4 Tips for Getting New Employees Up to Speed Quickly and Efficiently
This is a guest post from PCA sponsor, FrogTape®.
As painting contractors grapple with a thinning talent pool inside the industry, they’re increasingly finding success looking for new employees outside of it. For many painting companies, focusing on character and work ethic in potential hires, rather than painting experience, is proving to be an effective labor solution that can also pay dividends in building company culture.
But the lack of painting prowess opens up a different challenge: How to improve training to combat the skills gap.
And yet many smaller painting businesses—like small businesses in any industry—don’t have much in the way of formalized training programs, which ultimately boils down to a lack of time to develop them. But that can lead to drawn-out apprenticeships, unproductive employees, morale issues and high turnover.
While the specifics of what you’ll teach new employees will be personal to you and reflective of your company’s practices, culture and values, here are four tactics to help get you started on the approach.
Outsource Basics, Insource Technique
Apprentices will see their biggest growth with a brush in hand. But if they’re brand new to the industry, they’ll need to learn the tools, terminology and a few core basics first—everything from brush types to paint selection to jobsite safety.
The good news is, you don’t have to create a training program for basic painting knowledge from scratch—a number of industry resources have already done that for you. Here are two free resources that offer centralized training specifically dedicated to supporting painting contractors with training efforts.
- Paint Pro Training is an online portal developed by Sherwin Williams that offers a series of nine training courses in English and Spanish. The courses are free and open to anyone, and they range from prep work and color basics to paint ingredients and brush and roller essentials.“The goal,” says Jeff Winter, Vice President of Residential Marketing for Sherwin Williams, “is to offer new painters basic vocabulary and knowledge about the industry and what’s needed to be a productive member of a team.”
- ShurPRO is an ever-growing repository of articles and videos that covers general prepping and painting tips, like repairing common drywall imperfections and masking cabinets, as well as more advanced knowledge, like spraying techniques and selecting and applying painter’s tape.
These kinds of resources aren’t designed to take the place of active, on-the-job learning, but they are a valuable complement to it.
“It gives employees a running start so that they know the difference between a bristle brush and a synthetic brush and other painting basics,” explains Winter.
It also provides contractors an invaluable resource: time. “Now the painting company owner doesn’t have to take the time to train new employees on vocabulary,” says Winter. “Instead, they can focus on the hands-on training.”
Create a Tiered System
We all want employees to be as efficient and productive as possible right out of the gate. But new painters won’t be cabinet experts in a month’s time, especially if they’ve come from another industry.
Your expectations should promote swift growth, but they should also be realistic—and measurable come review time. One way to strike a balance is with tiered performance benchmarks that get more in-depth over time and gradually scale up employees’ skills.
Christian Militello of Militello Painting & Powerwashing, a fast-growing home improvement company in the Philadelphia area, recently launched a training program he developed and branded as the Militello Painting Success Pathway. It involves four main levels of training—Apprentice, Painter, Lead Painter and Crew Leader—with three sub-levels within the categories of Apprentice and Painter.
“It started out as a way for me to frame employee reviews, and as a way to help motivate younger employees,” Militello explains. “But then I realized it could expand into a training program for anyone at any experience level.”
Here’s how Militello’s training program generally breaks down:
- The Apprentice 1 level starts with very basic skills and work habits, like punctuality, team-mindedness, cleaning brushes, loading/unloading vans and mixing joint compound. Apprentice 2 involves caulking, taping, identifying areas that require preparation and rolling basics, while Apprentice 3 involves entry-level painting work on windows and doors.
- Painter levels 1-3 involve excelling in the skills employees develop during their apprenticeship periods, as well as picking up new abilities like painting walls and knowing their production rate.
- Lead Painters will add to painting skills with expert field knowledge and communication skills, gaining responsibilities that range from knowing all types of patches to directing projects when crew leaders aren’t on site.
- Crew Leaders are trained to assist in higher-level business operations, like employee reviews, training future crew leaders and ordering supplies. They’ll also learn carpentry skills.
At each level, along the way, Militello has his employees self-assess their abilities and formally present to him what they’ve learned. “It’s a way for them to take ownership of their skills and work,” he explains.
Setting benchmarks like these immediately starts employees on a track of skill-building and growth. It’s also a way to keep you committed to executing the training program efficiently. And that’s ultimately good for your employees, your culture and your bottom line.
Attach Value to Growth
The more your employees’ skills improve, the more your company’s work, reputation and cost efficiency will improve. And there’s financial value to that, which can be passed along to employees to help limit turnover, increase morale and build culture.
Militello offers raises for each level to which his employees progress. Kevin Nolan of Nolan Painting, also a Philadelphia-based company, does the same with his training program. Nolan has had tremendous success with hiring, training and retention—his company is one of the largest residential painting businesses in the mid-Atlantic, with a staff of 111 people and annual revenue of $12 million.
Part of that success comes from the financial incentives Nolan attaches to his employees’ growth.
“We start employees at $15 an hour with no painting experience necessary,” Nolan explains, “and we then have a fairly aggressive growth track for them.”
Nolan’s approach puts new hires on a progressive training track to grow skills and pay quickly. If employees are performing up to standards at their three-month skills evaluation, they get a raise to $16 per hour and continue to potentially earn $20 per hour within one to two years.
Train Other Trainers
As you grow, you may not be in a position to train every new employee yourself. You’ll need a good second-in-command. Your most veteran employees are most likely your best painters, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re your best leaders or teachers.
Key in on employees who have sound technique but also exhibit other valuable traits and promote them to positions as trainers. Look for characteristics like superior interpersonal skills, team-mindedness, regimented daily work routines and clean and organized gear and work areas.
Their interpersonal skills will help engage new employees early on and their work habits will be absorbed more easily. Plus, offering them more responsibility (and pay, if appropriate) will give them more skin in the game to be invested in the success of your company.
In addition, resources are available online to help train the next round of professional painters. With education at the core of the association, PCA offers various free resources for the painting industry. From weekly blog content and podcasts to Ask-A-Painter Live and the development of the Trade Best Practice series, PCA is committed to ongoing education for new and seasoned painters.
Conclusion: A System for Future Growth
A solid training system is one of the most important pieces to your business growth. And when you have it down, it’ll not only make your new employees productive in a timely manner, it will also help maintain jobsite efficiency, enhance work quality and profit margins, and build team dynamics and a positive work culture. And that will benefit your business for years to come.