Top training practices for increased construction productivity

By Zack Parnell19 January 2022

There is a shift afoot within the construction industry. This is not your standard shift, as in planning to shift into second gear to accelerate out of a turn – this qualifies as a paradigm shift, as in, let’s fly an F-18 around that corner.

YouTube has taught companies the power of off-the-shelf content aggregation.

In 2015 and 2017, McKinsey & Company released two oft-cited reports that examined construction productivity while surmising that infrastructure investment was expected to double from $6 trillion to $13 trillion by 2030. I encourage you to read the reports – Construction Productivity Imperative and Reinventing Construction Through a Productivity Revolution. (Links in box below.) To summarize, here are a few takeaways:

  • Since 1945, productivity in manufacturing, retail and agriculture has grown some 1,500 percent. Construction productivity has barely increased at all.
  • From 1995-2015, construction labor productivity growth averaged 1 percent a year, as compared with 2.8 percent for the world economy and 3.6 percent for manufacturing.
  • If construction productivity caught up with the total economy, the industry’s value could rise by $1.6 trillion a year.

“Jim Mazzella Sr, the founder of Mazzella Companies brought the core values of being an expert and a lifelong learner day one. Those values have only become more important and more formalized in order for us to best serve our markets and be an employer of choice, a place where people want to work! To do that, we are being much more intentional about making learning and development a core competency. It starts with hiring people that fit the values of being a lifelong learner and are humble, hungry, and smart. Hiring and onboarding are key to that success.

Over the last few years we added First Year Experience plans that allow new teammates to jumpstart their careers here and are infusing Accelerative Learning techniques into our in-person sessions. Longer term, our apprenticeship and mentoring programs are also key. All of this is made possible by an extremely supportive Leadership Team who experiences many of these offerings first. This initial experience allows our leaders to prepare employees for their learning experience by summarizing the content, and setting expectations, ahead of the team’s participation. We are extremely fortunate to be part of an organization that highly values learning and will continue to grow our employee development plans.” -Rhonee Iula, Manager of Lifelong Learning, Mazzella Companies

The root causes McKinsey attributed these issues to several root causes, including increasing project and site complexity; misaligned contractual incentives; bespoke or suboptimal owner requirements; poor project management and execution; insufficiently skilled/trained labor at frontline and supervisory levels; and underinvestment in digitization and innovation.

Zack Parnell is CEO of Industrial Training International, a global leader in the design and delivery of learning solutions for organizations conducting crane, rigging and load handling activities.

What is the playbook for increased productivity? McKinsey proved with examples from innovative firms that suggest investing in seven areas simultaneously could boost productivity by 50 to 60 percent. These included reshaping regulation; rewiring the contractual framework to reshape industry dynamics; rethinking design and engineering processes; improving procurement and supply-chain management; improving on-site execution; infusing digital technology; new materials, and advanced automation; and reskilling the workforce.

This tough love from McKinsey has ignited a pursuit of construction productivity evidenced in many ways, notably by the growth in venture capital backing new construction technologies as well as internal innovation groups such as those pioneered by Bechtel, DPR and others. Let’s focus on two of the proposed investment areas which are creating results for “learning organizations” in 2022.

Is managing learning and development a core competency? If it is, consider yourself a “learning organization.” A way to find out? Give your organization a score of 1 (low) to 10 (high) for how well you think you execute on each of the following 10 best practices of learning organizations.

  1. Learning leadership. The CEO and leadership team, responsible for company culture, organizational health and clarity, are heavily involved in the learning strategy and content creation of learning organizations.
  2. Digital learning transformation. A leading global contractor has set an impressive company-wide objective of increasing its use of asynchronous digital learning from 10 percent to 50 percent by 2025 such as online courses/exams, simulation and self-study. Self-paced experiences are best sandwiched between in-person learning experiences like on-the-job training and coaching sessions.
  3. Learning management system. Utilization of an LMS, like the ITI Learning Hub, automates the assignment, progress and execution of learning assignments. It creates a branded learning environment that celebrates and demonstrates to employees, that the company takes learning and development seriously. It tracks certifications and expiration dates and can integrate with other systems (see # 10).
  4. Content libraries and micro-learning. YouTube and Netflix have taught us many things – one of which is the power of off-the-shelf content aggregation. Learning organizations are building content libraries into their LMS so that employees have access to the courses that they need. A short list of digital libraries include: ClickSafety, JJ Keller, ITI Crane & Rigging, ITI Simulations, TPC, LinkedIn Learning, MasterClass, Coursera, SkillSoft.
  5. In-House YouTube – simple video creation and consumption strategy. A rule that learning organizations often live by for basic how-to instruction is “train it once and record it.” With Microsoft Teams or Zoom, anyone in your company can quickly record their face, voice and computer screen to create a short how-to video.
  6. Learning paths. Learning paths automate the assignment of various learning experiences which save an enormous amount of time and give the employee an understanding of their next three, six or 12-plus months.
  7. Paperless field evaluations. Field personnel must learn a lot of skills, procedures, and use of various equipment. Learning organizations deploy paperless field evaluations, included within learning paths, which make it easy for the evaluator and candidate to know of dozens of qualifications such as forklifts, telehandlers, cranes, SPMTs, jacks, personnel platforms and skidding systems.
  8. Marvel Studios-level content. It’s no secret, most digital learning is terribly boring. Learning organizations are demanding a higher quality level of its content providers. Our learners have become conditioned with incredibly engaging content from creators on YouTube and Facebook, movies from Marvel Studios, games like Fortnite and Minecraft, as well as immersive virtual reality experiences.
  9. OEM digital learning content. Despite the hesitance of legal teams, OEMs are investing more in the learning experiences and digital content that they are making available to end users. Learning organizations are utilizing these in their employee Learning Paths.
  10. Integration with business intelligence and field management systems. It is a best practice for management teams to go to one place, such as Microsoft Power BI, to see all the information they need to make decisions – this also goes for learning-related information. Integrating software systems typically equates to significant time savings and improved data quality. For example, allowing dispatchers to view real-time training and certification records enables them to quickly identify training needs for upcoming projects where the field team doesn’t have all the certifications they need to get onsite. “The ITI Learning Hub integration to Fleet Cost & Care will save JJ Curran significant time and employee frustration,” said Jeff Curran, president of JJ Curran.

“Barnhart Crane and Rigging has a strong culture of on-the-job training, mentorship, and formal training to ensure our coworkers have the appropriate experience and skills to provide quality service to our customers.  As we grow, our aim is not just on continued training, but on people development.  This is a multi-faceted investment that strives to increase employee satisfaction at work through presenting opportunities for growth and providing necessary resources for continuous learning.  For years we have provided digital training material (both internal and external), but we are now investing in multiple digital training platforms including an LMS that provides an interactive approach to digital training, improved new employee on-boarding, mobile phone access to training materials, digital process for employee qualification, and more efficient means to track people’s developmental progress.” -Gene Kaercher, SVP of Technical Services, Barnhart Crane & Rigging

Kiewit has been a significant user of online learning courses along with Instructor-Led Training (ILT) to help our projects have the qualified people required for the operations. Adding our Online Rigging, Signaling and Spotter Training is a natural progression for our company. With all our Equipment Manufacturer and Training partners, this gives Kiewit a very robust training curricula for all to access, Staff or Craft. -John Manes, Senior Equipment Manager, Kiewit

Executed properly, these best practices force management to align on the priority of roles, learning paths and skills to master the on-boarding and development of people therein. They empower employees to learn and develop at their own pace, allowing high performers to rise to the top. They reinforce a culture of safety and high performance and increase employee skills, productivity and safety performance.

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being adaptable and as such, necessity has yielded and introduced us to effective new approaches, including learning in non-traditional platforms. We are actively leveraging micro-learning concepts produced and shared via video messages as tips crafted by employees who are on the ground, doing the work. We’ve observed firsthand that employees are more engaged when they watch their peers explain and demonstrate how to do a task while highlighting the specific safety requirements.” -Joe Parham, Corporate Safety & Health Manager for Alabama Power

Additionally, if these best practices are adopted, you will see increased employee satisfaction, engagement and retention as well as increased project and company profitability. These practices enhance a company’s culture by creating collective learning assignments and improved training of company values and expected behaviors. They also decrease the throughput time (time to personnel qualification); better prepare our workforce with deeper and broader skills and qualifications; and lower direct and opportunity costs associated with learning and on-boarding.

And of course, increased construction productivity and value creation.

REPORT LINKS

The McKinsey & Company reports cited in this article can be found at

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