...the firm is building its "second generation" of training. "The first was traditional and course-based," he says. "Now we’re competency based and performance focused."

While industry firms still are exploring new learning approaches and technologies, the desire to share best practices is more than a decade old. An effort in the early 1990s to organize training executives of large building contractor members of the Associated General Contractors now has morphed into a semi-official group called the Construction Industry Related Training Network.

With about 20 "official" company members and more that come and go, the group meets twice a year to network and "brainstorm on hot issues," says David Lindstrom, director of employee development at Phoenix-based contractor Kitchell Corp. He says members share hosting duties, pay no dues and don’t even take minutes of their proceedings. "But now we’re doing more formal presentations about a topic that one member may be into," says Lindstrom.

Firms say the group fosters progress. "CIRTN is incredibly valuable to me," says Jeff Lemna, a project manager at Walsh Construction Co., Chicago. "It’s a resource to learn from others’ mistakes."

One mistake many firms have stopped making is to ignore development of new employees. "There is a what-have-you- done-for-me lately mentality," says Lindstrom. He says CIRTN member now are focusing less on training and more on employee development, a trend that even was reflected in a change in his job title three years ago.

Lindstrom also is focusing on how to "coach" managers as they ascend the corporate ladder. The firm uses outside veteran business executives who have been formally trained and certified as coaches. With coaching gaining in popularity, Lindstrom cautions that "some people call themselves a coach and don’t have the skills. They’re just mentors."

The critical component in the success of corporate universities and related employee development is support from the top and a direct link into the executive suite. "In the beginning, I reported to human resources," says Gilbane’s Fasching. "Now I report to company chairman Bill Gilbane. He is passionately supportive."

Others agree. "Our president and CEO give training sessions, which speaks volumes," says Ben Dumonceaux, senior training manager at McCarthy Building Cos. Inc., St. Louis.

Many firms heavily involve senior executives in training and development duties and make it part of corporate advancement. "We have four senior vice presidents who carry the load of [company] training," says Southland’s Benoit. "When students see senior management giving their time, it sends the right message."

"Clients are constantly raising the bar and expecting near perfection. They’re expecting engineers to be leaders."

— Bill Howard, Executive Vice President, CDM

CDM’s Leslie says she has attracted executive attention with results. "We’ve been able to prove we’ve had an impact on the bottom line," she says. "Clients are constantly raising the bar and expecting perfection," adds William S. Howard, CDM executive vice president and chief technology officer. "Our programs give us a higher degree of confidence that employees will do things the way we want them to, and we’re expecting those results."

Big Investment

But the business results don’t come without cost. The general business standard for training investment is 1 to 2% of payroll, and some construction industry firms say they spend more. Others contend that online technology and use of pre-packaged software for some training are reducing costs.

Industry Firms in Good Company
On Top Corporate Training List
(1) IBM
(2) Booz Allen Hamilton
(3) Pfizer
(4) Sprint Corp.
(5) KLA-Tencor Corp.
(6) Deloitte & Touche USA
(7) Ernst & Young
(8) Lockheed Martin Corp.
(9) Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.
(10) Ohio Savings Bank
(20) Paychex Inc.
(30) QUALCOMM Inc.
(31) sandia national laboratories
(38) Microsoft Corp.
(40) Cendant Mortgage
(41) Gilbane Building Co.
(42) Aetna Inc.
(50) The Vanguard Group
(59) New York Life Insurance
(68) PETCO Animal Supplies Inc.
(76) Delta Air Lines Inc.
(88) Caesars Entertainment
(89) TD Industries
(90) int’l truck and engine corp.
(93) Starbucks Coffee Co.
(97) American Fidelity Assurance Co.
(100) Turner Construction Co.
Source: Training Magazine, Top 100 Training list-2005

MWH’s Redfern declines to disclose the amount of MWH’s investment in its university but emphasizes that "even with the downturn in the economy, the training and development will continue at the same level of support. As soon as we stop investing in people, we will have nothing to sell. We’re a brains-by-the-hour organization."

The expanding breadth and sophistication of corporate universities and related training and learning efforts in construction industry firms is not going unnoticed in the larger business world.

Gilbane, Dallas-based mechanical contractor TDIndustries and New York City-based Turner Corp. are among the "Top 100" firms in all industries with the best training and employee development, according to Training magazine, which covers the field. Other companies recognized include IBM, Sprint and Pfizer.

"We look at how long a firm’s corporate university has been in place and how organized it it is," says Holly Dolizolik, managing editor of Training. "We don’t insist on a firm having one, but it is good." She says the rankings also take into account a firm’s orientation program for new employees and "personal development plans. And we like to see how training links to retention," Dolizolik adds.

Turner credits the "business impact" of its safety and compliance performance-based learning programs and its corporate Knowledge Network Learning Portal for its listing among the Top 100. The network includes a "university for learning, a document repository for best practices and the ability to share information," says James I. Mitnick, Turner senior vice president and sponsor of the network, which has been operating for three years. "Our goal is to create a full-competency model for our employees and allow learning to be mapped." Click here to view diagram

"We don’t talk about training. That’s for babies and puppies. This is about adult learning. It can be captured, accessed and shared."
James Mitnick,
Senior Vice President, Turner

Mitnick, who started at Turner in 1971 as a field engineer, likes the "university" label. "It’s the place to go for more learning–adult learning," he says. "Training is for babies and puppies." Mitnick says there is market pressure to develop industry experts more quickly. "Young engineers expect a firm of our caliber to teach them the business," he says. "We don’t have the luxury to wait. Look at retirement rates. It’s scary."

Corporate learning programs in some firms may get an additional boost in coming years with planned changes in engineering practice requirements being pushed by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The so-called "body of knowledge" (BOK) approach seeks to broaden what engineers need to know, particularly in non-technical fields such as leadership (ENR 12/6/04, p. 26).

Under ASCE’s proposal, future practitioners could use corporate sources to satisfy the extra 30 hours of learning past the engineering bachelor’s degree needed for licensure. "We’re telling the profession that if we are to be in step with the century, the world is changing and not everything emanates from the university," says Jeffrey S. Russell, a BOK advocate and chairman of the civil-environmental engineering department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We must find a way to include in-house programs."

Russell says ASCE’s "B+30" approach was endorsed on Feb. 25 by the Nebraska Board of Engineers and Architects. ASCE now is seeking input from industry and academic groups on how to review and accredit corporate programs, says Russell.

CDM’s Leslie says she has been talking with BOK advocates and wants to become a 30+ training provider. "We don’t want to get into the engineering training business, but we might pursue the part related to management and leadership as defined by BOK, " she says.

Training magazine reports that employee development investment for the Top 100 declined to $4.7 billion in 2005 from $6.6 billion in 2004, likely due to economic issues. But firms are not daunted. "The only thing worse than investing in the training of any employee, even those who leave, is not investing, and they stay," says TDI’s CEO Harold McDowell. "The main reason I stayed here was TDI’s willingness to invest in me. It created staying power, and I rose to become only the third CEO in 59 years."