Engineering firms need to persistently focus on in-house training to maintain quality control and company performance, as well as the more obvious individual employee professional development.

In the past, I have addressed how important it is to make sure your staff is continuously learning. Equally important are the benefits reaped by the company, so let's highlight some training classes that you could build into training plans:

Maintaining pace with technology. When employees routinely sit down and listen to a professional outline current or cutting-edge technology, this investment will be reflected in upcoming engineering designs. Staying abreast in the HVAC industry can help your firm stand out from the competition. Building owners frequently ask consulting firms what creative solutions has your firm provided lately. Keeping pace with technology certainly contributes to answering the client's question. It may be time to have an internal office forum on technology for today and tomorrow.

Back to basics. It is often taken for granted that your engineering staff is proficient in the basic steps necessary in designing building systems. Employees should not look beyond the basics to more advanced engineering but instead, they should focus training on both categories. If you inadvertently allow key steps to be passed over on projects, the results can be costly to the firm under the umbrella of "errors and omissions." Consulting firms are contracted for their services because they bring experience as well as knowledge to a job or a task. If engineers don't follow good industry standards and company guidelines, the contract document develop may be compromised. It may be time to complete an inventory of company status as it relates to internal assessment of the basics and do so via the employees.

Teaching the process. It is important to make a profit on an engineering job, just as it is important to provide quality engineering. Making money is a good thing if your company is to be keep going year after year. Making money also doesn't come easy in this competitive business of consulting. Training employees how to be profitable is essential to long-term business success. It is also a great feeling to be a moneymaking engineer as well as a technically sound engineer. It may be time to introduce a company-sponsored training course on making money.

Recognizing there are other trades. The Achilles' heel of many an HVAC design engineer is his lack of coordination effort with his counterparts: the electrical, plumbing, fire protection, and structural engineers. For the job's project manager, contract document production and coordination of that production is analogous to juggling several balls at one time. Each trade is anxious to get its work done within budget and in a timely manner. To routinely stop and transfer information to these counterparts on the project can be perceived by the HVAC engineer as a distraction that takes away from the job at hand. The consequence of contract documents lacking cohesive information can mean additional costs to the job and to the design firm later in the building process. A class on contract document coordination should be on the agenda soon.

We are all in sales, marketing, and client maintenance. Engineering firms need to educate their employees to understand that each of them is representing the company. This means making sure individuals present themselves in a professional, helpful, and courteous manner. Actions always speak louder then words, and employees must always focus on what they can do and not simply provide empty promises. Employees should also be taught to listen closely to their clients - whether it is to address a problem, a concern, a need, a question, a complaint, or a compliment - and to think through the statement before jumping to a response. More importantly, the educated answer is a timely and useful response, and not always a quick response. Maybe a course on communication should be added to the training agenda.

Teach them to ask, "Why not?" This industry needs to routinely question the process, the practice, and the product by saying, "Why not?" These two words can be so powerful and can open up minds to new ideas, not for the sake of reinventing the wheel but for making a better mousetrap. In this computerized age, it is just too convenient to standardize without revisiting these standards annually and benchmarking them to what other industries are doing to be successful. Engineering is not an island, but instead, it is an industry similar in business methods and procedures as so many other industries. We need to provide our employees with current technology and continuously improved procedures. Maybe a course on Business Basics 101 is needed this year.

Long-term Payoff

Education is a two-way street and both the student and the teacher benefit by the process. It is important that companies commit time and money to the continuous education process. This is a great industry, and ongoing education ensures that it's filled with great professionals to be followed by equally great professionals. As they say, this is a "win-win" for both sides. ES