When I ran the family contracting business, we still employed some of the old guard from my father’s term as owner. It was clear that they considered their training complete when they received their journeyman credentials. Thankfully, today, employees accept the mandate to upgrade their skills, especially in a field such as electrical work. 


Standardized testing is used to measure competence and prevent workplace accidents. However, in my opinion, you cannot create good judgment or fill skill gaps with procedures and tests. You have to select the right people, train them and continue developing them, then trust that they will apply what they know every day on the job. 


Consider a worker with severe test anxiety, whose 30 years of experience counts for nothing if he fails his operator qualification test. Every three years, he must prove his competence to keep his job. But taking a high-stakes standardized test is not employee development. 


Electrical contractors are committed to continuing training to stay current with new technology applications and products. However, employee development is more than product installation certifications. You are also creating a potential career path, from installer to supervisor, from field to office and even into management, that will strengthen your entire company and build a “book of knowledge” to draw on well into the future. The younger generations expect you to invest in them if you want to retain them for more than a few years.


Some years ago, several subcontracting associations began working on hybrid associate degree programs in partnership with several colleges and universities, to offer craftspeople courses in estimating, scheduling and supervision in addition to skills training. This idea provoked a lively debate at an accreditation organization board meeting. The trustees from academic institutions argued that there was a difference between education and training, while the association trustees embraced the idea of a blended approach.


At one point, some took issue with my belief that the future of education would be based on modularized units rather than multiyear degree programs. Their paradigm was based on four-year commitments at brick-and-mortar facilities. At that table, the educators were not paradigm shifters. 


Two decades later, thousands of certifications, endorsements and degree programs are offered in person, virtually and through online self-study. The apprenticeship system is strong and enhanced by continuing education and training options. Now, craftspeople are invited to conferences and eventually become instructors.


Having taught adults and high school students in nonprofit and for-profit organizations, I am convinced that the most successful approach to education will be radically different from traditional school systems and training programs. Instead of layering technology such as iPads and cloud-connected whiteboards into existing school buildings, we will create more options that allow students to direct their own progress, at their own pace, using technology as a primary platform instead of an add-on. The education establishment will struggle to stay ahead of the demand for more options by high achievers, and employers will face the same challenges.


You can stay ahead of this curve by creating an employee-development program that meets the strategic needs of the company and accommodates the interests and goals of each employee.


Learn what not to do from outdated practices. Under an evaluation system based on checklists, infrequent 10-minute observations, and data-crunching that would overwhelm the IRS, a high-school teacher with 150 students cannot possibly diversify classroom lessons to each student’s learning style, juggle standards and objectives, communicate individually with all parents, and deal with disciplinary issues. Instead, bring your employees into the planning process as soon as possible. Supervisors should partner with employees to map individual career plans, jointly set goals and expectations, and be supported by top management and rewarded for milestones achieved.


Your employees have chosen to invest their time and skills to help your company succeed. If you hired well, your investment in their development will be returned many times over.