Digital Toolbox: Getting an Education Without Leaving the Job Site
Guest post by Sergio Grado
Let’s face it. As contractors and tradespeople, we spend most our time out in the field, with little or time for learning something new. If it isn’t knowledge acquired at the job site, then why bother, right? Unfortunately, this is how many of us think.
We know that we need to work hard in our business to stay ahead, but the secret is that we also need to work hard on our business and let the business work even harder for us. But how can we do that if we are not taking the time to learn better estimating techniques, or how to increase sales by learning how to market our services better? Here, I will showcase some of the ways you can learn while in the field by using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop computer.
Finding the time to learn something new while in the field usually means that you have to do it either on your lunch break or during brief periods of downtime, such as while waiting for a subcontractor to arrive. This typically means you have anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes at most. How can you possibly learn anything during that time? The answer is through websites, blogs, newsletters, and podcasts.
If you have a tablet and can access the Internet, then you’re well equipped to take advantage of all kinds of learning in the field. You may have a smartphone as well, with a data plan that will allow you to tether your smartphone to your tablet to give you an Internet connection without having to rely on Wi-Fi. This is most helpful when you are sitting out in the middle of a vacant lot in a new development somewhere. I have been fortunate from time to time to find myself sitting at the edge of a lake on the lot of a custom home I was building – a great place to do a little homework.
If you have access to the Internet, your first opportunity is to access key websites:
www.greenbuildingadvisor.com – This site is my first stop when I have a few minutes. It features videos, product evaluations, and detailed drawings that I can learn from. It also features several blogs where construction topics are discussed.
www.finehomebuilding.com – This is my second stop, and I always look for the short videos called There’s A Better Way. In quick, 30-second videos, I have learned many a quick tip that I instantly put to work in the field.
www.ebuild.com – This is a great site for product news. They always feature the latest products and often feature them in their “eBuild TV” video segment.
The next rich sources of information that you want to tap into are industry newsletters. There is definitely no shortage of content here. Most are free and can be easily viewed on a tablet or a smartphone. Here are a few of my picks for best content.
Builder Bytes – This newsletter also has a website by the same name www.builderbytes.com. The content here is brief and informative. You can expect to read the latest on politics, economics, finance, and education, to name a few.
Green Construction Bulletin – This newsletter offers more in-depth articles and white papers on everything from how to design an efficient mechanical system to how to increase sales through guerrilla marketing, just to name a few examples. The newsletter can be subscribed to at www.emediausa.com.
Professional Builder – This newsletter is a complement to the magazine publication. It is a rich source of builder information and is also a website driven by www.housingzone.com, where you can find more contractor-specific apps in their Tech section.
Professional Remodeler – This newsletter is similar to the builder one but has information more tailored toward the remodeling industry. The same website (www.housingzone.com) gets you to a treasure trove of information and access to their latest monthly emagazine.
Tools – This newsletter is valuable because they review the latest tools and even some older ones to see how they hold up in real use. On their website, www.toolsofthetrade.net, they showcase tools, how to use tools, and where to buy tools, and feature a blog and videos. I have changed my mind on which tools to buy after having read some of the newsletters. This is a tool you’ll want in your digital toolbox.
For those of you who want to take your time and pick up credentials or accreditation to help you stand out from the competition, you can find sources of higher learning. These online courses simply require payment without any prior school or trade degree.
San Francisco Institute of Architecture – SFIA will offer you everything from courses in green construction to the way to a master’s degree in business management. The good thing about this school is that they will take your past work experience into account. All your courses are done online; you submit your coursework via email to assigned instructors. Expect this to be a two-year or less commitment. At the end you will have a final exam(s) and receive your degree. Check them out at www.sfia.net and click on “distance learning program.”
Community College – Don’t forget to check your local community college. Check their course listings for classes that are self-paced and require a computer. Your choices may be more limited here. They will require you to present your high-school diploma, but you at least have the advantage of visiting the school and talking with a real professor. Use this handy directory to find the community college nearest you: Community College Finder
National Association of Home Builders – Don’t forget to check in with our national trade association. Their courses are available online as well as classroom-taught at your local homebuilder association. Go to www.nahb.org and check out the certifications you can get to increase your professional status. I did. I became a graduate master builder thanks to the NAHB.
As you begin to get familiar with each one of these major sources of information, you will discover new and less known publications also rich in tips and tricks of the trade. The point is never to stop searching these and other sites. Even 10 minutes spent in reading information will open your mind to new ways of doing business. You should now never find yourself with any downtime as your digital toolbox will always be full of the latest tools for you to use.
If you run across any newsletter, app, or blog that you find valuable and want to share, don’t hesitate to contact me here at El Nuevo Constructor, your first stop for valuable industry information. To make sure I get your emails, I have set up a dedicated address at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you all.