Time is of the essence.
Your success in a trade career depends on several elements. One is mechanical aptitude, coupled with relevant technical education and/or experience. You must be trained or trainable, and able to do the work.
In the next several articles I will address another element, which I’ll call “job readiness.”
Many of you young people have never held a steady job with big responsibilities. You must understand that trade employers have various expectations that go beyond your ability to perform with the tools of the trade. Here I’ll address perhaps the most obvious and in some ways the most important criterion of job readiness.
That is being respectful of time. Whether you do construction or service work, you will be expected to show up and leave at designated times. This is obvious, but I know from conversations with many contractors over the years that a big problem is getting some workers to show up regularly and put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.
Some jobs may require punching a time clock, which will keep up-to-the-minute track of your work hours and adjust your pay accordingly. But many jobs do not have formal timekeeping and that’s when bad habits can start to creep in. It’s easy to fall into the habit of starting 5 minutes late and/or leaving 5 minutes early. No big deal, you may think, except when someone gets away with it, that 5 minutes has a way of turning into 10, then 15 minutes of “stolen” time. Trade employers cannot afford to keep paying for 40 hours of productivity and only receive 39 or less.
Excessive time off is another problem faced by many trade employers. Yes, everyone gets sick from time to time or has to take time off to tend to personal or family issues. When that happens you have a responsibility to notify your employer as far in advance as possible. When it happens frequently, it often points to a chaotic lifestyle that employers will not put up with for long. Many trade contractors have noted that “calling in sick” seems to happen most often on Mondays and Fridays. You might be rewarded a Nobel Prize if you can prove that bacteria and viruses time their life cycles to coincide with extended weekends!
Some trade workers take extra time off after they get inflated paychecks from bonuses, overtime or so-called performance pay, where their pay varies in accordance with some measure of production. They figure they can take it easy once their income reaches a comfort level where they can pay their bills and maintain their lifestyle. This is extremely shortsighted. Trade work is subject to boom and bust cycles. You may be asked to work a lot of overtime for a week or a month, and then find your work hours reduced for a period of time. Prudent tradespeople recognize this fact of life and put aside windfall income for the proverbial rainy day.
Speaking of overtime, this is another aspect of job readiness. An old saying in trade work goes, “Make hay while the sun shines.” When work is plentiful, you need to take advantage and be willing to work overtime when asked – which usually entails premium pay.
The same goes for “on call” duties for service workers. Being on call usually means you can engage in normal home and leisure activities, but must be ready to respond to requests for after-hours or weekend service calls. This restricts your ability to travel out of town or otherwise be unavailable if calls come in. Service firms usually assign on-call duties on a rotating basis and pay their workers for being on-call, sometimes with extra pay for any service calls they may have to make.
Some employers may go overboard with overtime and on-call demands. Their workers eventually will suffer from burnout and look for other jobs. These employers need to realize that their trade workers are humans, not machines, and require a reasonable amount of time off to enjoy families and life in general. Too much overtime and on-calls will lead to high turnover, which in the long run is more costly than hiring an extra hand to deal with large workloads.
As for you aspiring tradespeople, the message here is to understand that reasonable doses of overtime and on-call duties are facts of life in trade work. Accepting them is part of being job-ready.
One final word of advice pertaining to time: strive to be productive. Slacking off on the job will get noticed sooner or later – mostly sooner. The most productive trade workers generate the most profits for their employers, and greater profits lead to better pay and benefits. The most productive trade workers are the last ones to get laid off when work slows down. Usually their employers will find a way to keep them employed even in the worst business slumps. So make maximum use of your time on the job.
In my next article I’ll address how your brain needs to become job-ready.