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When contractors talk certification, they’re often referring to apprenticeship, craft training and safety qualifications for field workers. But at a time when the industry is eager to fill jobs and skills gaps across the board, from the office to the field, some firms are getting creative to help all types of construction employees reach the next level of leadership.

Associated Builders and Contractors’ Wisconsin Chapter is already ahead of the game. Through its award-winning Construction U certificate programs, the chapter provides practical, management-level education for local employees who learn how to better plan, organize, communicate and monitor their daily activities, while leveraging both the hard and soft skills necessary to overcome obstacles with increased confidence.

“Approximately a year and a half ago, we received calls from members asking if there was training for office staff who assist project managers,” says Wayne Belanger, chapter director of education. “We ran a one-day project coordinator program in 2008. Although the reviews were good, a common comment was that there was much more information than could be covered in a day.

“We found there was little to no training for this very important position. Project coordinators were either administrative assistants who were assigned to work with a project manager, or they were straight out of college with very little experience.” 

In response, the ABC chapter gathered a taskforce of local members and recruited experts with a combined 95 years of experience to serve as instructors for a first-of-its-kind Construction U track for project coordinators. 

Sixteen member firms—a mix of small and large residential and commercial general contractors and subcontractors—sent their employees to complete the new six-week program at the ABC of Wisconsin Training Center in Madison, where they learned about plans and specifications, project life cycles, organization, collaboration and time management. In May, the program graduated 20 project coordinators. 

Michelle Winrich of Altmann Construction Company, Inc., Wisconsin Rapids, signed up as a means to overcome a learning curve. 

“I came from an educational background, so construction was a new industry to me. This program was a great opportunity,” she says. “Being able to listen to other project coordinators and project assistants talk about their job duties and their daily responsibilities was very informative.”

Lindsey Hartwig, who works for Corporate Contractors, Inc., Beloit, Wis., had a similarly positive experience. “It was very interesting to hear the difference between a project coordinator for a general contractor versus a subcontractor,” she says. “This training will walk a new or an experienced project coordinator from concept and design/bidding to the completion of a project.”

“With such a wide range of knowledge and skills, the instructors worked hard to make sure everyone was able to take away something from each class to bring back to their companies,” Belanger adds. 

Winrich left the program fresh with ideas and a new community of peers—recently collaborating with her fellow graduates to gain suggestions for a new in-house app. “As a direct result of the collaboration and information from instructors, I brought organizational improvements back to our company to streamline the process of starting and finishing jobs,” she says.

With such positive feedback coming from the participants, the chapter is now offering the program twice a year in the fall and spring. Classes filled quickly for this October’s program, and many are already showing interest for 2019, when the program will be adding new instructors and features such as DISC® personality profiles and coursework on risk management, bonding and contracts.

“I would definitely recommend this training to new project coordinators and project assistants, or anyone who is new to the construction industry,” Winrich says. “The best thing you can do for someone who is learning is to show them how and where to find the information they need.” 

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