Training Options: Construction Materials, Types, Uses, & Applications
7 minutes read
Cold-weather vs. all-weather products. Liquid- vs. sheet-applied waterproofing membranes. Blindside vs. negative-side waterproofing needs.
There are enough commercial construction material types, uses, and applications to fill a New York City phonebook. New products are always in development, and there’s always a new crew member to train or a new job site with unique considerations.
To keep up with customer demands and your competitors, you’ll need product training.
Some subcontractors go straight to the manufacturer for help. Others lean on a distributor with in-house technical experts. The brave (or penny-pinching) remainder take the DIY path.
A manufacturer brings a different point of view than a distributor, and vice versa. At the same time, a high-quality distributor can act as a helpful extension of the manufacturer's “street team.” Can your team get by without formal training and save the cash and time? Let’s peek at the pros and cons of all three:
Door #1: Training From the Manufacturer
Manufacturer training often consists of focused, structured workshops, with each offering a deep dive into one of its own products. Understandably, a supplier is never going to train you on someone else’s stuff.
The product maker will emphasize specific features, applications, and installation techniques for the material. Make sure the training addresses the specifics of your application – environmental conditions, substrate, and so on.
The crash course can happen on-site at one of the parties’ facilities, or in webinar form. If you’re lucky enough to snag training in person, there may be hands-on demonstrations, allowing you to observe and practice under expert supervision. Of course, the availability of in-person training doesn’t mean much if the manufacturer is on the West Coast while you’re in urgent need in Hartford, Conn.
- Straight from the source: Nobody knows the product better than its creator, so you’ll almost certainly get invaluable insights into capabilities and application. There's a sense of assurance and authenticity in receiving training directly from those who developed the product. There’s also great value in having product data laid out in front of you.
- Certifications: Many programs offer the opportunity to become a certified installer, a requirement for some specialized product systems. Accreditation is also valuable for your team’s professional development, which it’ll appreciate.
- Ahead of the curve: Courses are certain to include the latest product features and updates. You may also learn about upcoming tech advancements before others do.
- Follow-up support: Some systems require a mockup before installation. Many manufacturers will support you with this. And if you’d like, they might also come on-site to oversee smooth installation.
Door #2: Training from a Product Distributor
Some construction product distributors with in-house technical expertise offer similar training to what you’d get from the manufacturer. There are some key differences, though.
For one, the training may cover either broad, holistic solutions or specific product use. In either case, there’s likely to be more discussion of your specific job challenges.
A distributor focuses on the full picture of a project, including quality assurance, best practices, cost-effectiveness, and longevity. After all, it’s in the trainer’s interests to teach contractors good habits. Good habits might just save you from directing a rant at the distributor about the material failing (when it was really an application failure).
- Broad perspective: With more "feet on the street," distributors with training services have industry-wide knowledge of products and solutions. You can request spec- or product-specific teachings as narrow or broad as your team needs. Above all else, a distributor is a neutral party with the latitude to paint you the most accurate picture of quality and other traits.
- Application-based focus: Distributors may offer more personalized training that addresses specific project or company needs. These teams should be loaded with real-world application experience from previous projects, and understand the contractor’s POV in a way others don’t. For example, a product might seem awesome on paper, but in actual use, dew point, temperature, or humidity could make it finicky.
- Estimation: Full and balanced knowledge of product uses, capabilities, and limitations helps subcontractors more accurately assess material needs. This reduces the risk of underestimation (leading to shortages) and overestimation (inflating material costs). Courses can also cover long-term implications like maintenance, durability, and life cycle costs, providing a more comprehensive look at lifetime value for the property owner.
- Flexibility: Distributors are nimble in their ability to schedule job-site meetings to assess how materials will perform. A regionally based reseller can meet at your facility, its own facility, your job site, on a videoconference … whatever keeps your team on track. You’ll usually get a quick response to training requests – a godsend when you need assistance yesterday because of a change order or scope increase. Often, a good distributor will go to the job site and report back to the manufacturer, possibly setting up a demo on your behalf. The distribution partner, in a sense, can act as your salesperson, getting you in the door faster.
- Extra on-site support: Speaking of demos, there are a lot of ways a distributor can support the project beyond a 45-minute course. It can arrange for you to be able to play around with a product you’re interested in. With manufacturer approval, it can support mockups for systems that require them. And it can support on-site installation so you have peace of mind that you’re working the right way.
- Ongoing relationship opportunity: A true, business-wide partner can make future sourcing efforts smoother by proactively matching you to projects and materials. This includes emerging solutions you didn’t know existed.
Note that it’s hard to find a distributor with the expertise and dedicated staff to train others outside its walls. It’s not a point of emphasis for most resellers. Instead, they point you to the manufacturer for help.
To get the best experience, vet the reseller’s track record as a solutions provider, rather than simply a vending machine. Signs include depth of expertise (jack-of-all-trades vs. specialization in your project type), years in business, and size (full of resources; yet capable of personal attention).
Door #3: DIY’ing Construction Product Training
DIY training is the realm of the daring, an admirable (if not cheap) attempt to learn along the way.
In the subcontractor world, self-directed learning consists of online resources such as videos, webinars, forums, and manufacturer’s documentation. Most learners mix formal educational materials with user-generated content (i.e. YouTube tutorials).
- Flexibility: You can tailor training to focus on specific areas of need. If you’re stuck on one little job detail, you can watch a quick video or phone a friend rather than sitting through comprehensive training. This can happen at your own pace and schedule, fitting training around other commitments in your busy subcontractor life.
- Low initial cost: Many resources are available for free or cheap. This is usually the case for non-professional resources like forums and YouTube.
- No direct access to experts: DIY learners miss out on real-time Q&A with professional trainers who truly know the product. Without a formal curriculum, learning may be less comprehensive or systematic..
- Isn’t hands-on: Reading about or watching someone else’s experience isn’t always the best source of practical advice. A YouTuber in California may get that sealant to work like a charm, but applying it in the New England winter might fail miserably. So-called “workaround hacks” are not reliable – if you insist on enrolling at the University of YouTube, at least stick to manufacturer tutorials.
- You’ll probably call an expert anyway: It’s simply not worth it to skimp on professional construction training – there’s so much that can go wrong. Estimating quantities incorrectly, wrong mix calculations, applying too much or little sealant … these are just a few ways product application can fail. If a manufacturer or distributor has to come and put out fires anyway, you’re only adding costs and delaying the project.
- Influencers don’t know your budget: You know those HGTV shows that produce endless memes because they come across as out of touch with reality or their viewers’ lifestyles? “I’m a freelance gerbil therapist. My husband’s a part-time paperboy. Our house budget is $1.3 million.” Similarly, static tutorials and random forum strangers don’t always answer with your wallet and schedule in mind. A video might help you use a product competently, but without formal training you could miss opportunities to optimize application speed and material usage.
More Tips on Construction Materials, Types, Uses, & Applications
While manufacturer training offers depth in specific products, distributor courses can help with both broader education and project-specific context. Think of these training sources together like peanut butter and jelly – a strong distributor-manufacturer relationship is an ideal balance.
Training yourself on a technical product system, or even a new job site, is asking for trouble. It has to go absolutely perfectly for you to save any money or time vs. seeking professional help.
Ultimately, the best-balanced training route depends on the specific needs, resources, and goals of the subcontractor. To explore solutions on the distributor side, reach out to our product support experts: