Rolling Out Tech Training in Construction

Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute outlines its seven steps to success.

As the future leaders of our industry‘s field teams, skilled workers need to train and familiarize themselves with the latest technological advancements for project execution.

The Pacific Northwest Carpenter’s Institute (PNCI) has developed a training curriculum taught by experienced skilled workers to learn basic skills, enhance proficiencies and ultimately provide value to contractors and clients by giving the skilled workforce the technological tools they need to excel.

“Technical skills are about 50% of what we teach in our training center,” said Miguel Montano, PNCI’s assistant director. “The other 50% is centered around leadership qualities.”

After fielding a demand for Bluebeam Revu courses, Montano and Bluebeam worked together to create an academic partnership. “Now we have courses developed to teach Revu to our apprentices,” Montano said. “For organizations like us, we can now afford to get that technology in front of more people. Now we have two fixed labs and one of such that can go mobile. We’re really fortunate to have this relationship with Bluebeam.”

Members of PNCI training on Bluebeam Revu.
Members of PNCI training on Bluebeam Revu.

In addition to the partnership with Bluebeam, Montano, along with Curriculum Coordinator and Lead Technology Instructor Daniel Ronda, credit a seven-step process to establishing their successful program.

Seven key steps to PNCI’s successful implementation:

  • Trustee buy-in
  • Evaluate technologies
  • Select technologies
  • Prioritize trainings and tools
  • Develop and implement training curriculum
  • Establish infrastructure and digital network needs
  • Get staff and instructor buy-in

Trustee buy-in

PNCI is funded by a “training trust.” This means the organization’s resources are a result of collective bargaining between the carpenter’s union and contractors. Money for training endeavors must first pass through trustees and a board of directors before it can be approved for training tools and curriculum development.

“We were very fortunate that in the Northwest area, we have some very forward-leaning contractors,” Montano said. “The people that sit on that trust saw the value of getting our training center on the forefront of technology.”

Evaluating and selecting

Montano and Ronda took a “field first” approach to understanding what tools were relevant and necessary to today’s jobsite. “What we were seeing that they were doing out in the field, what they needed out in the field, we knew that’s what we had to be doing at the training center,” Ronda said.

PNCI found itself learning from apprentices or journey local workers coming in for continuing advanced training, continuing education or skill advancement training. It would then reach out to contractors to gauge the value of the tools. “That’s literally how we decided on training with Bluebeam,” Montano said.

Priorities trainings and tools

The institute needed to be able to foster the confidence trainees needed to learn new technology, so that started with the advent of a computer lab with some basic computer programs.

“The very first thing we started offering were Windows-type classes—Microsoft Word,  Excel—basically some low-hanging fruit that they might be familiar with,” Montano said.

This led to partnering with a local community college, which allowed PNCI to bring in instructors to start teaching members there at the school. Word spread among members about the computer training offered at the school, as the institute began teaching concepts like BIM and digital pre-construction coordination. “What’s BIM? What’s Bluebeam? They wanted to know more information. That’s when we decided to start developing coursework,” Montano said.

Establish technology infrastructure

As the classes began to take shape at the institute, infrastructure needs became the next priority. PNCI had WiFi capabilities but hosting 160 different devices accessing the WiFi at the same time was a challenge.

“We learned very quickly about access points,” Ronda said. “Increasing the access points, learning how to throttle them and how to make better handoffs, so that when you’re moving around the building, you’re actually getting the best possible signal. We’re carpenters, so we had to bring in experts to do that.”

Members of PNCI learning how to incorporate new technology into their craft.
Members of PNCI learning how to incorporate new technology into their craft.

It was important that the staff and learning modules were also up to par to create the learning environment the two instructors envisioned. Montano and Ronda put together a combination featuring a 75-inch monitor, an Apple TV and an iPad featuring Bluebeam Revu and Studio. “We call that our digital whiteboard,” Ronda said.

Implementation and training development

Daniel Ronda developed an entire basic coursework for Bluebeam Revu within the computer lab. For field training, Bluebeam Revu and Studio were used on iPads and field kiosks with large format monitors for visibility and coordination exercises.

“For our apprenticeship, we have 60 different apprenticeship classes, most of which will integrate different digital field documents. We actually offered eight different technology courses with digital field documents and things like that. Bluebeam, by far, is the most popular of our courses.” PNCI is also developing field layout curriculum with data extraction and modeling software

Staff buy-in

“We’re creating a learning environment, not only learning from an instructor but also learning from each other and learning from each other’s experiences,” Rondo said. “Getting our instructors to get the buy-in was really important. The diversified backgrounds and experience levels of the PNCI instructors meant making sure they were as inspired to teach as the apprentices were to learn.

“We have one instructor that actually came in from retirement to teach for us. He just didn’t know how much he would enjoy teaching,” Montano said. “He was out in the field for more than 30 years. The most advanced technology he could use out in the field was email. But to see him take the different technology classes, study on his own time, work out how he was going to teach it in the classroom and just put in that effort? It has really been an example to all our apprentices and other instructors.”

Worth the work

The end result of PNCI’s dedication to training has been felt industry wide. “We’ve had contractors approach us and ask for apprentices that have taken the technology courses. It’s making our apprentices more marketable. Apprentices have told me stories of seeing their foreman frustrated out in the field with an iPad and not knowing really what to do with it because they’re not familiar with the technology, so they go and help them out,” Ronda said.

The contagious success is also making its way around the other carpenter’s institutes. “We had our Western District VP come to our training center for an event a couple of years ago,” Montano said. “He’s now retired, nearly 60-plus years in the trade. I’m showing him our technology courses, 3D models and stuff like that. He looks at me and then looks at our director. He says, ‘It makes me want to be an apprentice again.’”