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continuous learning in construction

Continuous Learning in Construction: Here’s Why (and How) Companies Should Support  

“The only thing that is constant is change.” – Heraclitus

So you want to be a successful construction company? It’s about a lot more than just building the project. Just as a building needs regular maintenance, renovations and upkeep, so do construction professionals. Successful construction companies don’t only invest in project pursuits, but in their workers as well—and continuous improvement and learning and development is a crucial part of working in the construction industry. In fact, it’s mostly why a lot of people enter the construction industry, to begin with because just like the building itself, the work is never over.

More than 1,100 participants in a Deloitte survey conducted at the 2019 Autodesk University concur with the importance of continuous learning in construction, as many cited the need for firms to emphasize learning as a core part of their work. Further, they expressed a desire to work for companies where management does make this a priority, and training and continued learning is easily accessible and encouraged. 

Nevertheless, it’s surprising at how many companies don’t stress this as a differentiating factor and seem to give very little thought on the development of their employees. However, a big reason why many companies fail to take continuous learning seriously is that they don’t know how or where to get started implementing such programs. 

Below, we’re here to tell you why investing in continuous learning in construction is essential for building a better workforce and business. 

What Is Continuous Learning?

Let’s start by examining what is continuous learning. It’s broadly defined as expanding skills and skillsets through education and increasing knowledge. But if you’re a business, the only way for your workers to continuously learn is through providing them the tools that can facilitate it. After all, if a continuous learning program is implemented correctly, it should be a mutually beneficial situation, a win-win both for the employer and for the employee.

Back to that Deloitte study, the findings indicate that continuous learning should become part of a company’s long-term business strategy. The study found that this is mainly due to the rapid pace of technological advances that workers need to stay up to date with to succeed in construction. There’s evidence to suggest that for workers to stay up to date on all of this, programs need to be put into place to facilitate this. Otherwise, construction companies risk becoming too reactive and not proactive enough to regularly win new work.

However, the concept of continuous learning in construction has not yet been mainstreamed. In other words, it’s still a foreign language for many companies. 

But why is continuous learning not regularly implemented in construction? There are several factors, but the most common ones have to do with the condensed construction schedules and large workloads that often don’t leave much time for professionals to participate in such programs. Deadlines are deadlines, after all, and often it’s these deadlines that get in the way of the professional development that’s so necessary to continue to earn work and grow a company.

Furthermore, it could be the employees’ own mentality that can hinder learning. According to Steve Oliver, Truss Design Trainer at Trussway Manufacturing, this holds many workers and businesses back:

“Always be willing to learn. Most everyone’s able, but they need to be willing. Through teaching and training in the corporate world, I’ve found there are a lot of people who are not willing. They’ll tell me to my face, ‘I don’t want to learn. Don’t teach me. I don’t have time. I don’t care.’ But only an open and willing mindset will move you forward.”

Why Invest in Lifelong Learning in Construction?

If you’re not the best, you’re only chasing the best. This is true in any industry, let alone in construction. Hence, one of the most significant benefits of implementing lifelong learning programs in a company is to stay ahead of the competition with workers that are superior to the other firm that’s bidding on the job. 

In construction, profit margins are becoming increasingly thin as labor and materials become more costly. But by investing in your workers, you’re likely to see productivity improvements that help offset some of these overhead costs, thereby allowing your company to better meet its profit goals on each project

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Continuous learning in construction is also essential for staying up on the latest technologies that have entered and are on the cusp of entering the industry. What’s more is that continued learning can also spur innovation and spark new ideas among your employees that your firm can take advantage of to further improve productivity and boost profits. 

The Deloitte study states that the half-life for new technical skills is only about five years these days, and it’s a number that is only expected to decrease as time moves on and more technological advances come to fruition. Don’t just discuss the implications of these technical skillsets for workers, come up with the plans to properly implement them so that nobody is being left behind.

Benefits of Investing in Continuous Learning in Construction

Here’s a look at some other benefits of investing in lifelong learning for your construction team:

  • Reduce risk: Greater adaptability and agility are a few of the things your workers are likely to gain from continuous learning. This helps them better prepare for and react to the unexpected, thereby reducing risk on jobsites.
  • Improve safety, quality: Any investment in your workers’ education is going to provide them with a more well-rounded skillset. This will only go to benefit the quality of the work that’s performed at each project site as well as the safety environment on each.
  • Reduce turnover: Most workers don’t want to become complacent; they want to work for a company that’s going to invest in them as much as they’ll invest in it. Noting this, any initiative to include continuing education in your company will lead to higher worker engagement, enthusiasm and camaraderie. And when workers are happy, they’re far less likely to explore opportunities elsewhere.
  • Attract talent: In addition to retaining workers, offering continuous learning opportunities for your employees will help attract top talent in the long term. 

Ideal Learning Opportunities

So what are some of the ideal topics any learning curriculum should be focusing on? And what are some of the ways to go about attaining this knowledge? 

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Here are a few top learning opportunities in the construction industry:

  • Technology: Any continuous learning program should place a large emphasis on technology. Though the construction industry has been one of the late adopters of technology, things are changing with the onset of Building Information Modeling (BIM), collaboration technology, wearables and smart technology for jobsites. Keeping workers up to date to learn how to use the latest innovations and technologies will only help businesses remain competitive. 
  • Leadership: It’s often said that people don’t leave companies; they leave leaders. A bad leader can indeed derail a company’s operations in more ways than one. For starters, an abrasive leader can do more harm than good on a project site. It’s why building the right kind of leaders, especially from within, can pay such big dividends. It’s not just a great way to grow professionals internally, but it’s a great way to mold them according to your company’s core values.
  • Project delivery and strategy: Design-build and integrated project delivery are essential to learn about and gain experience in considering today’s fast-paced environment. What’s more, is that continued learning can also spur innovation and spark new ideas among your employees that your firm can take advantage of to improve productivity further and boost profits
  • Advanced trade training: For a company to prosper, it needs exceptional workers and professionals with the skillsets to market to owners. Any continuous learning plan that you implement shouldn’t just include internal learning opportunities, but external ones as well. Encourage workers to earn certifications from industry associations.
  • Conferences and summits: Speaking of industry associations, getting involved with them is great for networking as well as professional development. Conferences also often include breakout educational seminars and exhibit halls to help attendees learn about the products and technologies that are out there to help them do their jobs better. Some annual summits and conferences you may want to put on your calendar include Chicago Build, Lean Construction Institute Congress 2019, Autodesk University and Construct Canada. Click here for a list of upcoming events. 
  • Internal corporate programs: Can your company partner with a trade school or association? While not all companies have the resources to do so, it’s a huge asset for the ones that can. On a smaller scale, many companies still are able to host Lunch and Learn events or special breakout seminars within their office space.

How to Encourage Lifelong Learning Among Your Staff

With new ideas on where your workers need improvement and want to grow, now it’s time to start executing. But do you know what it takes to implement these continuing education programs effectively? If you don’t earn employee buy-in, you risk these initiatives dying out before they ever even have a chance to get off the ground. 

Further Reading:  10 Must-Read Building and Design Articles from January 2020

Here’s a look at some tips for getting these programs implemented and getting employee buy-in:

Set a baseline

When you’re rolling out your continuous learning plan, don’t just launch it and hope it catches on. Set some goals and make sure that you hit them. There will undoubtedly be ebbs and flows along the way, but that’s where you can go to make adjustments. For instance, how much training should workers be eligible for? How often should training take place? Make sure you answer those questions, set meetings to check on how things are flowing and adjust as necessary.

Get upper management involved

What better way to get employee buy-in than to get the management team involved? Workers often follow their leaders, so if it’s being communicated correctly to them from their superiors, they’re going to be that much more likely to participate in any learning opportunities. At the same time, managers should be listening to their workers to see what type of training they want.

Offer mentorship opportunities

Mentors can be a great ace in the hole for implementing any continuous learning program. It’s a great way to build interoffice rapport and comfortably pair workers with another member of the organization. Looking for more information on how to start a mentorship program in construction? Check out this blog and ebook

Incentivize and recognize

Praise employees who have taken it upon themselves to dig into continuous learning opportunities in the hope that this praise will motivate others. If your construction company has the means to do so, it might even be worth offering incentives for these opportunities, as doing so can be that extra push that it takes to get workers truly on board with things.

Embrace Change with Continuous Learning in Construction

Like we said in the opening, change is constant—especially in the construction industry. And if you’re not changing and moving your company forward, chances are it’ll just be falling behind. Implementing a continuous learning program is an ideal way to help spur change and innovation within your organization. If you’re not already doing it, start today!

Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.