NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • Getting It Right

    Posted on Nov 02, 2011 by John M Grau

    A recent article in the Wall Street Journal asked the question: Why Aren’t Companies Getting the Employees They Need? It states that even with unemployment of 9%, companies are complaining that they can’t find skilled workers. They lay the blame on schools for not giving kids the right kind of training and on government for limiting the number of high-skill immigrants.

    The author of the article lays blame with the employers themselves. The problem is that companies don’t train anymore. They expect to hire fully skilled and experienced workers at lower than market wages. It notes that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with internal management training programs.

    Why aren’t companies training? The article states that apprenticeship programs require too much cooperation among employers and bigger investments in training infrastructure than the companies are willing to provide. They also don’t want to make the investment in training a worker that someone else might hire away.

    The author suggests that companies bring back some aspects of the apprentice training system. Namely, pay the employee less while the company provides the training. Also, look more for people who could (rather than already can) do the job and bring them up to speed. The best place to find those workers is to promote from within the company.

    While it may seem old-fashioned to some, the construction industry has been employing this model for decades — especially in the union segment of the industry. The union labor agreement is the catalyst for employer cooperation and joint funding of training programs. Anyone who has seen the incredible training centers built by NECA-IBEW apprentice training committees around the country can attest to our industry’s substantial investment in a training infrastructure.

    Our system not only trains new entrants into the workforce but also provides upgrade training to current employees. And because the training costs are shared for a common pool of workers, individual employers are less concerned about investing in training for a worker they may later lose.

    Companies and industries in need of more highly skilled workers could learn something from union electrical contractors. Maybe we’re doing something right after all.

  • Being the Best: A Lesson from the Marine Raiders

    Posted on Apr 22, 2008 by John M Grau
    Seated at the table are Col John Sweeney (ret.) and Lt Gen James Amos
    Seated at the table are Col John Sweeney (ret.) and Lt Gen James Amos

    Last weekend, I attended the final reunion banquet of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion held at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. Also known as Edson’s Raiders, this elite unit was created by an order from President Franklin Roosevelt as a counterpart to the British Commandos—a unique concept at the time. Raiders were trained to conduct amphibious light infantry warfare and operated behind enemy lines.

    About a dozen Raiders, all well into their 80’s, attended the reunion. I was there with my father-in-law, an original Raider and a recipient of the Navy Cross for his heroics at the Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal in 1942. He went on to a career in the Marine Corps, serving in Korea and Viet Nam as well

    As the remaining Raiders made their way around the base at Quantico last week, they were treated like rock stars by young Marines. Many asked for autographs and requested stories about past battles. The featured speaker at the final banquet was Lt Gen James Amos, recently nominated to become assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

    Amos talked about how the Corps is still focused on innovation (like the Raiders of World War II) while maintaining the traditions and discipline of the past. He noted that unlike other branches of the armed services, the Marines are not lowering their recruitment standards. He said that the Marine Corps promise to a new recruit is a trip to Parris Island for 12 weeks of boot camp where his head is shaved and he is stripped of his clothes and personal identity. Upon completion of his training, he will be sent to some remote part of the world where people will hate him and try to kill him.

    Yet with this pledge in mind, the Marine Corps has been able to increase its numbers to over 180,000 men and women, and it will increase that further to more than 200,000 in the next 18 months.

    As I listened to him, I thought about our need to recruit young men and women into the electrical trade. In the face of competition, we often look at compromising our standards. Wouldn’t we attract more applicants if we lowered our basic requirements or shortened our training? Why do we need tests and certifications? If the non-union can train someone in two weeks, why can’t we?

    Matching the lowest common denominator is easy. Being the best is hard.

    We still need to be innovative. New methods of instruction like day-schooling and boot camps are worthy of consideration. Online courses support and supplement classroom learning. New worker classifications like CW/CE and unindentured increase our workforce and lower our composite labor rates. We have to embrace all these changes.

    At the same time, we can demand and expect the best of those who work in our industry. It’s a matter of pride and tradition. It means something special to be an IBEW journeyman or a NECA contractor. If we set the standard, then those who want to be the best will be waiting in line to join us.

    After hearing Amos’s stirring remarks, I think each one of the eighty-plus year-old Marine Raiders would eagerly re-up to serve their country once again, if they could. I know that’s how I felt.

About NECA Transmissions

NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.

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