Are Your Techs and Plumbers Being Trained to Succeed?
I’m sitting in a cramped office somewhere in Denton, Texas, just like I do almost every week. No, I’m not at Service Roundtable World Headquarters; I’m at Miss Polly’s guitar class surrounded by acoustic guitars and 11-year olds, including my daughter Charli. She’s fumbling her way through a new blues song, just like she always does when she learns something new. No worries though—she’ll figure it out!
As I watch the group read music and listen to them discussing time signatures, quarter notes, and accelerando, I’m reminded of just how much of a hack I am when it comes to the guitar.
I can strum a few chords, but that’s about it. I’ve never had a lesson in my life, I can’t read music, and I couldn’t tell the difference between a C-sharp and a D-flat [musicians, insert rim shot here]. My skills were self-taught in the late 70’s with a friend or two teaching long-forgotten tricks. Today, the average listener may think I am decent, but a real musician would be getting out the rotten tomatoes.
Unfortunately, it’s not dissimilar to my experience in the HVAC trade. Even today, I suspect there are a lot of others just like me. Learning to become a great technician or plumber is a lot like learning to play guitar at a high level.
Professional Instruction – If Charli continues practicing, what kind of guitarist could she be 20 years from now? She would be far better than her father, for sure. Charli is learning the correct techniques from an expert, including proper fingering, picking and strumming patterns, as well as learning to read music and music theory. This was something I had no clue about. I just wanted to play some Beatles songs!
How does the company train your field personnel? Do they learn on the job? Do they ride with others until they’re “qualified” to run calls on their own? Do they make lots of mistakes along the way? Are they skipping theory and immediately dive into the gauges and meters?
As an HVAC installer in the 80’s, this was how I was taught. I attended only a handful of classes. It was just the way companies were back then.
Just like playing guitar, I knew just enough to convince customers I knew the profession and could do the job adequately. I didn’t perform hack jobs, but I was no virtuoso. I could have been much better, which would have been beneficial to me, my company, and of course, my customers.
But hey, it’s not my fault! I learned from the best!
The men I worked with taught me a lot, but what they taught me were the things they knew, or wanted me to know—nothing more. It was only much later that I realized there was more to the HVAC trade than what these men were teaching me, or perhaps what they knew themselves!
Had I gotten some professional training, I would have been a better installer and technician. In 2017, great classes are available that can be completed in just weeks. Service Roundtable uses three of them in the Fast Track program and each assists inexperienced workers get started in trades. Had I received that fundamental training when I first started, the world would be a better place (at least for me and my old customers).
Dedication – If Charli stops practicing and taking lessons, her ceiling will likely be very low as a guitar player. She understands that to be really good, it’s going to take ongoing training and a ton of practice. The same thing can be said about your technicians, plumbers, and installers. They need to be committed to becoming better at what they do, to constantly hone their skills, and seek out training wherever they can find it. If your team is not committed to training, it will never reach to its full potential and reap the rewards that come from doing so.
If your technicians practice this, it’s certain they’ll excel in their positions. However, not all of them will. Understand it’s the rare employee who will do this on his or her own. You may have to inspire that dedication to improvement, and provide opportunities for employees to pursue it.
Support – My daughter’s not a natural musician and it takes a lot of effort to accomplish what she has learned. If Charli had been sent to a random guitar teacher, chances are she would have given up by now. My wife and I chose Miss Polly because we believed she was a great instructor, not because she was the cheapest. We rarely send Charli to class alone; one of us is almost always there. We’ve had to nudge, encourage, reward, and become personally involved in her training. My wife and I are not crazy stage-parents, but we just want her to know we support her, and help when we can.
The same practice should be done with your crew; get involved. As a leader, find out what each employee excels at, what he or she is struggling with, and encourage each member daily to keep them motivated. Also send your team to professional trainers, attend a few classes yourself, and ask your technician’s what kind of training is needed.
The daily grind can be tough, especially when employees are larning more complex topics. Don’t forget to paint a picture of how their efforts will pay off for them in the future. Make sure your crew knows how important they are to the success of your company, and then reward them for contributing to that success.
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