“Evaluating the skills of the users in your company is the most important assessment you’ll undertake and the one you should tackle first. The reason for assessing user skills so critically is because no other factor will limit you – or guarantee your success – more than user expertise.”
– Robert Green, from his book Expert CAD Management
Robert Green hits the nail on the head in his excellent book. And even though this statement is so true, many companies miss this step altogether. I have seen it over and over again.
A company makes a commitment to organising training. For many organisations, this is a big step. After all, it’s hard to get any training approved in the first place, right? But then, the same company will not take the critical step of making sure they are teaching their users the correct skills.
I find this particularly ironic given the industries that we serve – building professionals who know the importance of a strong foundation and structure so their building stands; manufacturing professionals who are absolutely focused on whether a product is fit for purpose. And yet these professionals abandon these same principles when it comes to developing the skills of their people.
Besides, how can you possibly chart a course for developing the skills of your users if you don’t know where you are starting from? And do you know the ideal set of skills for a Revit / AutoCAD / Inventor user at your company? Is your course mapped against those skills?
Mind the Gap
The best way to solve problems with training is to know exactly what skills your users need and what skills they currently have. In almost every firm, there is a great diversity of skill levels. Different users performing different jobs will need different skills. Civil engineers need different skills from structural designers – ideally, they should learn the best procedures to perform their jobs according to the standards and objectives of the firm for which they work.
Most of these ideal skills already exist in larger firms. There is always a group of super-users, the people with the most experience who have taken a personal interest in learning Revit or AutoCAD or Navisworks. They have figured out much of what the entire user community in their firm should know. The problem is how to get the skills from these people to all of the users. Super-users, together with job supervisors and senior project managers, can create a map of the ideal skills for each group of users. The ideal skills map can then be used as a benchmark for measuring every user’s skill level. The results of the evaluation, called the skills gap, will tell you exactly what training to provide to each user.
With this approach to focused training, you gain the following:
- Lower physical training costs – material and instructor fees. Only the people who need the training will be trained, which is cheaper than sending everyone to a generic training course.
- Higher quality – focused on need, designed for specific problem solving.
- Less down time – users are away only as long as required to get their necessary skills.
- More training options – skills that are rarely used but deemed important can be documented for future use rather than taught in a classroom. Users avoid having to learn skills that they will rarely use but still have them at their disposal.
How to Conduct a Skills Audit
You should always expect training to solve specific problems that affect your CAD or BIM operations. To do this, you have to know what problems exist. The best way to find out is through a two stage survey process.
In stage 1, you determine the expectations of your design software at a senior management level, production management level, and production level. You do this by interviewing key people in the firm and reviewing design procedures. This answers two key questions:
- Are the expectations of the firm realistic?
- What is the ideal set of skills that each user should have?
This survey sets the benchmark for measuring skills. With this benchmark, you can determine where each user stands in relation to the firm’s ideal skill level.
In stage 2, you develop a training plan for each user by conducting an evaluation of their skill levels. Although similar to a test or exam, there is no passing or failing grade. The evaluation tells you what training each user needs and allows you to combine users into focused training groups.
For example, if a small percentage of your users are having problems with external references in AutoCAD, you can organize them into a training group to solve their problem. If a large percentage of users are having problems with scheduling in Revit, then you can develop procedure notes and training sessions to solve their problems. As a result, you are solving specific problems with training, rather than sending your staff to training classes without knowing what you are gaining.
Step 1: Determine where you want to be
Determine senior management expectations by reviewing business plans and interviewing senior managers.
- At this stage, you should determine: what types of jobs people are performing, how the firm measures performance, what are management expectations, what problems managers perceive with design. To do this, interviews should be scheduled with project managers who are ultimately responsible for delivering work to clients, but are not directly involved in project work.
Determine what capabilities production supervisors expect from their people.
- At this stage, you should determine: what specific tasks are performed to complete each type of job, identify specific examples of finished products for each type of job, and list specific skills for completing each job. To do this, design team supervisors should be interviewed.
Determine how jobs are done within the firm.
- At this stage, you should determine: what parts of your design software are used most, what parts of different jobs are most problematic, etc.
Step 2: Determine skills
From the skills profile that we create in Step 1, we develop evaluations to determine where all users stand in relation to the ideal.
Step 3: Measure the Gap
Tally the results of the evaluation for each person. Compare the skills of users to the ideal skills profile developed in Step 1.
Step 4: Plan the training
A clear plan will then emerge, that will be focused on your business goals and achieve the highest return on investment. It will include:
- Results for each user.
- Training recommendations for each user and the firm.
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