Could training be the key to navigating one of the largest challenges facing today’s construction industry? While many companies are struggling amongst a shortage of skilled workers and an aging workforce, Tampa-based KHS&S Contractors prioritizes training to engage and retain employees.
From on-the-job experiences to in-person classroom instruction at local trade and high schools, training focuses on both the short- and long-term benefits of building a highly skilled workforce.
“It’s about loyalty,” says D.J. Smith, KHS&S general superintendent and “Lean” specialist. “Once people realize we’re investing in them, they feel like part of something, part of the family. They can see in a tangible way how much we value them, which is essential in such a competitive market.”
Smith says this ranges from compensating employees for their daily work when training off-site, paying for online classes they express an interest in, or simply taking the time to answer all their questions when learning a new task.
“When a worker asks a lot of questions,” he adds, “that’s often the person you want leading the next job. That’s demonstrating a willingness to learn.”
Smith says the training all KHS&S employees receive in “Lean” practices dovetails with the skills and safety training they receive, as well.
“Individuals just get better at what they do, make fewer mistakes and become more efficient,” he says. “That’s how we achieve the continuous improvement we’re always looking for.
Images courtesy of KHS&S.
Embracing this philosophy of investing in employees can lead to workers who buck today’s norms and stay with the company their entire career.
While it’s rare in the workforce in general, many KHS&S employees have been with the company for decades.
Jess Robinson, senior vice president for the company’s Tampa division, started with KHS&S in 2002. He says that while investments in training can be time-consuming, they are critical.
“Our clients have high expectations for us to perform,” explains Robinson. “So we have to make sure our workers have all the right skill sets and capabilities for the complex jobs that need to be done.”
He says continuing education is important for all construction workers, regardless of their experience level. Today’s jobsite is different from even five years ago, so new and veteran team members need to stay up to date on the latest technologies and techniques.
This includes KHS&S trainers and management, who have learned to take advantage of technology to make training more accessible. Training now includes a combination of online and virtual training and certification and hands-on training conducted in the classroom and on the job.
And different workers learn in different ways, so it is important to use a variety of approaches. That means KHS&S leadership spends a lot of time one-on-one, making sure each person is prepared to handle every task of the day.
Robinson says he and other leaders devote a lot of time to training, checking off boxes from safety, quality, productivity, technical skills and many other areas.
A Tight Work Culture
While formal opportunities abound, a culture that embraces the informal opportunities means there is often coaching in the moment, based on what’s happening on the job site.
“We try to set our employees up for success as future leaders,” says Robinson. “We focus more on retaining and promoting from within whenever we can, as an alternative to hiring. We are always looking at who is going to assume a future leadership role.”
Someone who is a high performer, treats others on their team well, is teachable and willing to train others, is someone who might be tapped as a future leader. KHS&S also makes it a point to go to where the future talent is.
The company helps teach a variety of wall and ceiling skills during construction courses at a local trade school, which gives KHS&S credibility as an employer for these students.
In addition, as a sponsor of a construction program at a local high school, company leaders develop relationships with teachers who identify which students are looking to go into a trade after graduation and steer them toward the industry.
They may follow a path like 24-year veteran Rich Pollicino, KHS&S senior vice president based in Pompano Beach, Fla. His career started with an apprenticeship program in Philadelphia more than 40 years ago.
“It gave me an appreciation for learning the business from the ground up from great mentors who personally invested in me and the job I was doing,” he says.
Now, he tries to be that mentor to the next generation of workers. He says it’s key to teach what he’s learned along the way and to make sure someone learning a new skill understands exactly why something is done in a certain way.
And he’s not just a teacher.
“We’re all here to learn from one another,” Pollicino adds. “If our people come up with a safer, better or faster way of doing something, we reward them with a bonus or gift card.”
The KHS&S philosophy means training takes a bit longer, but there are no corners cut when it comes to quality.
It’s worth it when a project exceeds expectations for safety, quality, and timeline. And it’s worth it for those trained workers who continue to expand their skills and capabilities, ensuring their future value to both the company and the industry.