Abandon That Attitude and Embrace Apprenticeship Training!
As business in the fire sprinkler industry picks up, more contractor companies are finding themselves with a wealth of projects to tackle. Despite the fact that this is what all contractors hope for, that kind of good fortune can also come with its own set of problems. When there is so much work to do, it can lead to the feeling that you are simply “too busy” to train employees. When you have enough work on your plate that you need your team to jump right in and get to it, it can be tempting to let that happen without going through previously vital steps, steps like the American Fire Sprinkler Association’s (AFSA) Sprinkler Fitter Apprenticeship Training program. But as many industry leaders can attest, that can lead to sloppy work and a poor reputation for the contractor. Below are the top five ways that investing in training now could help grow and improve your business for years to come.
1. Meet future workforce needs If you have been working with a fully trained team for a long time, the need to train can often sneak up on you. Training your workforce through apprenticeship allows you to have within your company a pool of experienced employees of different ages so that you will be better able to plan to meet future workforce needs due to expansion plans or the retirement of older employees. Lyle Hall, vice president and co-owner of Western Fire Protection in Poway, California, and co-chair of AFSA’s Apprenticeship & Education (A&E) Committee, experienced exactly that. “In 2007 we realized that our experienced senior installers were getting closer to retirement age and we had not been training their replacements,” says Hall. “So we began an aggressive in-house training program using the AFSA training materials…. I had no idea the benefits we would see in the coming years from that decision.”
By choosing to train now, rather than waiting until your most veteran employees are retired, you can save yourself valuable time and money in the long run, and never be left in the lurch.
2. Improve your bottom line An investment in your workforce is an investment in your business, and training an apprentice can save you money in more ways than one. First, perhaps the most obvious way: apprentices save you money on wages. But not only that, apprenticeship can be more cost-effective than hiring already highly skilled individuals for one key reason: there’s a good chance you would end up paying those already-trained individuals for having more knowledge than you need at the time. When you train an apprentice, you form the ideal employee for your company, from scratch.
3. Fill your skills gaps and increase productivity Apprentices are learning the cutting edge of the trade. Hiring apprentices, or hiring an employee with the intention of training them in an apprentice program, brings the most up-to-date knowledge to your company. “The content of AFSA’s apprentice training series is continually refined,” says Leslie Clounts, AFSA’s director of education services. “It allows contractors from any state in the country to tailor AFSA’s curriculum to fit their business’ needs. Whether you need straightforward, in-house training or a comprehensive, federally approved four-year program, it’s easy to make it yours.” And when you can make a program your own, you are sure to fill whatever unique skills gaps that your company might be facing.
4. Reduce absenteeism and turnover A trained employee is an employee who feels valued. They know that you believe in them and want them to succeed, and they are grateful for that. Western Fire Protection has graduated 21 apprentices since starting AFSA courses in 2007, and has maintained a retention rate of 85 percent. “Yes, the [AFSA] program does work,” attests Lyle Hall, “not only to educate but to build employee loyalty. Something that is becoming harder to find in today’s market.”
Apprentices tend to be loyal to the company that invested in them. Remember, an apprentice is with you because they want to be – they have made an active choice to learn on the job and they have made a commitment to the fire sprinkler industry.
5. Receive national recognition Once you decide to train an apprentice, you have plenty of options. “It’s easy to find training,” says Leslie Clounts. “But the quality and customization of AFSA’s apprentice training series distinguishes it from the rest.”
Apprentices who train through AFSA’s program are eligible to enter the prestigious National Apprenticeship Competition. The competition accepts hundreds of apprentices from all around the country who are eager to prove what they can do, and culminates in seven apprentices hanging pipe at AFSA’s Convention during the apprentice competition. The first place winner takes home a $5,000 cash prize, the second and third place winners take home $3,000 and $2,000 cash prizes respectively, and all four honorable mention winners take home $1,000 each. In addition to the prizes, each competitor’s company gets publicly recognized leading up to and during the convention.
“Western Fire Protection was fortunate enough to have an apprentice in the last two competitions,” says Lyle Hall. “While we didn’t bring home the gold, we did bring home a lot more than we had anticipated. After our first year at the apprentice competition we noticed an increase in our senior installers asking for more training and wanting to better themselves and take on more responsibility. There was more communication and passing of information and skills on the job site between the foreman and the apprentice. Having a competitor in the competition not only made us very proud but also showcased Western Fire Protection, opening networking doors and opportunities that we would never have been exposed to.”
It comes down to this… Rod DiBona, vice president and co-owner of Rapid Fire Protection, Inc. in Rapid City, South Dakota and co-chair of AFSA’s A&E Committee, has heard the phrase too busy to train quite a lot in his time. “We have all heard this sentiment many times, whether actually said or implied,” says DiBona. “Each time the same picture pops into my head. It is a small cartoon with a guy that says ‘If I train my people they will leave!’ and the reply from the second man is ‘And if you don’t they will stay?’”
When put that way, putting off training seems ridiculous at best. Would you want an untrained worker on your team, especially if the only reason they will stay is because no one else will hire them?
“At the end of the day it is quite simple,” says DiBona. “We need to train our people so that they have opportunities to leave, but treat them so well that they have no desire to do so!”
If you are interested in learning more about the training and education that AFSA, visit firesprinkler.org and click the Education tab, or call 214-349-5965 and ask to speak to the Education Department.
Charlotte Johnson is a contributing author for the American Fire Sprinkler Association.