February 2020 Directors Take

The Director’s Take:  Are Apprentice Performance Reports Really B***S***!      February 2020     

              Unfortunately, we began February by losing Loren Shoemaker, Iron Worker Local 44 in a construction accident.  Very sad way to start a month!  As of this writing we do not have all the details of the incident, but we do know something went terribly wrong. 

              How many accidents and injuries could have been prevented?  Almost all of them.  The list of reasons is long.  So, what can we do?  A lot, but I want to focus on a single underrated and often misunderstood item…The Apprentice Performance Evaluation. WAIT, DON’T TURN OFF YET, PLEASE GIVE ME A CHANCE HERE. 

              How many of us wake up in the morning hoping someone points out what we are doing wrong, or the “Weak Points” where we can improve?  Yeah, none of us!  How many of us can benefit from some appropriate constructive criticism?  All of us!  From the 18-year-old first year apprentice to the owner of a large company, we can all improve.  A Bowler earns a score of 125, a crochet hat turns out looking like a scarf, and a round of skeet yields 22 of 25.  There is a known benchmark and feedback on actual performance.  You either have enough experience to self-evaluate and adjust, or you get someone with more experience to help correct your problems.  Without a standard or clear benchmark, we THINK we are performing well, but are we?  Without some sort of evaluations how does anyone KNOW if they are REALLY doing well.  OJT for an apprentice is a big part of their training but who on the job is explaining expectations, what is their benchmark, where is their feedback?

              If you give the performance eval a little respect and the time it deseres, it magically changes from “a waste of your time” to a very valuable tool for the apprentice, the jobsite, and the JATC.  The magic starts by honestly and accurately filling out the form with actual, unbiased data.  I may or may not like “Bob”, but that does not have any bearing on how appropriate his clothes are, how well he communicates, or if he is often late.  I have worked with electricians I don’t have a great love for personally, but I enjoyed working with because they were productive craftsmen!  The Eval needs legitimate info.

              Since the evaluation form is mostly “checking a box”, any category with less than stellar marks need additional comments, or at least a discussion.  Every evaluation should be reviewed with the apprentice to make clear both where they can improve and what they are doing well.  Many of our members are doing exactly that and I can’t thank you enough!  This does not erase the number of times I get a call about a problem with an apprentice concerning “X, Y, or Z”, and I find they were not told there was a problem… mind blowing!  This is not just from the Apprentice, JWs and leadership have admitted this to me.  To be politically correct, which does not come easy or naturally, I will simply say in my opinion this is hard to accept.  So, I’m going to complain about someone with little experience not knowing what to do or how to perform before I teach them what to do and how to perform…uh…ok. 

              Let’s look at the “Safety Rules” block on the evaluation with the options of □Disregards Rules, □Average, and □Very Safety Conscious.  “Disregards Safety Rules” is obviously a big problem that MUST be addressed, and I hope it was well before the evaluation is filled out and reviewed.  The violations that earned this mark need to be clearly explained.  “You’re not safe” does nothing to correct a problem but discussing specific violations and how to correct them does.  Explain the problems.  Discuss the “Rule”, and the “why” the action is not safe.  How should they have tied off or what equipment should have been used?  Highlight the dangers to the apprentice and those around them. Talk about the unintended consequences like the whole crew kicked out of a facility, lost wages, and the example it sets for others that may not know better.  

              “Average” needs addressed as well!  Average is not good enough, especially with safety!  Consider all the things you may have done or witnessed this week that were not safe…isn’t that average?  As IBEW Local Union 369 Craftsman and Craftswoman, we should be well above Average!    Average gets people hurt, makes stuff blow up and helps people die.  Point out how the apprentice can be even more safe.  Did they stand on the top step “just for a second”, not tie off running the lift just a few feet, or not wear their safety glasses while drilling just one hole?  Pay attention to little things and big problems are less likely to occur. 

              Even “Very Safety Conscious” deserves attention.  We all like a pat on the back, but the unintended consequences of telling someone they are doing well may be more impactful than tactfully point out how to improve.  Positive feedback reinforces safe choices and strengthens the buy-in of the “safety culture”!  That slight ego boost strengthens conscious safety decisions and pushes the individual one step closer to becoming a leader in the safety realm.  It can’t hurt!

              If you notice an apprentice or anyone committing a safety violation and don’t attempt to correct the problem, will it bother you if they get hurt or die?   


That’s my take on it…

Harold Reynolds