As seen in the March 2007 edition of HVACR Business magazine.

Having owned and managed four hvac companies and visited literally hundreds of contractors, I have determined that training on the contractor level is provided by one of two methods:

1) osmosis; or
2) in a structured and meaningful manner.

Unfortunately, training by osmosis is the choice, by far, of the majority of contractors. Basically, training by osmosis is best described as follows: A contractor hires a new service technician or installer and tells him or her, “Just ride around with Old Joe for a couple of weeks, and you’ll learn everything you need to know.” Usually, they do not learn a whole lot from Old Joe, and unfortunately, some of what they learn is what they do not need to know — like how to beat the system. Plus, Old Joe now has a chauffeur and a gofer (an expensive one). And here is another problem: In today’s electronic world, air conditioning and heating equipment is much more sophisticated. Often, the older technicians know less than the younger technicians.

Probably, the only meaningful training that the co-workers of a training-by-osmosis company will receive is via the programs presented by the company’s manufacturers and distributors.

By contrast, some of the benefits of a quality structured training program are the following:

1) We have a shortage of good workers. One of the very best methods of solving this problem is to make your present co workers more productive. Quality training enables them to accomplish their jobs faster and with fewer callbacks.

2) Most companies do not have a single process or system for all of the many things that must be accomplished out in the field. Just two examples: making certain that the refrigerant charge is absolutely correct, and cleaning condenser coils. Material and methods vary for these actions. Training ensures that the company eventually has a single process for all procedures.

3) It is a big help in your recruiting efforts. In my own contracting experience, I always showed any good co-worker candidates our training room and training calendar. Incidentally, I found that the very best technicians are the ones most interested in furthering their skills through training.

4) It raises your co-workers’ self-esteem. Higher-skilled co-workers have more confidence. That level of confidence also is sensed by your present customers and your new customers.

5) Your customers receive better service and installations.

6) By improving their skills, co-workers can raise their earning potential.

7) It reduces co-worker turnover. Co-workers receiving quality training resulting in higher skills and matching wages, as well as improved self-esteem, tend to stay with the company.

If you are a training-by-osmosis company, you do not need to admit it. You only have to change it. I am passionate about training! I urge you to become a company that takes its training seriously and goes about structuring a meaningful training program. In this series I will carefully and deliberately describe how you accomplish establishing your company’s training program. There are nine steps to the process:

1) Appoint a company training director.
2) Determine how the attendees will be compensated.
3) Establish a training room.
4) Establish the frequency, dates, and times of the training.
5) Determine the topics to be presented.
6) Determine the presenters.
7) Develop a training calendar.
8) Announce the training program to the company.
9) Begin critiquing and measuring the effectiveness of the program.

Step 1. Appoint a company training director. The training director does not present all of the training; in some companies he or she presents little of the training. The director’s job is to make absolutely certain that quality training is being performed and to facilitate the entire process. Often, the training director is the owner or general manager of the company. I like that choice as it sends a powerful message to the entire organization that the owner or general manager considers training important and is taking the training program very seriously. Basically, the training director facilitates the remaining eight steps to the process. As an owner, I always presented some of the training, sending the message that I considered the program very important.

Step 2. Determine how the attendees will be compensated. Here is where I will test the commitment of some of the readers of this three-part series! Is training voluntary or not? If you are considering voluntary — forget it! It does not work. Nearly 35 years ago in my first contracting company, I switched from voluntary to involuntary. In the true sense, voluntary means it is their choice whether or not to attend the classes, and it also normally means they are not getting paid to attend.

Here are two of my experiences. How do you think I felt about the technicians and installers who chose not to attend the voluntary classes? Do you suppose their lack of attendance may have influenced my feelings toward them? Of course, it did. Also, when we started paying their regular wage to attend the classes, I suddenly got interested in the quality of the training. Now I was paying for it!

I urge you to make your training involuntary, meaning that all co-workers are expected to be there in a punctual manner, and they are being paid their normal hourly wage. Some companies compromise by paying one half of the normal wage. I disagree. Paying the normal wage rate sends the powerful message that you consider training that important— and it is!

I recommend that you save this article and start a company training file with it. Next month we’ll continue the series.