific local topics as they apply to the contractor’s business.
“Groups like UCA are a wealth of knowledge and if there is a topic you don’t know much about, their sessions are a perfect place to learn,” says Sue Tullo, owner of Scully, an underground construction company in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. A recent UCA seminar topic discussed post-hiring screening. Tullo says it’s a new subject and the presentation provided extensive information without requiring travel costs and time out of the office.
Of mice and men
Newer e-learning options are convenient, cost effective and work well with adult learning styles. “Our members appreciate audio-visual programs,” says David Mendes, senior director of communications and education for the American Subcontractors Association. “Online features let us serve up information in an interactive format and support what we present in person and in print.”
ASA is getting excellent response to its monthly webinars. A souped-up version of the old telephone party line, webinars can bring off-site instructors and students together in a virtual classroom using multiple digital connections. Participants register for a course and agree to log on to the ASA site, meeting the host of the live broadcast presentation at a designated time. Speakers present the course material while visual content for the course is simultaneously broadcasted to participant’s computers. Although attendees can’t see each other, experiencing the same audio and visual content creates a sense of shared society. The webinar format is attractive to presenters and registrants because a large group of people can discuss a topic in real time without spending time and money traveling to common a location. When recorded and archived, webinars can be downloaded to computers for viewing and listening on-demand. Webinar libraries are fast becoming an excellent source for digital peer-to-peer instruction.
Lorman Education Services offers travel-free teleconferences to contractors who don’t have the convenience of a computer hookup in the field. Contractors pre-register for a presentation and on the day of the session, participants phone in with a passcode at a designated time. Course are conducted over the phone so a contractor can be anywhere in the country while taking the class. Lorman’s 90-minute sessions connect listeners with an expert presenter and a reference manual is supplied before the seminar so each participant can follow the presenter. A session may take an hour and is followed by a 30-minute Q&A period. Full day in-person classes are available in more than 100 cities and offer 50 construction topics including construction contracts, project management, construction claims, managing construction projects, analyzing project damages and lien laws. Most of Lorman’s courses award CEUs.
Online education is finding its footing in the construction industry and RedVector.com offers both education and professional services.
RedVector.com offers 950 online construction management courses. Contractors and building industry professionals who require state licensing or certification can search the site by license type, category and state requirements, then select the approved course necessary to maintain or renew a license. In 2006, RedVector.com delivered 75,000 online courses.
The courses are available to individuals or can be integrated into a company’s training program. “We work with more than 140 associations and state licensing departments,” says Kelly Conlan, marketing communications director at RedVector.com. “We continuously evaluate and update each licensing department’s continuing education requirements to make sure our courses satisfy those requirements.”
Upon course completion, RedVector.com electronically reports the participant’s standing to the appropriate licensing board. Based on a profile built for each license or certification identification, RedVector.com manages each client’s required course schedule and renewal process. Participants have up to a year to complete a course.
What makes a peer a presenter?
Adult programs all share a primary concern. Presenters must be experts, experienced in their field and be able to speak to a contractor’s needs.
Allison Brotman, AGC’s senior director of professional development, stresses that AGC presents courses for contractors by contractors. Brotman seeks out presenters who fully understand the contractor’s concerns, works in construction and teaches more than just facts. “Our speakers teach the science of their subject and the art of how to apply that information on a jobsite,” Brotman says.
“When we look for a presenter we make sure the instructor teaches application, not just theory,” UCA’s Benjamin says. “Many of the issues we cover have second and third levels of effect. It is imperative our presenters understand how the course’s material affects our members.”
Expert presenters are often front-line management. Benjamin gives this example. The UCA offers six to eight seminars a year. One of the most popular courses discusses how contractors can collect money owed them. It might be assumed a collection expert would be an accountant or lawyer, but Benjamin knows his membership wants solutions they can apply to their own business, not a lecture on accounting principles. “An expert may not be the person you expect. In this case, a more effective presenter could be an accounts receivable manager – someone who knows what really works on the street.”
Nancy Lambertson, director of educational services for the Construction Financial Management Association has a similar view. “Presenters can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach,” she says. “We know construction accounting is different than other types of accounting. Our instructors teach financial managers how to get information from their project managers so they can do their job better.”
Investing time and money in your business is only part of a successful formula. The best investment you can make is in the knowledge and skills you bring to the office every morning. The return on your investment in yourself compounds daily.
We tapped the following sources in creating this story. It is not intended as a comprehensive list of the management training sources available.
Associated General Contractors of America
Senior director of professional development
Marketing communications manager