Helm Group

Your First 5 Years

One of the most gratifying things in our business is when a new employee chooses to begin his or her career with us.  Sometimes the employee is blindly assigned by the apprentice coordinator, but more often than not, we have done a good job of recruiting the employee and they have chosen us over other companies.

Regardless of whether a new employee is part of an apprenticeship program or starting in an office-based environment, the first 5 years are packed with opportunity.  We understand how competitive it is to hire the best and we have spent a lot of time crafting our onboarding process so that both the new employee and the company can recognize whether there is a good fit.

Other employees starting their careers with us at Civil or Mechanical can also begin as Project Engineers.  Here, they work along-side an experienced Project Manager to learn the business and how to run projects.  Ideally, they will be on a jobsite full-time because the interaction with the foreman and field is critical to understanding what’s important.  The best way to see the impact of a foreman not getting the information they need is to be there first-hand.  When you’re on a job site every day, I think you get 2 days of education for every day you spend there. 

Other opportunities for new office-based employees are in our Quality Control department, our Civil Materials group, the Heavy truck shop, and of course the field.  Wherever it is, the first 5 years are the most important and I’d like to think at the Helm Group we do as good a job as anyone at providing the first 5 years of training.  At the end of the 5 years, similar to most union apprenticeship programs, we expect that we will have an employee that has a great start to their career.  Continuing education is still needed for every position, but the first 5 years are the most critical.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these first five years because we are changing our hiring profile in one key part of the company – our Virtual Design and Construction department.  Formerly known as CAD, our VDC group creates electronic models of the utilities we will be installing.  In VDC, we have shifted away from recruiting from 2-year and 4-year schools to recruiting recent high school graduates.  As a company, one of our biggest growth opportunities is modeling construction projects for ourselves and others.  By my count, we have modeled projects in 24 states including the new NFL Raiders Stadium in Las Vegas.  We’re always short on VDC Techs and we think we have a good system to train entry-level Techs, so we are jumpstarting our recruiting by targeting video gamers right out of high school.  This new entry-level onboarding makes the first 5 years even more important so we are trying to use our experience in other parts of the Helm Group to make our VDC training as valuable as possible.

So, what are the skills required in the first 5 years of any Helm Group position?  What are we trying to develop and how do we do it?  First, we are developing a strong work ethic.  No explanation needed here, because without a desire to work hard, we just don’t need you.  Second, is the ability to see the big picture.  In business, we keep score by profit.  Profit isn’t the only thing, but it’s the thing we need to get right over time if we want to stay in the game.  Third, are the technical skills needed for the job.  We spend the most time on these and we don’t have any roles where you can learn it all in 5 years, but we flood our new employees with information and expect that they will pick up most of what we are teaching.  The teaching is largely hands-on, but there are also industry events and classes where some more general information is given.  Next, we make sure new employees can search out information on their own – this is one of the biggest disconnects that high schools and colleges don’t get.  In business, every day is a test and there’s no study guide so you need to fill in the gaps between what an experienced PM knows and what you know.  Last, we are teaching new employees to be able to work together.  The working world isn’t a group science fair project where one or two people can coast and others pick up their slack.  It’s hard work and everyone needs to contribute.  Those that can’t work as part of a team won’t make it. 

These five skills probably aren’t in order and we could add a long list of others, but it is important for us all to understand what we are trying to do in these first 5 years.  As competitive as it is to bid work and get work, it is equally competitive to recruit new employees.  We are competing not only with other contractors, but also companies in tech, manufacturing, and other industries.  We are very fortunate that the best and brightest want to work here and we all need to make sure the first 5 years offer great insight into what a Helm Group career is like.

by: Brian Helm