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Associations, Labour

Hard and soft skill training critical to building up foremen

Peter Caulfield
Hard and soft skill training critical to building up foremen

When construction workers are promoted to foremen, it’s usually because of their job experience, says Andrea Ringrose, education manager of Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA).

“Many of them haven’t had any leadership experience or training and they need to fill the gap in their hard and soft skills,” she said.

To that end, VRCA Education is offering two one-day courses called, respectively, Planning for Foremen and Lead to Succeed.

For information on both courses, see

Planning for Foremen will cover a range of how-to subjects, including calculating manpower needs, determining material and equipment needs, and quality and safety.

The instructor is Mark Taylor, president of Mark Taylor Construction Advisory Services Ltd. in Lantzville, B.C.

Taylor says there is a real need for a course like Planning for Foremen.

“Because industry desperately needs people, existing workers get pushed into supervisory roles earlier in their careers, but they don’t always have the support or the mentoring to show them how to do the role,” he said.

Up-and-coming foremen need some help with what Taylor calls the solid or hard skills – what it takes to actually plan and execute the work.

“They need to properly plan how they’re going to execute the work,” he said. “That includes what crew they need and when, how to handle site conditions, how to meet quality requirements, what materials and equipment they’re going to need and when, and what other trades are they going to have to coordinate with and when.”

On top of all of that is how the work can be done safely, because every aspect of planning affects the hazards involved and the controls needed.

“A silo approach to safety doesn’t work well,” said Taylor. “Safety needs to be woven in with all your other project planning.”

Scheduling is often confused with planning, Taylor says. 

“A good, reliable schedule is an outcome of good planning, a pictorial representation of what is going to happen well,” he said. “But in order to get that schedule, you need to first understand all the logistics that will have to happen in terms of labour, equipment, materials, testing, safety.”

Unlike Planning for Foreman, Lead to Succeed is designed to help leaders discover a new way to leading their team, starting with themselves. Instructor Tony Healy says leadership is an inside-out process.

“The course will give you tools to better understand your own leadership strengths, how to motivate others and how to listen and communicate better with your team,” said Healy.

A leader needs to know himself/herself first before becoming an effective leader.

“Many people don’t think about what they value or who they are,” Healy said. “But leaders need to find their internal bearings before they can lead others. Many people who are new to a leadership position are surprised to find out that the job comes with new stresses and strains that they have to deal with. Knowing your own values will help them deal with those new challenges.”

Healy says the three most important attributes of a successful leader are humility, integrity, dependability, a demonstrated track record for delivering on your promises.

Lead to Succeed will cover such subjects as defining and describing leadership, motivation and culture and communication.

Healy says a course like Lead to Succeed is needed because there is not enough good leadership in construction.

“Workers need to be motivated, because most of them want more than just a regular pay cheque,” he said. “Good leadership is transformational, by inspiring individuals to give more of themselves.”

An environment, health and safety consultant based in Victoria, Healy draws on his experience as a former professional rugby player and coach.

In Manitoba, Winnipeg Construction Association (WCA) has two programs for up-and-coming and mid-level superintendents: Building Supervisors for Tomorrow (BST) and Building Supervisors into Leaders (BSL).

BST includes 10 courses on people skills, technical skills and management skills required to excel at the job.

“And BSL builds on these skills by introducing more comprehensive leadership and technical skills,” said Peggy Zurkan, WCA learning and development manager.  

The BST program was launched 10 years ago to fill the gaps that people in leadership positions (foremen, lead hands and superintendents) were experiencing.

“What was missing, specifically, were the ‘people,’ or soft skills required for leadership positions,” said Zurkan. “The program has evolved over the years to meet the changing needs and demands of people in leadership roles.



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