In conversations with friends and clients around the country, I am hearing the same story more often: things are busy, and we are hiring. Most of the applicants are younger and computer savvy, why are they so slow to learn? A fair question that begs a deeper dive. I will try to go over the process we recommend to our clients that might help you as well. This is not a “how-to” for all things GPS but rather a linear walk through of the issues surrounding training and eventual competence of a recruit.
One of my favorite thoughts when training a new person is that “we all start out as beginners.” After spending some time in the field and encountering your share of problems it’s easy to forget the growing pains. A common reset I use to make this obvious is to hammer a nail with my non-dominate hand. It is awkward, slow, and not pretty. That is exactly what the new person at the controller feels like. Pause and consider the person you’re training before blasting through a menu you know by heart.
Most of us were trained by someone taking us to the field, or parking lot with a dummy job, and going through the paces to get some basics down. From that point everything we did was learned by trial and error. On a jobsite where machines are moving and progress needs to be made, you cannot wait for a visit from a trainer. We had to make things happen. The process was slow, but over the months and years things got easier.
Who Do I Hire?
My second most asked question is, “What type of person should I hire for (fill in the blank) position?” I get asked this for office and field people. My answer has been consistent over the years and goes something like this: “It is easier to teach a person with field experience the mouse clicks than to try and instruct a computer super-user civil construction.” Now that you have my recommendation, here are the tips for finding them.
- Promote from within. A known level of experience and reliability that may need more training is a safe bet than somebody who looks good on paper.
- Somebody who is eager is better than someone with more skills that needs to be talked into the opportunity.
- Be realistic when recruiting. “Oh, it’s easy” is not reality.
- Just about everyone in today’s job market have enough computer skills to navigate office and field software. The quest is for a mind that thinks in 3D.
How Do I Train Them?
Even the best candidate will need to be trained in the way your company conducts the work. This may require backing up the process a few steps in order to get them to understand your workflow. This can be troublesome for a new person who feels their way is better or easier. Patience is going to play a big part. Hear them out: they may just have a better solution. The best way to get someone thinking like you is to map out your process so they can see how the dots look connected. This big picture presentation is a real help.
Start with documenting your processes before hiring. Putting your steps down on paper allows you to make sure nothing is missed as well as possibly streamlining your workflow. We all started out with a shotgun approach to learning and production. Now is the time to look at what you are doing and make sure it looks good. When you have reduced the elements of the tasks to their easiest elements, then you can effectively train. I use the traditional country song idea; if you look back at those old lyrics, there are no wasted words. Keep that in mind when you get ready to pass knowledge along.
- Care and maintenance come first. A rover with a dead battery is an expensive paper weight. Tools left in the truck at night get stolen. Make sure you have good policies in place.
- Daily setup and check-in will save more problems than anything else. I have seen a full day of work a couple tenths off due to incorrect rover pole height. This cannot be overstressed.
- Spend time on naming and saving job file versions. We send out all our files with dates on them for this reason. Most of the time a call with an issue is traced to somebody on an older version of the file.
- If this is a ground person and they are the lead, will they be updating machines as well? With multiple surface types being made for each job, this becomes particularly important. Top of dirt, top of subgrade, and finished topsoil surfaces for one job can get confusing. We find it works best when a ground person updates machines as well.
- I am a big fan of crawl before you walk. We old timers figured out a lot of things in the early days. We cannot expect a new hire to get it quickly. Listed is an idea of what to train and in what order. Only when they are competent in one should you advance them to the next level.
- Equipment setup. This includes the base, rovers, and machines. The ground person should be able to navigate settings on machines as well as load and update jobsite files.
- Checking in to a control point at the start of each day and benching in machines to verify their accuracy and wear edge settings.
- Rough surface marking comes next. This is a good way to evaluate a person’s ability to think in three dimensions. Guiding mass excavation should get things within a few tenths and it keeps a person busy on a big site. I tape red and blue marking paint cans together, go to an area and paint a big number in the dirt and maybe even mark along the daylight line for that area.
- Utilities may be going also. Now comes the time for performing detailed layout. We produce points for flow lines of pipe as well as offsets to save the grade checker from constantly running back to a run. You will need to teach all about points for this portion, it is a lot to learn and will take time.
- When utilities are mastered, site details are not a big step. 2D radius points and curb offsets need to be explained and shown in the field. The best way to teach this is to get out there and follow the new user as they do the work.
- Some companies have their field people do small changes on the fly either in the field or back at the office. I feel everyone needs to know how data prep works. It helps their understanding of why things look the way they do in the field.
How Long Does It Take to Train?
It is safe to assume that all people will learn at a different pace. You are required to feel this out and adjust accordingly. Here are some thoughts.
- You need to understand learning styles. A visual learner will do better watching you do the work and absorb the process. Tactile types will only get the idea when they press the buttons. Know your student to make the process go quicker.
- The process needs to be broken into sections. As each is mastered then the next can be tackled. The previous section of this article shows the chapters of the book that need to be absorbed. Jumping ahead before the first is memorized will result in frustration.
- You cannot be on site the entire time while a newbie is learning. Responsibilities will require you to go and do other things while they are alone to perform some work. Most of the time questions can be answered by a phone call. You should know the software well enough to answer the basics.
Who Should the Trainer Be?
Every company needs a champion. That is the person who knows the equipment and has a comprehensive knowledge of all phases of your process. I have stressed over the years that this is critical to success. The champion is the early adopter and looks at bugs and setbacks as part of the process. In a smaller company this may be the trainer as well.
A dedicated trainer/GPS manager in larger companies will have a different role. Their focus is more on the field. They know what is happening with office work and how to do it, but they need to keep machines moving. Not only will they train new hires but will be required to keep the field machines working and up to date.
Manufacturers also offer training. It is a great start for new hires, especially if they are switching brands. These people know what to do but are not familiar with the buttons to press. In person or online training allows you to get the heavy lifting of learning software and basics out of the way. Be aware that they still need to learn how your company performs and documents processes. That is something only you can do.