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Raising the standards of the building technology sector

We have written previously about how a new converged approach to building technology requires a corresponding change in how we train the people that manage the delivery. It’s why we have worked closely with CNet training to create the Certified Integrated Infrastructure Technician (CIIT®) program – giving trainees the practical skills needed to install and commission intelligent network devices on converged infrastructure.

However, while the importance of updating or improving the skills of practitioners in our industry is vital if we are to truly realise the benefits of digitising the built environment, it is only part of the equation. As much as we need to continue to push forward on skills, we also need to look at questions of quality, competence and confidence – which are much knottier issues.

While skills training obviously focuses on enabling engineers to perform ‘right first time’ operations, rework rates remain one of the biggest costs in the building technology sector. Moreover, there is a massive difference between someone knowing what ‘the right thing to do’ is and how they will actually behave once they are working in a live environment.

Identifying, managing and mitigating this ‘people risk’ is something every organisation needs to be able to do – particularly in critical scenarios like a data centre or a trading floor, for instance.

How we address these issues comes down to our fundamental training strategies – something that requires an update in exactly the same way that practical skills training did.

Making quality the focus

Fortunately, there are a number of drivers in the industry that are opening people up to shifting their training strategies.

For instance, the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2015 was a major milestone for businesses that were obligated to pay the levy. Rather than thinking about training in a silo, or as something ‘tactical’ done to fix short term issues as they arose, suddenly building technology businesses of a certain size had an incentive to step back and take a long term look at the role training played in their operation.

At the same time, we have seen building technology contractors significantly increase the number of staff employed and managed on a PAYE basis. This has had the effect of making the quality control of their people much more important to the business.

When conventional wisdom falls short

For all these external drivers, there is not necessarily a clear solution to how installers and contractors should respond to the issues of quality – despite the fact there is a huge upside in improving their own reputation and that of the industry as a whole.

This is where the question of strategy is so important.

The fact is we need to go deeper than just ‘does an engineer have a certain skill or qualification’. If we are focusing on competence as well as skills, we really need to be looking at how we can fundamentally minimise the risk of creating highly skilled engineers that lack confidence – or worse, engineers that are highly confident but lack competence.

Traditionally, the solution to that problem would simply be a blanket ‘let’s up the training budget’. More training for engineers certainly has the advantage of clarity – but what does it actually deliver?

Does a rising tide lift all ships equally in this scenario? Do you actually end up with a team of engineers who are all equally skilled? Or do you run the risk that someone, somewhere slips through the net? Does that strategy actually enable you to clearly identify where individuals’ real skills, knowledge and ability gaps are? Does it enable you to target interventions and create positive behaviour change to reduce risk?

The reality is that your team is only as good as its weakest member – one bad engineer can undo all of your investment and risk your entire organisation’s reputation – and the more mission critical the environment, the more that this rule applies.

Even if the ‘increase investment across the board’ strategy gave you a team with no weak links – is it really the best use of resources? How beneficial will more training be to your top performer? Will that deliver a noticeable return to the business?

That’s why I think we need to be honest about the challenge we face. We need to turn the conventional wisdom on its head. Where the focus is on quality – and guaranteeing a standard of work to clients – the strategic goal of training can’t be to make already excellent people better. Instead, the goal has to be about eliminating the outright bad.

A new approach to training

I am aware how counter-intuitive this feels – but when it comes to raising quality standards using training to elevate ‘the bad’ to ‘ok’ is far more powerful than helping the excellent to be even better.

That’s why we have worked closely with CNet training to develop a Competency and Confidence Assessment Modelling (CCAM) tool. The CCAM® tool provides a methodology for pinpointing risks and targeting individual knowledge gaps that need to be filled, exposing the root causes of engineer behaviour – both positive and negative. In short, it is all about identifying and improving the unconscious/conscious incompetent.

Using CCAM we would expect to see that a typical contractor’s team breaks down like this:

  • 20% excellent – no critical action
  • 50% gaps – low touch, online training
  • 30% risk – high touch, classroom-based training

By identifying who is in which category we can avoid the traditional training investment model which focuses on the top 20%, not where it’s most valuable. Instead, each assessment allows the right course of development action to be planned and taken to address individuals’ weaknesses. Assessments can also be taken post-development – giving organisations an opportunity to validate the ROI of their training investment.

Companies using the CCAM tool have been proven to intelligently and efficiently boost the number of ‘excellent’ engineers from the industry norm of 20% to over 60% of their team.

By focusing training efforts more on raising the standards of the worst performers – and offering the people who are already good different support through mentoring schemes – we can not only streamline the overall cost of training programmes, we also significantly, and crucially, reduce risk.

By revising training strategies along these lines everyone wins – clients get better guarantees for work, contractors achieve important efficiencies, and the engineers themselves benefit by having the confidence that the work they are doing is not going to be let down by poor work by one of their team.

It is not a conventional approach, but skills training alone will not allow us to guarantee standards across the whole industry. Instead we absolutely need to rethink our training strategies from the ground up.