When I started my first job, I was nervous. As a freshly minted mechanical engineering graduate, I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. What if I didn’t know how to do what my managers asked of me? What if the expectations of the job were different from what I expected? I’m sure these are common questions that we have all struggled with at one point or another in our careers.
My parents encouraged me during that uncertain period. “Don’t worry, they will teach you everything you need to know,” I recall them saying. “They will train you.” Thankfully, I found their insight to be true to my experience.
I’ve worked at several companies since then and have always had some sort of onboarding process for training during my first week on the job. I’ve observed that some firms onboard and train better than others. Now that I’m in a leadership position at Henderson Engineers, a question I often ask myself is, “How do we onboard and train employees to ensure they have the resources they need to ‘finish the day not only knowing the job was done, but done right’?”
A fundamental part of the answer to that question starts with just that – the fundamentals. At Henderson, we often use the phrase, “No one is above the fundamentals.” This applies to all our disciplines including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire and life safety, telecom, security, audio-video, refrigeration, project management, building information modeling (BIM), administrative, and energy modeling.
We believe that everyone needs to have ready access and mastery of engineering and industry fundamentals to help them reach their full potential. To make this feasible, we provide a variety of readily available training resources. Understandably, it can seem like a major undertaking to not only create these resources, but to also maintain and update them as new technologies emerge in our industry. So how do we accomplish this task?
As I wrote in my previous article, “Applying DfMA Logic to our Design Process,” we applied DfMA logic and the lenses of just-in-time, just-enough, and just-for-me to our fundamentals training and resources. This approach resulted in modularizing our training and resources into six main categories:
Training classes at Henderson follow the traditional presentation approach, with our experts often using PowerPoint or other presentation software to deliver guidance in a classroom-style setting. These classes simply cover the fundamentals, which thankfully don’t change. Only the cultural references that we use to make good analogies shift. For example, my reference to the Matrix movie from 2000 as an analogy for a responsibility control matrix is getting fairly outdated. Here’s to the Matrix revival in 2022!
Since fundamentals don’t change, maintaining them is easy. Each topic is cataloged by its own discipline, topic, and presentation. These presentations are then repeated on a semester basis, similar to a collegiate level semester catalog. Over time, we have added homework problems to help inform the content.
Application guidelines take our training classes from the theoretical to the application level. They are written in a way that assumes working knowledge of a given topic. “Do this, don’t do that” is the standard format and we include backlinks to fundamental concepts throughout for reference if questions arise.
The great thing about application guidelines is they can also double as Henderson’s “standard approach” toward any topic. This brings uniformity and consistency for our clients. However, it’s important to note that these guidelines are written in a way to simply “guide” and not “mandate” to allow for flexibility in scenarios where exceptions can/should be taken.
Henderson records every presentation we deliver and has been taping the sessions as far back as I can remember. We intentionally do so to document the great discussions and questions that often arise during our trainings. We have also found that many individuals learn better while watching video or listening to the content like an audio book. These recordings are available to all Henderson employees to facilitate that style of learning.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and our entire staff shifted to working remotely, we pivoted to presenting the training classes via Zoom. Presenting information in this format versus in a physical classroom increased engagement and retainment of knowledge across our company by putting everyone on the same playing field. Formerly, in-person presentations worked well for those who attended them live but may have not translated as smoothly to remote participants or individuals watching the recordings at a later time.
Our engineers are curious by nature and are often eager to dig deeper into what is presented to them on-screen. I suppose it harkens back to the common phrase, “Trust, but verify.” Appropriately, we save all supporting documentation for our trainings on our servers, organizing them by discipline, topic, and manufacturer. This internal directory includes a wealth of knowledge sources that we have quoted and saved through the years.
Unless approached deliberately, it could be overwhelming to navigate through our numerous modularized resources to find answers to any given question. To streamline the process, Henderson developed a “Designer Interface,” an in-house tool that links all our resources together. Think of it as our internal Wiki-page for everything a designer needs to take the next step in their work.
Included in the Designer Interface is everything from discipline-specific resources (e.g., tools, details, specifications, etc.), to code resources, to company resources. They are linked together by both type and topic, providing multiple ways for our experts to find what they are looking for.
The Human Touch
No matter how much reading material is available, nothing can replace the added value of the human touch. As an employer, we approach our staff with the same personalized care and attention that we dedicate to our clients through mentoring, training, design support, and quality reviews on project deliverables and professional performance.
Our technical managers spearhead these initiatives. The added value of the mentoring they provide ensures any question from a designer, no matter how simple or complex, receives an answer that meets the high bar of client experience we expect to deliver.
Overall, applying DfMA logic to our employee fundamentals training and resources has enabled us to deliver high-quality engineering, provide flexibility for change, and remain open to new and innovative ways of support for both internal and external clients. It sets Henderson up to deliver on our vision to “Be the firm that builds a better world.”
Join our email list to get the latest design innovations, technical content, new projects, and research from Henderson’s experts delivered straight to your inbox.