Make Training Priority One

I know how I made my entrance into the AEC industry, and it seems my story is similar to that of many others. I have a background in information technology and when I saw a need that automated drafting could help, I suggested to my employer that we buy a drafting program and a plotter. That was the start to my career.

On that job I learned the drafting program, which helped me land a job with a multi-discipline AE firm, where I took on the task of learning Autodesk® Revit® Structure. This aided in finding the next place of employment. At the new job, I learned another piece of software…

I think you can see where this is going. At each place I worked, I always looked to continue my education on the software that I already knew and also to learn any other software that would be beneficial to both the company and myself.

The main theme is that I was self-taught and that is where the commonality with my coworkers lines up.

Each situation at each company was different. At one place it was software that was never used in any other workflow, so no one knew about it. At another firm it was software they weren’t sold on and not sure we would ever use outside of that project. Then there were other firms that just didn’t want to put money into training, didn’t budget for training, but still wanted you to use the software efficiently.

No matter how training is accomplished—whether you go outside your walls into a structured learning program, utilize in-house subject matter experts, learn in a formal classroom setting or a “Lunch and Learn”—training is critical to staff performing well on their projects.

Standard Issue Training

Training can be accomplished in many ways. Here, I’ll discuss a couple of options that I have experienced in my career.

Offsite classroom training can be advantageous. The benefit of being away from the office to immerse yourself totally in the training can really pay off. You will get to learn hands-on, with an instructor, and be able to ask direct questions about issues you run across. The downside is the cost, which can be quite high. Many firms can’t afford to have people out of the office for long periods of time.

Another downside is that if you don’t go back and immediately use your knowledge you may forget some of it. I worked for a firm that did some training in Revit, but didn’t use the software for over two years after the training. Needless to say, the training was forgotten and the software had dramatically changed within that period.

Another option is onsite, instructor-led training. This is a great way to tailor training to the specific needs of your firm and not take people away from the office. The downside is this can be pricey as well. In addition, being in the office can be a distraction for those being trained—we have all been in that training session where an emergency comes up and someone needs help.

I am a fan of the monthly, one-hour training style that can be led by a BIM manager or a subject matter expert in your office. Often these sessions can be topical, with questions coming from the other trainees. This can be very beneficial because these are problems that are actually occurring for the group. The downside is that it is hard to be hands-on during the instruction unless you have a computer lab. The upside is that trainees usually can go back and immediately put into practice what was taught.

There are different ways to hold this training, and one way is the Lunch and Learn. These sessions can work well, because who doesn’t like food? Of course, you have to watch out for that one employee who shows up only for the free food!

Another avenue is industry conferences. Many of these may not dive as deep as other forms of training, but can cover a topic you are unfamiliar with or an area you just want to get more information on. When I was the only structural designer at my firm I really looked forward to the conferences so I could connect with other people in my discipline and discuss issues and successes they were having. I believe industry conferences are often not regarded as “training,” but they definitely should be.

Even with all the training options available to us, sometimes nothing beats good old one-on-one interaction, which benefits both employee and trainer. Sometimes this interaction is all takes to make something “click” for a struggling employee. For the trainer, taking the time to work through it with that employee is always rewarding. Often, following these interactions, I walked away with an understanding of how to do something a little bit differently than how I had done it in the past. So, we always need to be learning!

Where Do We Focus?

Companies have so many different software options to choose from and many incorporate various ones in their workflows, so where do you begin?

The best place to start is at the core of the software that your business uses to produce their deliverable. This is the product that brings your ideas to fruition and passes them on to the rest of the team. This seems simple and it truly is.

Once your company is rolling on the core software you can begin to train on the other programs that are used to support. Often that is done by explaining how the company uses the software and letting the employee dig in deeper, or again utilizing a subject matter expert with that software. Never try to take on all packages at the same time, because that is definitely a recipe for frustration and failure for those involved.

Training New Talent

Ah yes, the newbies—fresh out of school and ready to conquer the world! They are so eager and ready to roll, but then the actual job starts and they realize how much was missing from their formal education—not because the school couldn’t handle it, but because schools don’t have the time or resources to teach everything.

When you hire new talent that does not have experience in the AEC industry, training is going to be of the utmost importance to successfully incorporate the new hires into the jobs they have been hired to do.

First, they need to understand how the process works. Even with all the software your firm may have available, if the new hires don’t know the process, the software won’t do them much good. They need to have an understanding of how to begin their tasks, what is expected of them at what times with regard to deliverables, and what the final product should look like.

The new hires need to be aware of company standards and where that information is located. They need to have someone who can continually review their work so they don’t pick up bad habits from the beginning. Once this basis has been set, the software part will make more sense.

Second is the software and how your firm uses it. I have worked at certain places, and months into my time there have learned they have specialized software or add-ons no one told me about that would have been especially helpful.

Training Seasoned Talent

Training the experienced person can sometimes be a delight. Other times, not so much.

Usually with seasoned talent you are going to have a variety of age groups and knowledge. I worked in one place that had employees who had gone through the change from hand drafting to AutoCAD® and I was charged with transitioning them from AutoCAD to Revit. Needless to say, some were not too happy about the prospect of transitioning once again.

I believe it is always good to have an open dialogue if you are going to be bringing in new software that is going to cause a drastic change in procedure. If you are able to keep everyone involved in the process, and they understand the benefits and the reason for the transition, you have conquered part of the battle. Although not everyone will get a say in the direction the business may take, their input is always valuable. They have an insight that the decision makers may not have.

You should always utilize the talent you have in the education of others. It is a very good time to take someone who excels in a certain area and let them take the reins on the training. This is where Lunch and Learn sessions work really well. Pick a topic and have someone prepare the entire presentation and do a hands-on in the software. It not only gives these employees a chance to give input and teach their peers, but also gives them experience in presenting.

Educating the Client

This is a topic that often gets overlooked when it comes to a project. It is very easy to know all the buzzwords and the names of the latest software, but that doesn’t mean that your client will know what they will be getting or even what they actually want.

Educating the client needs to be done at the onset of the project, and expectations should be covered in the contract. What the client is expecting as a deliverable and what you plan to provide need to be specifically spelled out and agreed to by all parties.

Too often you get to handoff a deliverable and half the team brings 2D drawings. You show up with your model and the client leaves disappointed. Another area that often results in client disappointment is as-built documentation. Will they get marked up drawings or will they receive an as-built model that is complete and shows what was installed?

What We Don’t Always Think About

Per Wikipedia, the term constructability defines “the ease and efficiency with which structures can be built. The more constructible a structure is, the more economical it will be.”

This is not taught in schools, perhaps not even discussed, unless you have a teacher who is predisposed to the topic. It isn’t something that can be learned by sitting in a classroom or by reading a textbook.

To really understand constructability you need to be involved in some projects that are being constructed, at a cost to a client. Something that looks constructible on paper, in actual execution, may not be able to be built.

I worked at a company whose president was well received because he always took into consideration the constructability of a project. He would tell the client if something was impossible to build, or if something could be built, but at exponential cost. Or he would come with a redesign that would satisfy the intent of the original design.

He didn’t learn this from a textbook, but rather through time and experience, talking to constructors, and being able to visualize the space where the issues existed. Constructability is a lesson that is taught by those with experience, and it’s an important lesson to learn in any capacity.

In Conclusion

Looking at the end of 2017 and into 2018 try to make your training needs a priority. Evaluate your company’s needs, your inefficiencies, and where you excel. Then develop a training plan that will be beneficial to those already working and to new people that are brought on board.

Look at your projects and see what things could be done better and what is available on the market to meet those needs. Look at your management team for opportunities to explain why training is important and encourage them to budget for it. Explain to them the necessity of good training and what the end results will bring for the projects and the company as a whole.

Examine your clients’ needs and what they are looking for in a deliverable and how best you can meet those expectations and give them the most useful information for their projects. Look forward to learning more and new things in the coming year, and then share the knowledge you receive.

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