When multimillion-dollar projects go well, it’s largely due to the foremen. When projects falter and lose money, it’s also usually due to the foremen. Yet, there is very little foreman training.
Foreman training programs
Over the years, NECA and IBEW locals have attempted to address this need by starting foreman training programs. Few efforts have enjoyed as much success as IBEW 7th District’s Foreman Development Series (FDS) started by Jon Gardner, now-retired international vice president, in 2009. The 7th District covers Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
The FDS program consists of 12 three-hour classes and four advanced modules intended as basic training for journeymen electricians interested in becoming foremen. Classes are open to anyone from the IBEW or NECA and can be taught at locals, JATCs or tailored to suit individual contractors and management staff.
The FDS program requires those who want to teach to attend three train-the-trainer classes, which are held in Austin, Texas. IBEW 10th District offers the same in Nashville, Tenn., and the 9th District is scheduling sessions in Portland, Ore., for 2024. As of May 2023, more than 130 IBEW locals have sent some 400 personnel to Austin for train-the-trainer sessions. Many graduates have started FDS programs at their locals.
Electrical contracting firms have also sent people to classes and ended up training their personnel in-house, said Tom Ross, coordinator for the 7th District’s FDS program.
“It’s all practical stuff, not theory, and is based on what we like to call ‘industry best practices,’” Ross said. “Hopefully, it keeps them from making the common mistakes most foremen end up making.
“After a five-year apprenticeship, most journeymen don’t want to take more classes, but what they don’t realize is that they’re just getting started in this industry,” he said. “There are an amazing number of leadership positions open to a journeyman electrician later in their career. Being a qualified foreman is a vital one.”
The first module covers the foreman’s role.
“An estimate may have down that a pallet of materials moves one time on the job, but in reality it will move eight times,” Ross said. “That’s not profitable. It’s up to the foreman to figure out how to avoid needless work and make people more successful.”
Other units cover project startup, material management, labor relations, understanding estimates, scheduling, managing production, communication, safety, documentation, project closeout and how to handle changes in construction.
With growing use of prefabrication, foremen must communicate with people in the field and provide feedback to the prefab group for correction fast if something’s not right, Ross said.
A particularly engaging part of the series involves role-playing.
“Some participants play the foreman and others play the journeymen and apprentices they’re trying to supervise,” Ross said. “They get a kick out of it. You may have one person role-playing someone who’s hungover and not paying attention, and another playing a crew member who knows it all and won’t let anybody else talk.”
The labor relations module teaches about sexual harassment.
“The bottom line is we teach them not to ignore it,” Ross said. “We tell them, ‘Call your boss or the HR department.’ They learn that they have to respond.”
The Electrical Training Alliance (ETA) made IBEW 7th District’s first FDS lectures available online. ETA added questions and answers related to discussions and activities.
In the last five years, around 1,000 foremen and prospective foremen have taken advantage of ETA’s online version of FDS, said Marty Riesberg, ETA director.
“As older generations retire, it helps to alleviate any concerns for those who are newly promoted,” Riesberg said. “It can be challenging to one day be working among your peers and then the next, having to guide them in what they need to do.”
ETA’s online FDS can be used in conjunction with IBEW 7th District’s FDS or serve as preparation, but it should not be considered a substitute, Ross said.
“There so much work out there, but it’s hard to handle without good foremen,” Ross said. “I think a lot of contractors would bid on a lot more jobs if they had properly trained foremen.”
The next FDS train-the-trainer session is Oct. 16–20 in Austin.Header image: July 2022 graduates of IBEW 7th District’s Foreman Development Series
Photo courtesy of IBEW 7th District