At the MCAA convention, presenter John Koontz provided a general overview of what is required to develop and implement a successful in-house foreman training program.
MAUI, Hawaii - In the eyes of John Koontz, in-house foreman training can be incredibly successful and have a positive impact on a mechanical contractor's operations if done properly and effectively.

And, that is the key: if done properly and effectively.

"Properly developed and implemented, an effective in-house foreman training program is a major undertaking that requires a serious upper management commitment to time, place, and resources," cautioned Koontz.

"But, you have to look at it as an investment. The foreman's role is where the rubber meets the road in your company. Therefore, profit is made or lost on the front line, so you had better have smart generals leading the troops."

At the recent Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) Convention, Koontz provided interested attendees a general overview of what is required to develop and implement a successful in-house foreman training. At the same time, his educational presentation provided several primary causes of in-house training failure, along with guidance on how to avoid them.

"My foreman classes are getting younger and younger," said Koontz, who teaches many educational classes for MCAA. "We have kids running our jobs. In the end, they need training. There are a lot of things they do not know, so they need to be taught. ... This is a serious subject."


According to Koontz, all "blue chip" mechanical contractors, regardless of size, are committed to doing some degree of in-house foreman training. "This isn't a $200 million mechanical contractor issue," he said. "It is something everyone needs. Education and training helps keep employees. And, it's going to be harder and harder to hang onto them [foremen] if they are not provided training."

In Koontz's estimation, the benefits of in-house training are many, including:

  • It's specific to a company and its unique processes and procedures.

  • It provides foreman development, advancement, and retention.

  • It develops a stronger link of cooperation between the office and the field.

  • It improves customer perception of a company.

  • It increases productivity and profitability.

    "For true success, the overall education of your foremen requires four areas of commitment: your local union, your local MCAA, your company's upper and middle management teams, and your foreman," said Koontz.

    Admittedly, when done right, in-house training is a major undertaking, he said. Not only does it require a serious commitment at a company's highest level, it requires time, money, people, and space, said Koontz. It also requires long- and short-range planning, plus constant evaluation and improvement.

    "And, if you do it, it may be a distraction," he said, noting that training may take away from the critical day-to-day profit-based activities of a management team and foremen.

    "It's a definite commitment."


    Critical to the entire equation is finding the program's "champion," as Koontz put it.

    "You've got to have someone with that fire in the gut," he stressed. "Do not give it to someone who does not want to do it. This must be someone who has a vested interest. This person will ultimately determine the success - or failure - of your program. It's important to identify this person before you proceed."

    Determining the training's curriculum is another important factor. Koontz suggested employing a diverse committee, representing all major areas of the company, to spend time to determine, prioritize, and develop the curriculum. "Don't cheat here," he said. "This is a critical step."

    For each topic, this committee should determine the learning objectives. In other words, upon completing this session, the curriculum must spell out what a foreman should know, be able to do, understand, and be aware of.

    "Depending upon the extent and breadth of the program, it might make sense to bring in someone from outside to help guide this step," said Koontz. "The best programs are well-planned and cover a broad range of prioritized topics which are focused on specific company issues, challenges, and goals."


    Depending upon a company's budget, Koontz recommended using a combination of in-house and outside instructors.

    "Try to use dynamic instructors whenever possible," he stressed. "Just because someone is knowledgeable, this doesn't mean they can teach. Do you want them to sleep or learn?"

    It's not a sin to bring in friends from outside the industry to teach an occasional class, he pointed out. He even suggested bringing in a customer, who could provide a customer's perspective.

    In regard to actual lectures, Koontz recommended using a combination of brief lectures, team exercises, and interactive discussion. "The best learning occurs when they hear it, see it, do it, and talk about it."

    Teams, in this case, must be diverse in position and experiences, he said, adding that it's best that an instructor choose the teams, not the student. He mentioned that teams of three to five people are usually ideal.

    "Keep sessions to two to three hours max, when possible," he recommended. "It's a matter of don't try doing too much in too little of time. If you don't spend the proper amount of time on a subject, the learning is minimal."

    One has to figure out if the in-house program should be weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or whatever is appropriate. Before one can proceed with in-house training, other questions that need to be answered include:

  • Why do we want to do it?

  • What outcome/results are we looking for?

  • How will we know if it is successful?

  • Who will teach it?

  • Do we need outside help?

  • What should we teach?

  • How will we teach it?

  • Where and when will we teach it?

  • Will it be voluntary or mandatory?

    "Is it worth the effort? Koontz asked, before answering his own question. "You bet it is. It's an investment that will pay off if done right."

    Sidebar: Areas of Study

    According to John Koontz, a contractor must be diligent in creating a proper in-house training program. Some core areas of study he recommended include:

  • Safety

  • Productivity

  • Pre-construction planning

  • Short interval planning

  • Documentation

  • Fabrication

  • Change orders

  • Job cost control/labor cost control

  • Communication/people skills/motivation

  • Leadership skills

  • Project closeout/commissioning

  • Tool and equipment rental management and control

  • Quality

  • Negotiating skills

  • Construction contracts - the basics

  • Company policies and procedures

  • EEO/regulations and policies

  • Sales/marketing/customer development

  • Purchasing procedures

  • Time management

  • Computer/software skills.

    Publication date: 04/17/2006