Construction workers' experience is undermined by a lack of familiarity with computers

I started university before computers were widely available. I typed my dissertation on a manual typewriter. Fast forward a number of years, and I resisted using computers until forced to by my job at the time. Even then what I was required to do was very basic, and I remember the embarassment of having to ask what to do keenly.

It's now many years later, and like many I have adapted and perservered to the point where I'll happily work my way through a new programme when necessity arises. My curiosity takes over when I have the time to tinker and so, when I want to do something new, I can usually find my way (helped by a few swear words and a lot of talking to myself).

I've not forgotten that embarassment though, and that recently allowed me to understand the super-sharp construction project manager Ron McEvoy who was struggling to get Excel to do what he wanted it to.

After years of experience on the job as a joiner and construction site foreman, he was in a position to be able to leverage his extensive knowledge, however being tied to word processing and a calculator was slowing him down, and sending the wrong signals to suppliers and employers who wanted estimates updated and project timelines and budgets adjusted quickly.

Over to Ron...

"I recognised that if I could gain some working knowledge of Excel, I could save myself a lot of time spent on the job, and establish my credibility as a project manager by sharing information on estimates, costings and project spending in a way which is now the industry standard.

Spending most of my working life on site, learning how to use a laptop was frustrating. I would get stuck on one small step. Courses I attended provided too much detail that wasn’t relevant. I wanted to be able to use Excel to create estimates for materials and labour quickly, understand how to do basic calculations and how best to present all the information to clients. I wanted to be able to reflect changes and send updates without having to type it all up again in Word."

Ron was being paid to work 10 hours a day, but the paperwork was eating into his evenings, and making his contracts unprofitable. He knew that if he could improve his skills on Excel, it had the potential to save him so much time, but also he could quickly update information and get it to the people who mattered quickly.

There is an assumption today that people have access to these skills, but how many of our really skilled tradespeople (over 40) have needed to open a computer every day - that's not what we need them for, right? We need them to bring all their creativity to solving 3D problems with technical agility, which is learned on the job with a huge variety of materials and environments. We also want them to keep us informed about costs based on expectations created because we the consumer have gained these skills in an office or service environment.

Go to an Excel training day as Ron did, and 80% of what you will be taught will be really difficult for you to understand how or why it will be relevant.

If you drill into the exactly what is needed however, you will find that simple formatting and formulas turn on a light. Remove Rows or Columns, Copy and paste, Fill up and Down, AutoSum. Then it translates directly to estimating jobs. It's easy, when you know. It's torture when you don't.

How many brilliant tradespeople are out there with their hands metaphorically tied, and their confidence low because of being unable to master these skills, or ask their children or grandchildren to help? For those who want to freelance and are still ambitious to learn, who see young people without experience but all the presentation skills pass them in earnings, it must be very frustrating. But for Ron, it's now a different story because he was pretty brave to reach out and approach me for help.

"I’m wasting less time at home doing paperwork. I’m pitching successfully for higher paid jobs with more confidence. I’m more in demand. It was a great investment."

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