I have written many times about the skill of a craft and the need for training. America is fighting over the future of the coal industry and its relevance. I think politicians miss the point entirely. Republicans seem bent on saving the coal industry as it saves jobs. The Democrats are determined to re-train the coal miners on computer skill enhancement. They are both right—and wrong.
The construction professional’s future is indeed challenged. However, trying to teach them computer skills is even more of an uphill battle. I mean no disrespect; there are many people that simply prefer to work with their hands and build things rather than sit in an office all day.
A Worthy Plan
In 2018, I was on a path to develop a Department of Labor approved apprenticeship plan for terrazzo workers. A Washington, D.C. expert worked to secure some funding for our program. During one meeting on curriculum and structure, the facilitator was thrilled to announce she had begun to connect new computers for all the students. I replied that this was nice but missing the goal. My lack of excitement dumbfounded her. I explained to her that these are terrazzo installers and they will have little use for a computer. Her response was one that dumfounded me: “They do not always want to be terrazzo workers, do they?” I quickly found out their goal was to elevate the installers out of the trades. I became a bit dissatisfied. Elevate to a potentially lower-paying career? What is wrong with being a trade or craft worker? Our relationship quickly fizzled out.
The need for skills training is growing and academics cannot grasp why. They do not understand it is skill and knowledge based. An example would be sand finish in cement stucco. Historically, we did a medium or 16/20 sand-sieve-size finish. It takes skill to water-float the cement to bring the sand to the surface in a pleasing pattern. When a designer wanted a fine or 20/30 finish, we would work hard to dissuade them. The fine sand or float finish is always harder to accomplish.
Fast forward to today and it seems designers and owners want smoother textures. This is juxtaposed to a diminished skill and knowledge base for the plastering industry. Necessity is the mother of invention and she found a way here, too. The two shifts in cement sand finish are using the acrylic finish coats and/or lightly spraying on the cement finish. Both of these options are industry practices and essentially solved the problem. There have been costs associated with each of these transitions. This should make us wonder: Are we acting similar to politicians and missing the bigger picture? Maybe we might focus on better training; after all, having a better-trained workforce cannot be a bad thing.
The Stucco Manufacturers Association recognized the problem for training years ago and embarked on a bold task: Online training for a trade that we were all told could not be trained online. All seem to agree the fieldworker today pales in comparison to their fathers. While some say it is the lack of code knowledge that hurts them, did the old guys really know the code better? I would argue they did not. What they did know was why they did a task and what purpose it served. Knowing the code is great but knowing how and why it works is better.
Some believe they can hire site inspectors to watch over crews. Unless you have one inspector for each worker, that is unrealistic. This is because workers are installing and covering all day long. They need to know and identify potential problems. Workers that have that kind of knowledge go beyond memorizing codes and standards. This is what made past generations more valuable as they demonstrated flexibility on site, lowered defects and reduced callbacks.
The SMA training is five modules but some can move on with a supervisor’s class. This class includes a manual and test that is 150 questions about leadership, communication and trade knowledge. Passing the supervisor course allows a company to submit an application to be accepted into the SMA certified contractor program. Acceptance is after a review of references and projects. This is needed, because most of us know the low bidder is often given the work but rarely the most qualified to do the job right.
The training is free, except for the most critical component, the supervisor. The videos are all on the SMA website. These videos cover the basics and provide some tips for seasoned professionals. They are available in English and Spanish. That is five hours of quality training and expanded knowledge. Visit our website here: https://stuccomfgassoc.com, and access our YouTube channel here: www.youtube.com/channel/UClpNLmSX8cBTaPNOvzrpx3w/. Don't forget to subscribe.
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