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The Ugly Side of Beautiful! (Part 6)

Let’s get this done. As we finish with this topic, we’ve concluded that an excellent solution to the lack of skilled labor is training. For those who aren’t able to tap into an apprentice training program, the following eight suggestions may prove helpful as you endeavor to train your own apprentices.

Make the investment. You are going to have to spend money. There is no way around it. However, as we’ve already concluded, taking the training approach is an investment and a whole lot better than just wasting money overpaying in an attempt to seduce what little skilled labor currently exists. Your goal should be to produce—not seduce—skilled labor, and the best way to produce more skilled labor is to hire and train apprentices. In doing so you must view the training of apprentices as the investment it is. You have to spend money to make money. No deposit, no return. Make the investment.

Reach out to the right group. What you want is the best raw material you can find. That means you want to target the right group(s). Perhaps it is veterans returning from war, local church attendees, the family of current management and employees—you name it. Try to find the right source to draw from. Don’t exclude any individual or group carte blanche, but if you want quality individuals, you won’t find them by tapping into low-lifers. You cannot and should not discriminate, but you must differentiate between the right and wrong types for your business and its future. You need the right ingredients in order to have the recipe for success. You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers! Reach out to the right group.

Insist on a commitment. You are thinking long term, and your candidates must also be thinking long term. There are no guarantees but as much as possible, make sure that they are willing to make a commitment. They must be willing to make a commitment of one year or more. Granted, someone just starting out can’t be asked to sign his life away, but a minimum of one year is reasonable. That should provide adequate time to recover your investment and determine if he is going to work out long term. You are making an investment, and it won’t pay off if he doesn’t stick around. Insist on a commitment.

Slow but steady. Don’t take on too many apprentices on at one time. Pace yourself. It is better to take on fewer and manage the group well than to load up and then do a poor job managing them. Once you get the first generation up and running you can take on more. You’ll be better prepared to manage the second, third and fourth generation. Slow but steady.

Give clear instructions. Your apprentices need to know what constitutes a good job and professional trade practices. Spell it out for them on paper and review it with them regularly. Inspect what you expect. You can’t expect “it” if you don’t tell them what “it” is. Make certain you have clearly communicated your expectations. Give them clear instructions.

Provide the support. You are going to have to make someone responsible for teaching them, accounting for them, the quality of their workmanship, their payroll and so on. Left to themselves, they will develop bad habits. Spend at least an hour per day in training or team them up with a journeyman, a crew or a foreman. Someone needs to feel the responsibility for the group. Provide the support.

Specialize them. The most efficient way to train your trainees and produce quality work quickly is to specialize them. Some call it operations. Use the assembly line approach instead of trying to teach them everything. It’s quicker and easier to produce journeyman quality workmanship that way. Teach them one specific task, and let them focus on it until they master it. Specialize them.

Pay attention to what sparkles. Watch them, in doing so you will identify those who stand out. I’ve lived to see apprentices develop and mature into excellent tradesmen and tradeswomen, management and several of them ultimately became business owners. We didn’t intend for them to ultimately leave, but you can’t hold anyone back or blame them for wanting to better themselves. Either way, you’d be surprised what can happen if you’re willing to invest. If you play your cards right, these folks may well become the future core management and employees of your business. I’ve seen this occur firsthand, and I wholeheartedly believe in this approach when it comes to producing the very best employees you’ll ever have.

Pay attention to what sparkles; it just might be gold.

Doug Bellamy is president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is known for his original thought, innovative approach and the personal development of unique processes, systems and procedures. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at

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