Generally, as a decorative concrete contractor, you are very aware of the cost and value of your equipment. Inventory is key to getting jobs done, so you know how much product and what tooling you have on hand, along with a clear understanding of the value of the inventory. Contractors are mindful of the value of their vehicles and trailers on the road, since each was paid for with hard-earned dollars. All of these things are assets. However, the most valuable asset you have — your employees — is regularly missed when tallying your worth.
Between the money you dole out each week on wages, payroll taxes, insurance and worker’s comp, you spend more on employees than all your other assets combined. Even though this is a fact, most contractors have a hard time recognizing employees as assets. Why is this and how can you remedy that situation?
Know their worth
In the decorative concrete industry, employees are even more valuable than in many other businesses. When I was a contractor, I figured each of my supervisors or crew leaders had a value of about $75,000 to $100,000 for each year they had worked for me. I got to this value by looking at the lessons each crew leader learned on specific projects. This could be anything from recognizing concrete hardness and its effect on diamond tooling to properly applying densifier and specific colors of dye and safely disposing leftover materials.
I then tried to figure out how much money I spent to do the repairs necessary from their learning on the job and how much money I lost as a result. Low-end estimates were around $75,000 a year.
When a lawyer goes to college and then law school it costs about $250,000 total according to U.S. News & World Report. On average, it takes seven years to get through law school, so that’s a cost of about $36,000 a year. Based on these calculations, we as an industry can easily pay double the cost of a lawyer’s education to properly train and educate our crews through on-the-job training.
Experience is and will always be the single greatest opportunity for training in our industry. All the classes you can send new employees to will at best give them 25 percent of the knowledge they need to do a job from start to finish.
On-the-job training is key
When you have experienced crews, you can supplement their training effectively if you can use project-based experience to educate them. One large contractor recently had me come in to train their crew leads on concrete repairs because the owner realized each crew had unique methods for performing repairs. When different crews were required to work on projects at different times the repairs were different, which caused questions from the customer.
By taking photos of projects and using real job experiences to educate, we created a standardized repair manual for all crews and all projects. This owner realized the value of his employees and their training enough to invest in their education. Congratulations to Dave Stratton of Pacific Decorative Concrete for acting on this realization.
Another owner recently flew me and one of my associates, Ryan McBride, to his shop where all of the crew leads were brought in for the day to receive training on polished concrete overlay installation. Again, the owner realized different crews had different methods for prep, placement and polishing of overlays. Some differences were inherent based on the product being installed, but many products require similar installation practices and, when improperly placed, experience similar issues.
By having us train the crews based on hundreds of application reviews, the owner made a significant investment in the education of his employees. Hats off to John Jones of Budget Maintenance Concrete for recognizing the value of training his leaders. The value of project-based training, in conjunction with on-the-job training, is a way to capitalize on your crews’ experience and make them a more valuable asset.
Retention, retention, retention
Do not underestimate the value of your employees. Almost all new hires come from other industries and have to be trained how to do decorative concrete. Think about it. Finding a trained employee is extremely rare. I hear the same thing from contractors every week: “If you happen to know any good guys, I am hiring.” It almost does not matter how much you are willing to pay, finding the people is extremely hard.
As a result, employee retention is extremely important if you want to have a successful contracting company. I can tell you from experience that regularly reviewing your pay scale—and providing benefits if you’re big enough or small side perks if you are not—is much less expensive than hiring new, lower-wage employees and having to constantly pay for their education through losses on projects.
I am not suggesting that you need to hold on to bad apples. If guys won’t work, will not learn or are troublemakers, you are better off dropping them immediately. Consider that each day of on-the-job training is comparable to a day of college. You are paying the bill. If you have a student who is unwilling to learn, do not waste the money. Drop them quickly and find a new student. You will be paying either way so spend your money wisely.
I cannot tell you how many times as a contractor I kept employees, thinking they would turn around only to look up a year later with them making the same mistakes. All I could think about was how much money and time I had just wasted. Think about this and work on what incentives you can offer to keep your good workers and consider dropping the dead weight in favor of new students. The jobs will not stop so each day of training has a value.
Every day the most money you spend will be on your employees. This makes them your greatest asset. Treat them as such and remember that if you do not, there is undoubtedly another company in our industry that will.
David Stephenson owns Polished Concrete Consultants, based in Dallas, Texas. As a consultant, he offers decorative concrete programs for retailers and troubleshooting for a wide range of clients. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.