Educate Before You Work: How education and training can help before a job

unsplash/ gransfors bruk, bergjso, sweden
photo credit: unsplash/ gransfors bruk, bergjso, sweden

Whatever you did growing up in the trade, first as a helper and then as a journeyman, hopefully taught you the proper way to perform your work. You know profits grow the company. Generally whatever work you do the most will become what you do best and will hopefully yield a profit. You have learned to work hard and to try to perfect your skills as you go along. But how much time do you devote to planning both your work and education?

Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

Though we’re not cutting down trees, ECs should think of training as sharpening their ax. In Lincoln’s example, sharpening the ax becomes a vital tool to magnify a lumberjack’s output. Sharpening your mind uses education and training to improve your output, as you rely on all the tools available. You may become the strongest “lumberjack” in the world, but with a dull ax you will never increase your output!

Contractors who become so busy doing the work and rushing to meet schedules never seem to find time to sharpen their axes. Because they rush to start the next project, they don’t set aside time for education and training.

Contractors can only effectively increase profits when they perfect their skills before they take on a new project. This becomes the often misunderstood key factor in any contractor’s business-development process.

Sharpening your skills before you perform the work on a new project not only increases your work output, but it also makes you more efficient, which translates to increased profits. Planning your work and obtaining continued education becomes more important than actually doing the work. You can do the work and put in long hours getting it done, but your profits will not increase substantially until you perfect your skills. You still have to do the work, but your efficiency and proficiency in doing that work depends on the effort you’ve made to improve your skills.

When you begin to install specialty systems, such as fire alarms or mass notification systems, you often consider the work as an easy add-on to your contract. Sometimes, you plan on getting a subcontractor to do some of the work because you do not want to take the time to understand another phase of work. But sometimes you decide to do the work yourself.

When you make this choice, you generally do so with a profit motive in mind. And frankly, this choice offers the most sensible thing to do. However, you should precede any attempt at doing a new specialty work of any kind with proper education and training if you intend to increase your profits. Once you have perfected these new skills and understand how to design and install these systems in accordance with the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, your profits will climb.

The same concept applies to your technicians as you continue to grow your business. You must give your technicians the education and training they need to support the types of work your firm does. But you may look at training your employees as a waste of time. You focus on the question, “Why train my technicians? They will just leave for another company.” Frankly, if you don’t train them, what kind of work will they do for you? Where will your profits go then? Why do you never have time to do it right but always have time to do it over? Worse still, what if the mistakes your technicians make only arise when a fire occurs? Are you ready to accept that emotional turmoil and liability?

If you plan your work, you should also plan your education and training efforts. “Sharpening your ax” relies on more than on-the-job-training to provide the only education you make available to your technicians. If indeed you must redo something, you lose more than profits. Your reputation will also take a hit.

President Lincoln suggested you spend two-thirds of your time sharpening your skills. To do this, you must investigate the best way to accomplish the necessary education and training while still finishing the work you have. Have you spent several hours—or paid a subcontractor extra fees—in order to resolve failed fire alarm system inspections? This costs you more than what shows on paper. Time lost on reinspection of your fire alarm system takes time away from doing other profitable work.

Lincoln gives us all good advice in just nineteen words. Whether you choose to listen to those words or not will determine how both you and your company grow.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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