Flying in the face of the industry norm of specialization, the 'concrete surgeons' at Knock‑Out were retrained as multi‑skilled generalists boasting a high level of knowledge and understanding across a number of technical areas of the business. Staff were encouraged to develop skills away from the drills, including brainstorming and planning.
How did you get to the point that you realized you needed to invest in training?
Without a trade it's hard to get staff that have both the technical knowledge and the physical skill. We recognized that the absence of consistent operating procedures in terms of our specialized equipment was having a negative impact on our turnover, and had the potential to undermine the safety of our operators.
What did you do?
We overcame the lack of trade training by sourcing materials from overseas. We were very keen to have staff learn 'add‑ons' ‑ complementary skills to enhance their value to the business and reduce our dependency on individual specialization. By increasing their set of skills, staff members were able to enjoy more varied work, meaning their interest was maintained, and ultimately ensuring they were doing a better job and getting better rewards.
Considerable investment was put into improving the way we worked together as a team ‑ we wanted staff to be able to learn for themselves and become involved in completing the job documents. We taught them how to brainstorm so we could plan jobs better and use the combined experience of the group. We built a toolkit of guidelines and methods for different jobs setting out what worked or didn't work.
What have been the benefits?
We've established consistent operating procedures, developed a versatile workforce, and improved the confidence of our operators. Knock‑Out is receiving the immediate benefits in the meantime, but there's been some great results in terms of improving the future work prospects of our employees.
If you hadn't developed your staff what would have happened to Knock‑Out?
There would have been redundancies as the result of the downturn in the building industry. It would be a lot harder to manage the company through tough times if we had a large workforce based around specialists rather than multi‑skilled people.