Priority Learning

Mark L. Johnson / November 2017

Do you have time for continuing education on cold-formed steel framing, EIFS and stucco? How about time to hone your skills for managing projects and people? Can you fit in a class on cloud-based document management, building information modeling or OSHA’s new rule on crystalline silica?
“The modern worker has very little time for learning—less than 1 percent of their time,” says Marc Zao-Sanders, CEO and co-founder of, in a Harvard Business Review article.
No one fits it all in. We have to make choices on how to advance our industry knowledge and even whether to watch a TED Talk or two. How can we make these choices?

A Simple Matrix
A 2x2 matrix, like the one shown here, can help you rank-order learning subjects by their value and by the effort required to master them. If something is useful and can be learned quickly, then pursue the subject right away. If a topic is not that valuable, then skip it to learn something else. By plotting learning opportunities in a grid you can customize and prioritize your professional development program.
For example, OSHA’s new rule on crystalline silica is now in effect. Are you ready? Are your field personnel trained? Admittedly, there’s a lot to do. But why not start with the video, “OSHA Silica Rule—Applications for Subcontractors,” available from the Foundation of the American Subcontractors Association? It won’t take long to watch, and the subject matter is important. Put “silica video” in the grid’s “learn it right away” box.
Here’s another example. The 2009 and 2012 International Energy Conservation Code® and the ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2013 created a new ballgame for wall contractors. The new energy requirements call for one to four inches of exterior continuous insulation depending on the climate zone, and even in zones where foam board insulation had not been a requirement. A crucial topic? Absolutely. Can you master what it means for your assemblies in a day? Probably not. The topic is highly useful, but it requires time to learn it. You’ll need to block out time in your calendar to take classes, read papers and implement the learnings. So, add “new energy codes” to the box in the top right of the matrix.
What about BIM? That depends on your market and your job function, in my opinion. I’m a big proponent of BIM, but what if no GCs in your market require collaborative modeling? Or, what if your role at your firm is simply to boost crew production? In such cases, place BIM learning in the grid’s “skip” box at the top left. Later on, as BIM becomes more relevant, you can block out time for BIM education.
Use a 2x2 matrix to focus on skill sets. Maybe you want to get better at spreadsheets using Microsoft Excel, or learn how to run social media marketing campaigns. The matrix will help you plot these skills along the same time-to-learn and utility continuums.

No More Excuses
Sometimes, a contractor will tell me, “I’ve been doing it this way for years.” OK, but you may want to take a fresh look at a subject and take courses anyway. AWCI’s Steel—Doing it Right® program, for example, helps contractors learn a new way of doing things using new generation steel framing products and high-performance gypsum panels.
I also often hear: “I’ll do it when I find the time.” No more excuses. Do it now. Walls and ceilings will always have new building codes, new energy codes, new LEED® certifications and new technologies to learn. But that’s what you signed up for when you became a construction professional. You agreed to make learning a priority.

Mark L. Johnson writes regularly about trends affecting construction firms. Reach him at @markjohnsoncomm, and at