We know training is essential. Workers need the skills and education to do their job or task well. This leads to good work that promotes an industry that can provide solid careers. But getting them young is more important than most people can imagine. What you first learn is likely to stick.

The veracity of this statement was proven back in 1975 at Stanford University. A group of students were handed various suicide notes—some real, some fake. They were asked to identify which were real and which ones were fakes. Half of the group were told they did very good with more than 90 percent of their assessments being accurate; the other half were told they did rather poorly. As in most psychological studies, the groups had been misled. In reality, all were about equal: There was no good or bad group. The deception was revealed to all. Then they were asked to look at another batch of notes. But before any results were shared, they were then asked to evaluate how well they had done this time. Curiously, the group that was told they did well believed they did well again. Conversely, the group that had been told they did poorly, believed they did poorly again.

The Stanford Studies became infamous and concluded that once formed impressions are remarkably perseverant and hard to change. We know this as re-training and it can be many times more difficult.

Confirmation Bias

A few years later, Stanford formed two groups: One believed the death penalty as a solid deterrent to crime and the other did not. They were then handed two studies, one using data to show the death penalty was a deterrent to crime and the other report showing it was not. The group who believed in capital punishment found the report that supported their point of view highly credible and the other report was unconvincing. Not surprisingly, the anti-capital punishment group found the exact opposite. Both reports were virtually identical, and both were bogus. This study resulted in the new term called Confirmation Bias.

Back in the 1990s, Vancouver, British Columbia, was experiencing a rash of leaks in condominium buildings. A Canadian film crew came down to Seattle to see if the Americans were experiencing similar issues. I was interviewed and noted that we had indeed been having related issues but we were fixing them. I pointed out that the prime cause was improperly installed flashing. The young woman was curious about the term improper flashing. I related the story of a large condominium project currently being re-clad due to “reverse lapped” flashing. I noted the problem was severe and yet the solution was simple. The film crew was curious and wanted to see.

I took them to where the new retro-work was being done and felt confident it would be correct. I held a class on this site only the week before. To my shock, the flashing was installed with the same reverse lap as before. For those who do not know what “reverse lap” means, picture the shingles on your roof; they start at the bottom and lap in a way to shed water out and not in. Imagine the shingles reversed to direct water into the house. I was fortunate the television crew knew nothing of construction.

I took them to the location where I gave the demonstration and we proceeded to film. After I said good-bye to the film crew, I went to the foreman and asked what happened and why had they rejected what I was teaching. He informed me his team had always done it that way and that I was unconvincing in my demonstration. For the life of me, I cannot see how shingles on the roof installed backwards is not convincing. I wish I could say that was the only time it happened. I have had this happen again and again. Even instructors who teach our young are often convinced the reverse lap is the correct method because it is how they learned, know and continue to do at work.

The building we filmed in 1999 leaked again in 2005. Of course, the siding crew was gone and surely would hold the belief that what they did was okay. Leaks were the fault of others. The consultant business thrives on this, as do products or contractors searching for a solution to avoid training. Until we reach our recruits on the simple basics, confirmation bias will drive the industry, possibly into the ground. The other answer to the leaks seems to be the push for more pre-fabrication at the factory level. This removes the need for skill and education. This would be sad because design, flexibility, creativity, and our trades will slowly die. The industry will want it back someday, but it will be too late.