As a business owner, it can be difficult to have your employees be as committed as you are to your business. Often, it takes lots of trial and error when you’re trying to grow your team and retain employees. You want to feel assured that they’ll handle their duties or tasks successfully, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen.
Years ago, when we first began to grow our staff at Southwest Industrial Electric, we ran into many of the common issues that so many other business owners face when trying to do the same.
Employee retention rates were low, and we needed a solution to be able to continue our overall growth and reach our goals. This solution came when we decided to prioritize our training program and grow it to the point where we could hire anyone, no matter their experience, and watch them come out as a success.
Now, we’re not suggesting that you need to do the same when it comes to being able to hire anyone, but we do want to highlight key factors that helped us along our journey of creating a successful program and why we chose to go the route that we did.
First, I think it is important to know that we have hired plenty of people with previous experience, whether it was electricians or office staff, and plenty with none. Over time, though, we found that while there are some cases where hiring people with lots of experience is a necessity and a good option, this approach has also led to the most issues with retention for our business. Therefore, we knew we needed a program that would allow us to train anyone.
Our company has specific protocols and procedures that other contractors do not necessarily follow, so we knew that in order to maintain our operations at the highest standard, we had to create a training program that would get our employees to follow those standards, regardless of their backgrounds and what they had learned before.
So, we built our program using these key elements...
What makes a training program successful?
One of the key elements to having success with a training program is communication.
It might seem obvious, but being a good communicator is critical to any trainee’s success. In our program, we stress how important it is, from the beginning, for our trainees to speak up about anything they find confusing or that they do not fully understand. This includes the words they’re reading and hearing. We advise our trainees that if they start feeling unsure or confused, they should always go back to the point where they were last feeling good about what they were studying in order to find the root of what they do not understand.
We ensure that our trainees fully comprehend what they’re learning, with the ability to demonstrate what they learned, before they move on to the next subject. We also have a “know before you go” policy in which we carefully instruct our staff to not get involved in a task unless they know exactly what they’re doing. If they reach a point where they feel stuck, we give them the training they need to move forward.
Another tool we use in our training program is the combination of theory and practice. It is one thing to memorize, but it’s another to have the muscle memory to do the action. This could be anything from bending conduit to the day-to-day admin tasks of our electricians.
We use sketches to check that trainees have the full concept of what they are studying and are not just memorizing, which does nothing for application. We also give them the opportunity to practice what they just learned. What’s the use of knowing how to wire an outlet if you’re unable to actually perform the task outside of your study? By mixing theory with practical coaching, we solve this issue by having our trainees learn and then do.
It is this step-by-step process of theory and practice that has been essential to success in our training program. We have received a lot of great feedback from trainees who had experience out in the field or went to trade school before working for our company. Many have shared that they’ve learned more in our program than they did in years of previous study, or how after going through our courses, they finally had clarity on something that had long confused them.
It is this type of feedback that really helped us know that our training program was headed in the right direction, and why we use these same general principles for when we need to make procedure corrections or conduct quality control.
Opportunities for retraining, retention, and business expansion
At Southwest Industrial Electric, we keep the lines of communication open with our electricians and staff, which helps us quickly identify and correct issues when they arise. If something is done incorrectly or is not up to our standard, we make sure to address the root cause of the mistake and retrain on it. We find that anytime someone mishandles a task or job, there is always a benefit to a quick training activity. This additional training significantly decreases the likelihood that the error will come up again, increases the quality of work we’re providing, and also helps us achieve our goals of advancing the skills of our team.
Of course, there have been challenges along the way, and it’s taken us years to get to where we are with our training program today, but the investment has allowed for many returns in overall company expansion and our ability to retain our staff.
The greatest challenge we’ve faced has been finding the time to continue to develop the program. There’s so much to learn in this field, so there’s always more we want to add to the program. Additionally, in our field, it’s easy for information and industry best practices to change and become outdated, so keepin our materials up-to-date with the latest information is also something that needs to be done constantly.
In keeping up with our training program, we hope to one day expand it. We’d eventually like to get the program to a point where we can offer it to others outside of our organization so we can have a greater impact. After years of great feedback and so many employee successes, future growth of the program is something we’re looking forward to as we continue to pivot and develop in that direction.
What to remember as you build your own training program
Where you want to be or where you want your trainees to be is all dependent on how you define their success. In our program, we define success as the ability for a professional to use their knowledge to perform the duties of their role with stellar products. It’s their ability to figure out what they know and don’t know and constantly be learning in order to better themselves as professionals and therefore take on more and more responsibility in their position.
Overall, the key ingredients to a successful training program are also some of the key aspects to the entire health of a company, and the dedication we put into ours is the proof.
First, strong communication is absolutely the initial step to creating a program that can help you reach your goals. In the training process, if anything is misunderstood, discovering the root of confusion and clearing it up is extremely important before moving forward with any other training. In this field, you must always know before you go.
Second, a combination of theory and practice should be applied. Again, it is one thing to think you know something, and it is another to know you know something because you have done it before, correctly.
And third, it’s about commitment. You must be committed to your program, and in turn, your employees will be committed to your company.
Always be ready to go through trial and error with your training program. In this industry, the rules and regulations are ever-changing, as well as the technology, so be prepared to be flexible and able to quickly adapt.
A good training program will pay off because it can be the difference between achieving what you want for your business and the people you hire and consistently being held back due to the inability to retain great employees and produce the highest-quality product.
For more valuable insights from the Southwest Industrial Electric team about their training program and best practices for home services business owners, listen to our latest episode of The Sharpest ToolTM podcast: “Invest in Your Training Program and See Success.”