Lev’s parents were on his case to get a job and told him he couldn’t keep living at home if he didn’t have one, so Lev went out the next day looking for Help Wanted signs.
By the end of the day, Lev found a job with Sparks Roofing. The next morning, he showed up at the shop. Ten minutes later, he found himself in a truck with three other guys driving to a job site. Once there, he stood with a group of six people as one read a lesson about safety. Afterward, the guy who read the lesson introduced himself to Lev as the foreman and gave Lev a safety harness.
The foreman helped Lev cinch the harness and told Lev to follow him up the ladder. Once on the roof, the foreman gave Lev a tour of the roof, showed him how to tie off to the anchor point and told him to do what the experienced workers told him to do, pointing to two men.
Lev felt encouraged, but the feeling was short-lived as he spent his day alternating between standing around not knowing what to do, being asked to do things he did not understand and retrieving items he was unable to identify. He also was on the receiving end of obvious frustration expressed in eye rolls, and a few times, one crew member lashed out at him for being “stupid.”
At lunchtime, the foreman told Lev he would catch on eventually. Because roofing work always is on a tight timeline and the crew constantly is on the lookout for bad weather, the foreman explained to Lev no one has time or energy to “spoon feed” instructions, so Lev needs to pay attention and learn quickly. He then left Lev sitting by the building alone while he went to join the crew on a lunch run.
Lev finished out the day, but he didn’t return. He did not know roofing terminology, tools or equipment, or how to categorize what he observed in a way to help him learn from it.
If Lev had been introduced to training on his first day at Sparks Roofing, his experience may have led to a completely different outcome.
WHAT'S LEV'S PROBLEM?
The form of “on-the-job training” offered to Lev is like throwing a child into a swimming pool to let him or her figure out how not to drown. And it bears considering how well this philosophy works for roofing companies.
Cara Griffith, principal of Tandem Motion LLC, a workforce consulting firm based in Seattle, says: “One of the risks to the sink or swim approach is the potential for employees to cause new problems because of a lack of experience or knowhow ... organizations run the risk of negatively impacting the careers of high-potential employees, losing talent and weakening career progression. The associated costs go beyond recruiting and exit costs to the disruption of performance when people leave an organization.”
Griffith’s words are widely applicable in office and field cultures. Myriad aspects of company culture contributed to Lev’s experience, not all of which are addressed by knowledge acquisition; however, one significant aspect of his experience is he did not have an informed idea about what was happening on the job site.
NOT A WASTE OF RESOURCES
Some may ask whether training a brand-new employee is a waste of resources. This question is part of the issue because buried within it is the belief most hires for field work are not going to stick around.
New employees will feel this lack of investment. But what if you had access to a relatively low-investment resource that could provide a solution to address at least part of the problem?
NRCA’s Training for Roof Application Careers program is aimed at providing new employees with two things: basic knowledge and confidence their new companies are committed to helping them succeed.
TRAC PROVIDES BASIC KNOWLEDGE
TRAC’s aim is what NRCA calls “conversational competence.” This means when a person has completed TRAC, he or she should be able to engage in a conversation about working on a roof and be helpful right away with uncomplicated tasks.
The knowledge component of TRAC is online and self-paced, and there are hands-on requirements. TRAC’s requirements are not intended to develop employees to proficiency but give exposure that will provide context to new employees’ observations and work.
The hands-on parts of the program will require assistance for new employees. Someone with existing skills is necessary to set up, facilitate and sign off on these experiences. In part, this allows TRAC to be a vehicle to let new employees know their companies intend to help them succeed.
TRAC COMMUNICATES COMMITMENT
Being new always is challenging. Few new employees expect their first days and weeks to be without hurdles, but when a company provides evidence of meeting new employees halfway, it eases anxieties.
TRAC is uniquely designed for the novice. It assumes nothing whereas experienced roof system installers take their own hard-earned knowledge for granted and expect new employees to know more than they do, often belittling them for their ignorance.
Committing time to training during employees’ initial days gives much-needed content and the confidence they will be equipped to succeed. This also is a perfect opportunity to assure employees you intend to continue training them in safety, roofing skills and more.
EXISTING TRAC PROGRAMS
TRAC comprises basic onboarding as well as explains specific roof systems.
Roof systems addressed in the growing TRAC library include asphalt shingles, EPDM and thermoplastic. Work has begun on architectural metal panels and clay and concrete tile, scheduled to be completed by fall 2023.
All programs are available in English and Spanish.
And even if you install roof systems not yet addressed by TRAC, you can provide employees with low- or steep-slope onboarding programs as a way of intoducing them to roofing. These programs are included with every system program but also can be purchased separately.
MANAGING EMPLOYEE PROGRESS
There are two aspects to managing employee progress through TRAC: tracking progress on an NRCA dashboard and providing personal accountability.
Employee progress can be monitored on a dashboard accessed through NRCA’s website.
When your company purchases TRAC, your designated point of contact automatically is provided dashboard access. Other employees can gain access by contacting NRCA to be designated as Training Managers or by becoming NRCA Qualified Trainers (see sidebar).
The dashboard lists the names of employees enrolled in TRAC, divided by branch, if relevant, and their progress. All designated Training Managers can see completion percentages and data regarding module completion.
The dashboard is helpful for managing progress, but managing people is never as effective as leading them. To that end, having a trainer or someone dedicated to overseeing the training function is the best way to guide people through the training.
TRAC is self-paced and relatively simple; however, it would be a mistake to believe all employees will complete the training on their own without encouragement. Follow-up questions such as “How’s it going?” or “How far along are you in the TRAC program?” are more effective than passively noticing progress on the dashboard. Anyone can be assigned to follow up with trainees, but someone for whom it is his or her main responsibility will be most consistent.
Ideally, you have a full-time trainer at your company who not only helps employees get set up and complete TRAC but also facilitates intentional training of all employees. Most companies have someone on staff, or a vendor, dedicated to safety training, but what about installation training or interpersonal and leadership skills? A company trainer does not need to be an expert, but this person still can assess gaps between what various employees need to know and be able to do versus what they actually know and can do. After assessing, trainers’ jobs are to establish intentional plans to close identified gaps and ensure all employees are equipped to excel in their roles.
TRAC can be accomplished without a full-time or dedicated trainer. However, for employees to take training seriously, someone will need to assist them with access and periodic troubleshooting as well as give them some form of accountability.
There are several ways a person can help with employee experiences during TRAC:
Help getting started. Although TRAC is relatively simple to navigate and does not require anyone to teach the content, many field employees need assistance gaining access. They will need their own email addresses, likely some initial navigation assistance and possibly computer access.
Encouragement. Many trainees are interested but may not be passionate about their training. As noted, accountability in the form of questions or expectations can provide some much-needed motivation.
Assistance. Some employees may struggle with comprehension or find activities or exam questions challenging to navigate. A trainer may come alongside struggling employees to discern whether they cannot comprehend the content or just need some assistance. For example, an individual with attention deficit disorder may be excellent with his or her hands in a high-paced environment but may struggle to sit at a computer.
Someone dedicated to the training function will have the time and energy to figure out how to help people learn in ways that will work for those individuals. Although TRAC is designed to be self-paced and completed individually, some companies plan times when groups get together and review the modules (with each person navigating on their own devices to maintain tracking) as a group.
Recognition. Recognizing accomplishments shows employees they are noticed and important. Trainers involved with employees at this level genuinely will be enthused by progress and completion and draw positive attention to accomplishments. As companies acknowledge and celebrate their employees, those employees, in turn, become more loyal to the companies that affirm them.
A DIFFERENT OUTCOME
Lev knew he still needed a job, so though he had a bad experience at the first roofing company, he decided to take a chance with another roofing company across town (turns out lots of roofing companies are hiring).
This time, the person who hired him told him to come to the office the next day prepared to be in front of a computer for the better part of the day. Lev learned he would go on a tour of the company, take some online training and meet the company trainer who would, later in the week, start giving him a feel for the tools and equipment he would learn about in the online training.
Lev was assured he would learn the “nuts and bolts” of roofing work before he would be sent to a job site, and he would be able to engage in more training to learn new skills to become an expert installer.
Lev left energized to begin his new job, feeling like this company was going to help him learn and fit in. The hiring manager at the company also was pleased, believing what they offer Lev and other new hires will help keep their employee retention and satisfaction high.
When Lev went home that night, he found a new place to live beginning the following month. He was just as anxious as his parents to move out of their house, and now he could finally make it happen.To learn more about TRAC, go to nrca.net/education/trac.