In an industry like construction, where techniques, materials, equipment, and regulations are constantly changing, continuous training is vital to maximizing work force productivity, work quality and leader development.
Continually expanding the capability of workers and managers at all levels is also vital in an industry where a significant shortage of workers looms ominously in the not-too-distant future.
If we won't have enough people, it's all the more important that we have versatile, skilled, productive workers to help the offset the shortage.
Fortunately, training of many types and from many sources is available to Wisconsin's construction industry.
The most traditional training providers have been the state's 16 technical colleges. They continue to be a primary source of training for construction and industrial workers, offering education in skilled trades ranging from construction labor, bricklaying, masonry, carpentry, electrician, welding, HVAC technician, and plumbing, to equipment technician, surveying, drafting, and architectural design.
The Wisconsin Technical College System also helps provide classroom instruction for the majority of apprenticeship programs in Wisconsin, which have played a vital role in training Wisconsin's work force since 1911.
Unions are expanding their traditionally strong role in training members.
One union strong on training is the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 139, which covers all of Wisconsin and operates a 400-acre heavy-equipment school in Coloma, Wis.
The modern facility is a tremendous resource for union members who want to hone their skills, expand the range of equipment they can operate, or learn about new codes, technology and regulations.
The school offers 20 courses and teaches about 4,200 students a year, combining classroom instruction with hands-on practical exercises on modern, well-maintained equipment.
Another union group that has taken the lead in training is the Wisconsin Laborers District Council (WLDC), which includes nearly 9,000 craft laborers from across the state and operates a brand new, state-of-the-art training center on 20 acres in Madison. The facility is supported by the union and its employer partners.
The WDLC center trains about 2,000 students a year. Its 35 courses include not only highway, heavy, commercial, industrial, sewer/water, and utility construction, but also environmental remediation, building demolition, tunneling, trenchless technology, asbestos abatement, and nuclear decontamination and demolition.
Tom Fisher, a 40-year member of the laborers union and now president and business manager for the Wisconsin Laborers District Council, says, "This is a great example of labor and management working together for the common good of the industry. We're training the next generation of craft laborers, and a well-trained work force is a skilled and safe work force."
Trade associations, such as the Associated General Contractors (AGC), Wisconsin Underground Contractors (WUCA), and Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC), are also strong providers of training. Available to both members and non-members, the training is generally offered at a number of locations throughout the state.
Topics range from key skills for superintendents, such as leadership, motivation, problem solving, and construction law, to trench rescue, confined-space entry, electrical installation, and the OSHA 10-hour construction and safety health outreach program.
The ABC Director of Education Wayne Belanger says, "Everyone, from apprentices to top managers, needs to keep learning and training throughout their careers. There is a constant stream of new techniques, materials, equipment, and regulations to keep up with. And everything needs to be done safely and correctly the first time because rework is so costly." ABC trains 1,200 apprentices in 13 trades each year, as well as 1,100 management and continuing-education students.
Another source of training is contractors themselves, many of whom hold their own training programs about safety, productivity, quality, specific skills, and other topics important to their employees and company.
Training is also available from manufacturers and dealers, who offer courses about using and maintaining the products they sell.
And, of course, training is available from companies who are experts in their fields and offer consulting and/or training as part of their business. Their areas of expertise range from heavy-equipment operation to safety.
The availability of so many high-quality training sources gives Wisconsin's construction industry a vital edge in developing the flexible and productive work force needed to meet its coming challenges.