Current on Competence
This issue marks the first time Walls & Ceilings focuses a portion of its editorial on proper window installation techniques. The topic of window installation is one of many fresh topics to be featured in upcoming issues of W&C. With nearly half of the magazine’s readers buying and installing windows, we will focus a good portion of our editorial scope to this market.
According to a recent Reader Profile Study, we know many of your jobs are impacted by proper installation. Asked how many windows your company installed per year, the median collective stated 75 windows. When asked whether or not a company’s annual window sales would increase, decrease or remain the same, 31 percent said that they expected sales to grow.
Of course, the quality of the window installation rests in the competence of the installer. With the majority of respondents to W&C’s market trends study claiming that qualified labor was the most important issue facing the wall and ceiling industry, competence is indeed at the forefront of contractors’ concerns.
Our feature article “Window of Opportunity” points out that incompetence is one of the big causes of all lawsuits, insurance claims, angry homeowners and industry black eyes. If everyone were competent at his required role in the manufacturing, selection, and installation process, everything would work as intended. So, where is the breakdown? A chain may be only as strong as its weakest link but sometimes the strong links also require vigilance.
My best friend, Chris Handsy, is a heating and cooling contractor. With nearly 20 years of experience, he’s now manager of the company he started working for in high school. He made the interesting point that even old pros make dumb mistakes.
“Some of these guys have been working more than 10 years, and they make mistakes,” Handsy says. “The most dangerous thing is to have somebody who you know has the experience to do something right forget a rudimentary part of the job. A guy might have done 20 identical houses and yet he forgets his tools.”
Although HVAC is not walls and ceilings, there is a common truth to what Handsy talks about. It’s easy to understand a rookie making mistakes but how does one explain mistakes from journeymen? And what is the cause?
“It could be burnout,” Chris explained. “It could be that the job gets so routine, you don’t think anymore when you do it. One really peculiar thing is this one builder we work with does one style of house. He buys small lots, builds one design and knows every nail and shingle, so we know exactly how much it costs us to do these things. Still, our best guys make mistakes on these houses, and even try to pass the blame with, ‘It wasn’t me’ or ‘No, I did it and the inspector’s wrong’.”
Not only is the incompetence itself frightening but the worker’s unwillingness to accept responsibility makes management difficult. Handsy deals with the situation as truthfully as he can.
“Basically, I tell them what they did and that I can’t use them for a job like this any longer because I can’t trust them,” he says. “It costs the business money when the incompetent tech does something wrong, rather than make us money. Sometimes, we don’t find out about a violation until after an inspection. Not only do we have to send him out again to fix his mistake, we have to pay for a new inspection.”
I hope these problems are exceptions, not rules. However, they do emphasize the importance of competence among the entire structure of a contractor’s workforce.