Throughout the history of systems design and installation, contractors trained staff through a combination of two methods. First and foremost was OJT -- on the job training. Second was manufacturer training, both factory- and field-based. Manufacturers continue to provide training, but the level of complexity of today's products in many cases has outstripped the training budgets of the typical manufacturer. There are exceptions, but by and large, the majority of the training requirements now fall on the contractor.
All of this training is time-intensive, and that time comes with a price. If one was to add it up, training may be the biggest investment that a contractor makes. That is why it is critical to have a plan for first training your team, and second, knowledge retention to ensure that you do not waste your training investment. A training plan should include the specific training requirements for each staff member, beginning with an assessment of their training level at the beginning of the program. It should also include a job description for each team member with the requisite training requirement.
Lessons From One Business Group Can Help Another
Once a contractor takes the time to develop a training plan, they will want to try to reduce the cost. It can be scary to actually see the total training cost in black and white. The single fastest way to reduce training cost is by leveraging the knowledge base already inside the company. This is frequently distributed in different divisions or departments. This suggests that the management needs to assess the company to find the early adopters and technology centers within the organization. The focus of the exercise is to compare the overall company training requirements to the inventory of early adopter and technology center skills that already exist.
The next step is to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from the current holders to other staff with that identified need. A word of caution: it is not uncommon to run into a gatekeeper mentality with some staff members during this phase. This problem manifests itself in an employee who looks at the knowledge gained through contractor training as his personal property, and relates his job security to his ability to keep it from anyone else in the company. The manager will need to firmly cross this bridge, helping the employee to understand that the quality of the work he completes, not the secret that he holds, will define his longevity and success in the organization.
After completing the survey of internal skills, the next step is the analysis of manufacturer-provided training that can be plugged into the overall training program. In theory, this would satisfy the training requirement for the contractor, but frequently it does not. The remaining training gap will need to be addressed by developing in-house training programs or retaining consultants who can provide the training more cost-effectively.
Identifying Technology Training Centers
One key factor inside many businesses is the identification of skill centers that are constantly exposed to and mastering new skills. What is a technology training center? These are the areas of your business staffed by people with skills and abilities you need to run your business every day. A good example of the changes in technology centers in the professional AV installation business is in management information systems (MIS). A few years ago, companies had to add MIS administrators to manage their growing computer systems. In many companies, the MIS department started to consult inside the company with the engineers who were designing network systems to control the audio system. This is a classic example of how technology from one area of a business can be shared with another area.
The Migration Of Technology
In some contracting organizations, the roots of the company are grounded in the rental industry. Tour sound rental companies as well as video systems providers have worked to bring the latest technology to music groups, special events, corporate theater and political conventions. Traditionally, the rental side of the business was the proofing group for new technologies, and the transfer of technology went from the rental group to the contracting group within a company. This has changed in many such companies in recent years. It is not unusual for the contracting group to be the primary technology development team within the company and for the rental group to receive training on new technology from them. This change is less surprising when you consider that the staff in the contracting side of the business will frequently be charged with training the end-users of the systems they install. This means that not only do the contractors have more exposure to new technologies, they are also more experienced at teaching others about these systems.
A Plan For Action
Once the early adopters have been empowered to cross-train other individuals in an organization, the next step is the development of a formal training curriculum tied to the job description for each team member. The curriculum can then be broken down into a small number of training modules. Remember, these modules can be provided not only in-house, but through the utilization of outside resources as well, including manufacturers and trade organizations like NSCA's EST program, ICIA's CTS certification, and programs offered by BICSI and CEDIA. The next challenge is making sure that employees complete the assigned module in a timely fashion. It is important to realize that although it is expensive to implement training, it is even more expensive not to.