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The Engineer: Encourage employees to take their time and learn

How many times have you encouraged a co-worker to solve a problem themselves by asking a clarifying question?

October 12, 2022  By David Heska, P.Eng.

It was Dr. Seuss who first said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go”.

Continuous learning has been a mantra I’ve heard from many companies in our industry. No one wants to be seen as falling behind. We all want to be in-the-know and innovating. But staying smarter and getting wiser is our continuing challenge.  

Some people are visual learners while others are auditory learners. Others are hands-on, kinesthetic learners while others primarily learn by reading and writing. I’m not here to say one is better than the other, since each has its benefits, but I will make a prediction. Many of the colleagues you and I work with will more easily remember something that we physically show them on the shop floor or on the construction site. Photos are good, but in-person is better.  

Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie that this topic has stayed top of mind for me over the past few weeks. Carnegie writes that each of us should be a good listener and ask questions instead of giving direct orders. Sounds like common sense, but it’s harder to implement than it seems. Most of us struggle to listen before we speak. How many times have you answered a coworker’s question rather than encouraging them to solve the problem themselves by asking a clarifying question in return? You will almost always learn more yourself by teaching than by being taught.

We should start by thinking about our personal best way to learn. Mentors or career coaches help some people. Are you an auditory learner or a visual learner? In my organization we’re asked to consider three types of training: on-the-job learning, learning through coaching and formal learning. For each of these categories, in the past, I’ve written down specific project types I want to work on; the names of various colleagues I want to learn from; and upcoming industry conferences I want to attend. By taking a multi-pronged approach to topics, I think I’ve been able to gain a more well-rounded perspective on some important things I need to know.

We live in a day and age when information has never been more readily available. Smartphones give us access to an endless amount of information. The answers to all of our questions and the ability to search for anything we’d like to know are at our fingertips. I recently had a conversation with my great-uncle where he mentioned that he doesn’t have the internet at his house. Imagine that! No internet. No smartphone. The simple life. Fortunately, for us who do have the internet, the Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance has excellent, free online resources available on their Vimeo channel. Their archive has videos on everything from training on codes and standards to workshops for IG fabricators. I encourage you to check out the training videos available on topics like gas filling of IGUs, the impact of cavity reduction on triple-glazed IGUs and preventing IG failures. It’s certainly not that the information isn’t out there, it’s more about making the time to invest in our own knowledge. 

In my column for the August issue of the magazine, I wrote about the subject of regathering. The return of in-person conferences, roadshows and industry events can give you and your employees a found opportunity to be inspired.

Employees are the backbone of every organization and a company can only accomplish what its people know and can do. I hope your organization encourages employees to take time out from their daily tasks to further their knowledge. As the children are now back at school, perhaps its time that we also spruce up some of our own skills. It was American Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Get involved. Get wisdom.

David Heska, P.Eng. is a director with WSP’s building sciences team in southwestern Ontario.

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